Posts Tagged ‘Point of view’
Well, apparently tomorrow I see a hand specialist. It’s the fastest referral I’ve ever had—exactly one week. I’ve been trying hard to get my hand to twitch, so s/he will have something to look at, but it stopped immediately after I saw the GP, and it’s staying resolutely normal. Anyway, I figured I should do my next blog post and answer some more questions, in case the specialist forbids me from typing ever again.
Johanna asked (via email, and edited to remove spoilers for Nina Jones and the Temple of Gloom):
I wondered, can’t 3rd person have the same effect as 1st if you only show that character’s POV and if you go deeply into their thoughts/feelings? In the M&B books which don’t show the hero’s POV (I know there aren’t many, but some exist), we follow the heroine’s journey through her eyes and mind, but it’s all told in 3rd person. It could just as easily be 1st – aren’t the two are interchangeable in these situations? Doesn’t it just become an author’s preference for 1st/3rd person, with the same story being told whatever their choice?
Eg, in Nina Jones (which I seem to remember was 1st person present tense), you showed the heroine moving from loving X to loving Y. Very crudely put: “I love him” develops in the book to “”I realise now I don’t love X. I love Y.”
Wouldn’t it have the same effect in 3rd person?: “She loved him” —> “She realised then that she didn’t love X. She loved Y.”
This is a really, really good question and I’ve been struggling with it since you asked it, Jo. I agree, that deep third-person POV, centring on only one character, can be nearly as intimate as first-person. I’ve read so many books that use that technique, and I’ve loved them. I think the thing is, for me, that first-person is even more intimate. You have to use the character’s voice. You have to include only what the character thinks and feels and knows—absolutely nothing else. (Especially in first-person present, which is even more intimate and immediate.) You cannot have any authorial voice at all, except very subtly, for example through the use of dramatic irony, or in things such as chapter headings.
Third person, even very deep third person, is still just that one degree of separation from the character. You can still, if you want, zoom out slightly to include things like descriptions of appearance, or more objective backstory. With first person, you’re there, right in your narrator’s head.
Also, I really enjoy the notion of an untrustworthy narrative character, and I think you don’t get that with third person. If you’re talking about “she”, there’s an objectivity implied there, that the focus character is more or less accurate in what she perceives, or at least she’s not trying to deceive the reader, because how could she? She’s not telling the story. The author is. A first person narrator, on the other hand—she can tell you whatever she likes. She can tell you lies. Even if she’s not out to deceive you, she can still only perceive half the story, and give you a warped view.
So, for example, in Nina Jones, Nina’s portrayal of X, her first love, is seriously skewed, but she doesn’t know it. I really wanted the reader to perceive him just as she did, as perfect…even though he wasn’t. Likewise, when she does meet her true love, I wanted the reader to doubt him, just as she did.
There are all kinds of untrustworthy narrators in fiction, and as far as I can remember, they’ve always been first person. I’m thinking Notes on a Scandal, or Wuthering Heights, or Rachel’s Holiday, or even that Agatha Christie first-person novel where the narrator is the murderer…
You can tell that the whole idea gets me all excited.
Anyway, I think it’s a matter of degree, rather than something enormous. Kate’s comments to these posts have been really good—she’s said that some characters just choose first person. And that sometimes, with some characters, first person feels way too intimate. You can get very, very intimate with your characters using third person, and you can know them extremely well, and indeed write in their voice the entire time. But there’s that little bit more in first person, which has more restrictions and conversely more possibilities.
What do you think?
After a week’s rest, a visit to the doctor and a reacquaintance with yoga, my hands are better today so I’m going to start to try to answer some of the questions I’ve been sent about point of view. First, though, if you haven’t read my previous posts, this one is about what point of view is, and this one is about how I’ve chosen the points of view for my novels.
In the novel I’m writing for NaNoWriMo I’ve decided to go without the hero’s POV because I think it’ll make him more intriguing but in my first novel I’m dithering over whether to get rid of the Hero’s POV or keep it in. He’s not a traditional hero but he deeply loves the heroine. It’s just that he doesn’t always show it. I’m not sure that I can show his true feelings through actions alone. Any advice? I’m writing in third person.
I think the question you have to ask yourself here is, how do you want to affect the reader of your story? Does the reader need the hero’s POV, or will they enjoy the book more without it? Sometimes, it’s not a good idea to give the reader all the answers. She might enjoy the book more if she’s wondering the whole time, “What is that guy really thinking?” and “Who is the heroine going to end up with?” She might like the bit of mystery, or enjoy learning about the hero’s true feelings along with the heroine. If that’s the case, maybe it’s best to leave out the hero’s POV. (That said, you as the author should always know how he’s feeling and what he’s thinking, even if you don’t spell it out!)
On the other hand, maybe you want the reader to see that the hero and heroine are perfect for each other, and be rooting for them to get together the whole time. In that case, it might be a good idea to have the hero’s POV in there so that the reader can see he’s a better guy than he seems to be.
