I vs. She: Which Point of View Fits Best?
Chapters In Progress: 9
Chapters Completed: 6
I have to admit, the 30,ooo-word milestone snuck up on me. Once I passed it, I did my little celebration dance – then I realized I hadn’t brainstormed possible topics for the next Chronicle. Oops! But after a get-together last night with friends, I have an idea now.
As always, I’ll start with which chapters I’ve worked on since the previous Chronicle:
- Chapter 8 is finished! It starts with the protagonist confessing to her cousin a serious mistake she made in Chapter 6. At first, the cousin is appalled by what the protagonist has done, but then he forgives her and encourages her to rise above her flaws and prove she can be trusted by her peers. The second conversation, which closes out Chapter 8, is between the protagonist and her aunt (the cousin’s mother). The aunt has raised the protagonist like a daughter, so they share a special bond. Their dialogue here shows them reminiscing about the protagonist’s childhood and sharing each other’s fears and concerns about the future.
- Chapter 9 waved its hand “hello” when I noticed the protagonist-and-aunt conversation at the end of Chapter 8 was carrying on for too long. After re-reading the scene, I decided to move one part of the conversation to the scene occurring the next morning. Thus, my opening scene for Chapter 9 was born. Before the protagonist and her cousin set off on their journey, the aunt gives the protagonist a family heirloom: a ring once worn by the protagonist’s mother. The protagonist (politely) refuses the ring at first, but then accepts the gift and takes it with her.
One crucial aspect of my novel that I haven’t talked about yet is the narration, or point of view (POV). As a reader and perhaps a writer, you may be familiar with the five major POVs used in literature. They are:
- First person (I), where the narrator is usually the protagonist and the reader is allowed to know the narrator’s thoughts and feelings but is limited to that only character’s perspective.
- Third person limited / close (he / she), similar to first person except that the narrator is an observer or outsider rather than the protagonist.
- Second person (you), an “in-your-face” approach rarely taken in literature.
- Third person omniscient, where multiple characters’ perspectives and emotions are revealed. This type of POV was used more often during the nineteenth century (think Charles Dickens or Jane Austen).
- Third person dramatic / objective, where the narrator acts as the observer (like in third person limited / close) but does not enter or reveal the protagonist’s thoughts or feelings.
Of the five POVs listed above, first person and third person limited are the two most commonly used styles. Pick a random book from your shelf and open to a random page. Chances are the narrator of the book is using first-person or third-person pronouns when referring to the protagonist. Why is this the case? It could be because the first-person and third-person POVs are the narrative styles that most effectively allow the reader to connect to the story and the characters – and, as a result, allow the writer to connect to the reader. Those connections let stories linger with the reader for months, years, perhaps a lifetime.
As I’ve mentioned before, the novel I’m writing is in the fantasy genre. What POVs have you seen in any fantasy books you’ve read? Believe it or not, several classic fantasy series use third person omniscient. Here are some examples from my personal library: J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord Of The Rings, C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles Of Narnia, Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (The Golden Compass begins this series)… In all of these stories, the narrator may return to a particular character more often than others, but we the readers learn the thoughts, feelings, and observations of multiple characters. Many other fantasy novels and series are written in third person limited: Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea cycle, Kristin Cashore’s Graceling books, George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Fire And Ice saga (third person limited, with each chapter alternating between characters), and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series (despite breaking away from Harry’s viewpoint a couple times). It may be a safe bet to say that most fantasy literature is written in some form of third-person narration.
So, which POV did I choose for my fantasy novel? First person, of course. (Ha ha!)
I actually began writing the novel in third person limited. It was an easy decision: The story reveals one young Faerie woman’s personal journey of growth, compassion, and forgiveness while going on a physical journey with her companions. The physical journey doesn’t serve as the novel’s focal point or as a “bird’s eye view” on any particular aspect of modern-day society. Therefore, third person omniscient wouldn’t fit the story very well, while third person limited was a more natural choice. It’s crucial for you, the reader, to see the events unfolding through only one protagonist’s eyes, how she reacts to those events, and how those events change her as a person – I mean, Faerie. (You get what I mean, I hope? *lol*) Also, it’s entirely possible that the protagonist herself may be the catalyst of some of the novel’s events. But that’s for you to find out at a later time, I hope. 😉
So, how did I go from third person limited to first person? Well, somewhere before the 10,000-word mark,
I noticed I was having difficulty expressing my protagonist’s emotions from third person limited. Even though I was sharing her thoughts and emotions, the approach felt too distant. That’s not what I was aiming for. What I realized I wanted for this novel was to get the reader as close to the protagonist as possible. She experiences some potent emotions during this novel, from rage and guilt to love and fear – emotions that leap out from the page much more easily for me when I write in first person. With first person, I can truly put myself in my protagonist’s shoes and say, “OK, I am _____. Here’s the situation. Knowing what I know about her, how would she feel about this? What would she think about that?” It’s a risk to let the reader to plunge inside her head and heart during this ride. Yet, I believe it’s a risk worth taking for this particular story.
The trick will be to keep the narrative in check. Mary Carroll Moore makes an outstanding point in her recent Grub Street Daily article, “Testing Out First and Third Person: How to Choose the Best Point-of-View Narration for Your Book.” First-person POVs can come across as self-absorbed or intense, which can get tiring after a while. I agree with this argument – but when first person is done correctly, it rivets you. Its intensity and immediacy convinces you to read another chapter, then another. That’s what I want with this novel. What I hope to accomplish, in order to strike the right balance, is to temper the narrative with dialogue (as there are several important secondary characters) and with the Faeries’ tendency for succinctness in their speech. The latter may have to wait to be honed until I revise the first draft and am in the right frame of mind for editing. But that’s the plan as of right now.
Wow. That’s a lot of information to give you all in one sitting! I do hope it gave you a little more insight into the book, though. I have some planned time off in between the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday and Christmas. And with most of my holiday shopping already done, that should give me extra time to relax and to work on creative projects – and maybe make enough progress to post the next Chronicle. In the meantime, does anyone have any recommendations for fantasy novels (for YA audiences or older) that are written in first-person POV? I’d like to read more of those books in the future, just to see how other fantasy authors handled this type of narrative.
And, since we’re halfway through November: Any writers out there challenging themselves by taking part in NaNoWriMo? How are your WIPs coming along? I wish you all the best of luck!
Next Chronicle: When I reach 35,000 words
Until Then: Keep an eye out for my review of Baliset’s new EP Exordium at Sonic Cathedral as well as a possible Open Mic Night announcement for December!
*POV diagram also found here: http://ingridsnotes.wordpress.com/2011/03/06/the-point-of-point-of-view/