Tuesday, March 04, 2008


Is it always clear to you what POV to use in a story? I usually use the third person limited POV. I like the slightly more distant and atmospheric setting you can create with this approach.
First person is good for getting inside someone'e head but you're limited, I think, in describing anything more than what the "I" can see in front of him. It requires a very dynamic "I" like Ken Bruen's creation of Jack Taylor to pull it off.
And the third-person omniscient POV is just too remote for me. Those long shots can be fuzzy.
Much like in film I like the middle-range shots.
But every once in a while, I'll find a story isn't working from my preferred vantage, shift to first person and suddenly things fall into place. What about you? What do you like to read/write?


Travis Erwin said...

Mos tof the stuff I've written ahs been limited 3rd, but my current humor novel in progress is first person.

I think the narrator character is engaging enough to pull it off,a nd I use his limited vision to help hide a few things from the reader. If I expanded the novel to other POV's the humor would be lost and the ending would not be a suprise.

Graham Powell said...

I love writing in the first person because I feel that you can keep a story interesting when nothing's really happening if the narrator's voice is strong.

Otherwise I generally use a very limited third, where you don't get anyone's thoughts, or a slightly elss limited version, where you get a single character's thoughts.

pattinase (abbott) said...

First person works best for me with a really colorful protagonist (like Jack) or with super-focused action. I like reading it more than writing it. I feel like I don't know my protag well enough till midway through a story to be telling it from inside out. If that makes sense.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty simple;whatever best serves the story. And I don't mind multiple pov's if the writer can pull it off. [Although I've seen several attempts that were no more than literary fret-wanking - which brings up another of my simple "rules" - just because you can doesn't mean you should.]
John McAuley

John McFetridge said...

Good question, Patti.

I like whatever gets us deepest into the characters.

I write using third person, but every scene is from a particular character's POV. Sometimes I write the same scene from different POVs to find the best one.

Not everyone likes this (as John McAuley says) and I've had to convince a few editors (or, usually copy editors) that, yes, even the narration is form the character's POV and sometimes that means breaking a few grammar rules.

Clair D. said...

I started writing third person (once upon a time) because I liked to jump around to see how different characters would see things. Now, about the only time I use third person is when say thinks like "Ms Dickson draws crappy stick people, too."

I like the way first person forces me to think ahead in a story. I can't just go write a scene where the buy guy dishes his motives... or at least, if I did, it would be relegated to story research. I think this keeps the story focused.

And, since I write detective fiction, I'm certainly influenced by and following in footsteps of Raymond Chandler.

Clea Simon said...

I love writing in first person - it feels more natural, of course. And I like the challenge of having my narrator misinterpret things she sees. But I'll read any POV. What bothers me is when writers switch too often, just to confuse things. That always seems a bit cheap to me.

Anonymous said...

To the other john mc--I'm with you on breaking grammar rules when it serves the character/ story. I break 'em all the time--mostly by accident/ignorance though,lol.

B.t.w.--All the best on your upcoming release of 'Everbody Knows This Is Nowhere' Any novel that uses a Neil Young album title deserves bonus points.
John McAuley

Sophie Littlefield said...

ooh! ooh! love this discussion...I use 'em all and prefer to let the story nudge me in the right direction...and have many times changed my mind (usually somewhere in the first third of the rough draft) about what would serve me best.

I write a fair amount in what I fondly think of as my "missouri redneck" voice and this, for whatever reason, always requires 1st person.

I also write what my brother calls "Escalade Noir" - overpriveleged soul-less people - and this goes in 3rd person mostly because I don't want to admit any identification with the characters (tho of course it's there.)

Isn't it amazing how weird people get about second person? Man, some people really hate it - as if you were proposing murdering kittens or something. That alone makes me want to use it from time to time.

And finally, I recently got a ding where the editor felt that I would have been more effective than 3rd than 1st. Usually I'm pretty easy-going about being edited - and maybe this guy was right - but in this case I wanted to jump up and down and go You're wrong, you're wrong, you're wrong....very childish of me, but it did help me sort out my feeling that some tales need the immediacy of first.

Well! Not sure I added much to the discussion there, but it sure was fun to vent. Thanks :)

John McFetridge said...

To the other-other John Mc - thanks.

I live in Toronto and I often wonder why there isn't more made of the Neil Young-Joni Mitchell-The Band history in the place. I keep looking for plaques on buildings, "On this spot Bob Dylan met the members of The Band and decided to go electric," but of course, today the plaque would be on a condo.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Nice discussion, guys. I've been babysitting for my grandson all afternoon. IS he prodigy if he can turn itsy bitsy spider into a dance at fifteen months. I think so.
I like the idea that writing in the first person forces you to think ahead. Although I have to admit my story in Murdaland, one of my few in first person, was written in a sort of fugue state and I didn't know what would happen in the next sentence. Actually I think I was ill.
I don't like switching POV around much either unless it alternates chapters and is very clear who is speaking. It makes me nervous if I have to keep going back to check.
I've never had an editor suggest changing the POV, (lots of other things but not that). Usually I feel something's wrong and change it myself.
I wonder if people who write in the first person are more confident about their protag. Sometimes I feel that.

Anonymous said...

To the other from the other other--I get the horrible feeling that there'd be a lot of, "Who's Joni Mitchell and what the hell is 'The Band'? And wasn't Bob Dylan always electric? I mean the dude's old, but didn't they have electricity when he started out?"...Heh, maybe I'm just being curmudgeonly because I no longer get Channel 9 out of Windsor thereby missing one of my favorite tv shows, "The Hour." Its absence makes a crappy Michigan winter even worse.
[When Dylan plugged in and started kicking out the jams you would'a thunk he'd farted in church while drowning a starving kitten in holy water. I loved it!]
John McAuley

pattinase (abbott) said...

Oh, I miss Channel Nine. Why did it go away? Right now we're renting DaVinci's Inquest.
Why do all men love Neil Young. Okay I like some of his stuff but he seems like the closest most males comes to tears. Explain it. I actually went to see that Green Something in person. Never got it.

Patricia said...

Hey, just read you've been nominated for Million Writers Award for "A Saving Grace"


pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks Patricia. It was so nice of you to take the time to write.

WordVixen said...

I never liked first person, and would specifically choose another book over anything written in first person. Since I started reviewing, I've found that I do like some first person stories, but mainly only in chick lit. It seems to be tied in to how well the author writes. 9 times out of 10, though, I would have preferred the story in third person.

I sometimes write in first person just to get a better feel for the character or situation, but I plan to always revise into third if possible.