In the end, it’s your choice, about what kind of book you want it to be. The only hard and fast rule is that you shouldn’t include the hero’s POV if it’s just going to repeat or confirm information that you’ve already conveyed in another character’s POV. But you already knew that, right?
Maybe you want to experiment with both ways. It’s no hardship to cut a POV thread if you feel it doesn’t work.
So the age old discussion on POV is head hopping. I’ve recently read some debut category romance authors who jump in and out of the h and H’s POV within the same scene very frequently. It’s been done well, so again down to the execution of it, but I would love it if you could reiterate your opinion on this.
Head hopping is when the narrative jumps from one point of view to another quite quickly, and then back again, within a single scene and indeed a single paragraph. Sometimes it’s just between the hero and heroine; sometimes it’s between several characters on the page. Lots of people say that there are hard-and-fast rules about this, that it is wrong and you should never, ever do it. To them, I say—read To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf and then tell me that head-hopping doesn’t work exactly as Woolf wants it to.
Like anything, it’s all down to what you want to achieve. Some novels can take multiple points of view, with the perspective hopping hither and thither. Some can’t. (Series/category romance, by the way, nearly always has only two POVs to hop between, if you’re going to hop.) There are two rules about POV, as far as I’m concerned, and neither precludes head-hopping. The first is, try to be in the POV of the character who has most at stake. And sometimes, the stakes hop between characters; the heroine might have more at stake at one moment, and then the hero at the next, or maybe they have the same amount at stake at the same time. There’s a case for head-hopping between them in scenes like that.
The second rule is, don’t repeat yourself in different POVs. And there’s no reason that would preclude head-hopping, either. Even with the same events, two people can interpret them very differently. There are whole novels based on this idea.
For me, I find it can be distracting in commercial fiction when the POV hops around a lot—like more than once or twice per scene. The author needs to have really good control in order to make quick POV switches. My personal rule in my own writing is only ever to have one POV per scene. I like the restrictions this imposes, and I find it easier to delve into my character’s emotions if I stay with them for as long as it works. I might, very occasionally, switch POV mid-scene in story time, but I always do a scene break to do it, to separate the POVs.
Head-hopping, or not, is again, an individual author’s decision. Do you have the skill for it? Does it help you achieve what you want to achieve? Those are the questions to think about, not any general “rules” for or against it.
Thanks for your questions, Lisa and Carol. I’ll look at some more questions tomorrow or Thursday. Meanwhile, how would you answer these questions, and do you have any more?
Thanks to everyone who’s left a comment or question on my previous post. Because I don’t want the discussion to get lost in comments, I’ll talk about the questions in later posts. Today I’m going to talk about how I choose the point of view for my novels. The answer is, in every case, by thinking about the reader.
When I was writing for Mills & Boon, I didn’t have much choice: the vast majority of their novels are in third person limited POV, from the heroine and the hero only. Most of the story is in the heroine’s POV. There’s a really good reason for this. The reader of the story is supposed to identify strongly with the heroine; that’s why readers pick up a M&B novel. They also want to fall in love with the hero, and it’s easier to fall in love with the hero if you can understand what he’s thinking. In a M&B novel, it’s all about the romance, and it feeds into the fantasy if you can witness the hero falling in love with the heroine. Also, it’s all about the conflict keeping these two people apart, and at its best, the dual POV can heighten this conflict. Heroine has a reason she can’t be with the hero; hero has a whole different reason he can’t be with the heroine.
I had a lot of fun with this dual POV sometimes, especially in All Work and No Play… (aka Mistress in Private in the US) because at the start of the book, the heroine doesn’t know who the hero is, but the hero does know who the heroine is, and he thinks she’s pretending not to know who he is, so there’s all this misunderstanding and conflict being built up. I loved balancing that, and it would have never worked with a single POV or in first person. You would have lost half the fun, and also probably thought that the hero was a jerk because you wouldn’t know why he was behaving as he was.
When I started writing my Little Black Dress books, I started playing around with the possibilities of first person POV, and to me, first person achieves a whole different set of things than third person POV. Limiting the perspective can help you tell the story. For example, in One Night Stand, the heroine doesn’t know the hero’s feelings for her, for most of the book. If I’d given Hugh’s point of view, I think it would have diluted the effect of Eleanor’s journey, the way she gradually comes to understand that her best friend is something much, much more. However, even though Eleanor doesn’t see that her best friend Hugh is in love with her, I expected the reader to understand that he was, fairly early in the book. One of the pleasures of that book, for me, is watching Eleanor being clueless, while the reader can understand what’s really happening from how he was behaving, and the clues I’d planted.
