WRITING: Point of View

I’ve heard it said that there seems to be an extraordinary amount of first person POV fiction written these days.  I’ve heard students in writing classes say that first person is the easiest to write.  Personally, it took a while for me to accept liking to read first person, since my stubborn streak insisted that No, that’s not what I did.  I always found writing in the first person more difficult as well, for the same stubborn problem.

For me, it was easier to watch and write down in third person what a character was doing.  This is the clearest way to get yourself out of a story and allow the characters to do what they would do, not what you want them to do (although of course, this isn’t quite so simple for a control freak to accomplish readily).  While you need to get into the head of the character written in third person, it’s more of an understanding of him, more of, once having created the creature, knowing him well enough to expect how he will act and react to whatever is thrown at him, allowing him to surprise you if possible.

First person demands a different mindset.  The writer needs to think like the character he’s created, not just understand him.  In fact, he may not need to understand him at all–if the channeling is complete without author interference. 

Sounds like much ado about nothing, I’m sure, but voice of the narrator and the complexity of the character has a lot to do with how the story will proceed.  Even when the character is not the main thrust of the story, what he does in it is, whether he is a metaphor for the human race, the human condition, or just a particular strain of it, his thinking and actions must be his own.

I’ve just left a third person story and am tackling a rewrite of a first person.  As I read it to reacquaint myself, I need to slip inside her mind.  I need to see who she is; I need to assure myself that it isn’t just me in a different setting.  Then I’ll find out where she ends up.

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7 Responses to WRITING: Point of View

  1. I’ve always found “First Person” easier to write, though I usually write in “Third”. I also prefer to read stories told in third person as opposed to the “I,I,I” drone of some first person books.

  2. Mark says:

    You have to be really good to handle first person beyond a page or two.

  3. susan says:

    I think first person writing gets you more involved, but I would think it takes something to get so involved within another’s way of thinking without putting yourself in his place (character). I think one of the hardest is second person. That usually must be either horror or mystery, or heavy dramatic fiction.

  4. steve says:

    “I” think voice has a lot to do with this: how many of you have begun a story and realized suddenly that the thing just didn’t feel right. “I” didn’t strike the chicken’s neck with that dull hatchet. No, it was really Precilla. Precilla Borges Redstone with the thin white fingers now spattered with prick points of blood.

    “My” thin white fingers were spattered with chicken blood. I sniffed at the fingers. She sniffed her fingers and realized suddenly that her husband, Ed, was the ugliest man she’d ever seen.

  5. susan says:

    Yes, both in the reading and writing, if the “I’ doesn’t feel comfortable, or one can’t call upon one’s “other” self to fill in, the third person is often the pov that will open up the voice. But Steve, I believe you may have eaten too much Christmas chocolate.

  6. You have to use what comes naturally to the character and the story. As for depth or closeness, first person feels like reading someone’s journal. It’s important to remember we often don’t understand our own motivations and depths as well as we’d like to. For this reason I sometimes think you can get closer to the character by revealing him or her through third person POV. If that makes sense.

  7. susan says:

    Yes Barbara, it makes sense. I think what you’re saying is that we can be more free with personality that is not ascribed to “I” — just a mental game, but it works.

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