This is called “dramatic irony” (when the reader knows something the character doesn’t), and for me, it’s one of the biggest joys of writing in the first person. Dramatic irony all over the place. Of course, there are limitations to first person POV. You can’t write about anything that the viewpoint character doesn’t know, or at least not directly. But then you have to do all this delicious figuring out of how to get around those limitations, or even better, how to use them so that the reader is as deluded as the heroine, and you can bring in a great twist or surprise. I love that stuff.
But sometimes you can’t use it. In Honey Trap, for example, I went back to third person limited, from the heroine and hero’s POV. There was a simple reason for this: the hero, Dominick Steele, is a former alcoholic and serial adulterer. He’s an asshole. But I needed the reader to love him, to understand that while he was still struggling with his darker side, he’d truly reformed by the time the book began. I couldn’t do that from the POV of my heroine, who hated him for the sins he’d committed years before.
Getting Away With It was another case in point. I wanted the story to be in first person, because it’s so, so important that the reader sees the world through Liza’s eyes. Her perceptions of everything, including herself, change so much as the book goes on, and I wanted the reader with her on that entire journey. However, there’s a whole story strand about her twin sister, Lee, who disappears. Since Liza isn’t with her, I couldn’t keep it in Liza’s POV. And I didn’t want to have another first person POV; I thought it would be confusing, and also I wanted the book to emphasize the difference between these two sisters. That they were really two separate people. So I chose to narrate Liza’s story in first person past tense, and Lee’s scenes in third person present tense.
It worked out pretty well, I think, because Liza’s story is about identity and who that “I” really is. Whereas Lee, for most of her story, is feeling isolated from herself, distant from her life, yet feeling the immediacy of taking risks. Having the two points of view also let me, at key moments in the story, offer a bit of perspective on Liza’s life and story, which she never sees herself.
Whew. I think I’ve babbled long enough. It’s your turn now—why have you made the decisions you’ve made, about which POV to use in your book?
I haven’t done any craft posts in ages and with my book gone I have a little bit of time. So I thought I’d write a little bit about point of view, especially as two fellow writers have asked me some questions about it recently. I’ll start with the basics and work my way up.
What is point of view (POV)?
POV is whose eyes you’re looking through as you tell your story. The simplest POV to define is first person, when the main character(s) tell their story in their own words, referring to themselves as “I”. Some books use multiple first-person POV, where several characters tell their own story.
You can also have a variety of third person POV techniques. There’s third person omniscient, where there’s a narrator who knows all the characters’ thoughts and feelings, and dips in and out of them at will. (Sometimes the author’s voice comes in to comment on the story, without being an active character in it.) Thomas Hardy uses this POV, and it’s often employed in literary fiction.
There’s third person limited, where the story focuses on one character’s thoughts and emotions at a time. Many books have third person limited POV from only one character’s POV; many others use third person limited POV for two or three or many characters, focusing on one character at a time. This is very popular in commercial fiction.
There’s also third person objective, where the events are reported, but we don’t see into the thoughts and feelings of the characters. You’re just presented with what happens. I think of this as being like a film, where you can’t see into the characters’ heads, just see their acting.
And some authors use a mixture of two or more of these styles. For example, in Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen uses a mixture of third person limited (focusing on only her heroine Catherine’s thoughts and no one else’s) and third person omniscient (commenting on Catherine’s actions and the structure of her story, from the author’s own point of view). Some books use first person for one character’s sections of the novel, and third person omniscient for another character’s. (A recent example is L. A. Weatherly’s recent YA novel Angel.) Some books might use third person limited POV to show their hero’s actions, but third person objective when showing what the villain does.
What point of view should I use?
I always think carefully about my point of view choices before I use them. Some authors make their choices more instinctively.
Sometimes, the genre you’re writing, or the publisher you’re targeting, determines your POV choices for you. Traditional romance novels, for example, are usually in third person limited, from the heroine and the hero’s POV. You have to have a pretty good reason to break that convention. I’ve noticed that children’s picture books are more often than not in third person. Chick-lit in the tradition of Bridget Jones is often in first person. There’s a publisher who requires all of their books to include the hero’s POV, as well as others.
At other times, your story might determine your POV choices. One of the strengths of the Sherlock Holmes stories is Watson’s first person POV, which lets the reader discover the clues and mystery as he does. On the other hand, your main character might not be present for certain scenes, and you might have vital information that you can only impart to the reader by going into a different POV. In Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen sticks with Catherine’s viewpoint because she wants the reader to discover the truth about the creepy house and its inhabitants along with her. But she zooms out into omniscient POV because she wants to make statements about her society and the popular novels of the time.
Whatever decision you make for your whole book, a good rule of thumb for individual scenes is generally: The scene should be in the POV of the person who has the most at stake at the time.
In my next post, I’ll talk about some of the POV decisions I’ve made, and why I’ve made them. Then I’ll discuss some questions, so if you have any, please post them below!
(Meanwhile, Novelicious has put up an article bout my Post-It plotting method. And my lunch yesterday was absolutely divine. And nobody called me a fraud!)