Friday, April 15, 2016

"M" My Problem with POV

by Joe Siple

Writing a novel is difficult. Actually, let me rephrase. Writing a good novel is difficult. You have to come up with an idea, maybe a high-concept storyline, plus a character interesting enough to captivate a reader for four hundred pages. You have to weave in elements of theme, twists and turns, and end it powerfully enough that the reader can’t wait to go out and get your next book. Add to all that one of my biggest difficulties as a writer—point of view.

I’ve written enough that I have a pretty good grasp on POV. I understand the benefits and drawbacks of each. Third-person is the most versatile, of course, with a range of intimacy that can vary from nearly omnisciant on one side, all the way to hearing (or reading) every thought a character has on the other side. First person has the benefit of a “feel of immediacy" as well as allowing the writer to get very deeply into the character’s personality. Someone from my writer’s group is even trying her hand at a second-person manuscript and it’s working surprisingly well.

A high percentage of Young Adult novels are written in first-person, while more adult novels across the board are some degree of third-person. One thing I’ve learned from my agent is that it is currently difficult to sell manuscripts with multiple first-person points of view (as of this writing).

Unfortunately, I like to write in first-person, not uncommonly with multiple first-person POVs.  I like how it feels like I can become the characters. I like how the characters’ voices seems easier to get on paper. I like how it gives a sense that anything can happen because the reader is living the story, moment-by-moment. So that’s how I usually write. First-person, present-tense.
I understand it’s not the right POV or tense for every story—not even every one of my stories. I might have to change the POV to third-person after finishing a first draft, or even after several drafts. And sometimes that works surprisingly well. It turns out first-person narratives translate pretty well into third-person, with a very close (or intimate) point of view. In fact, I don’t think my voice would be as strong if I just wrote a third-person manuscript, compared to first-person-turned-third-person.  t’s all about really getting to know the character, and that’s easiest for me to do when I write in first-person.

At least, that’s where I am now. It’s entirely possible this is just a step on the way to becoming a good third-person writer. But for now, it works for me.

If you’re having a hard time finding your voice in your third-person manuscript, consider writing it in first-person. You might find it easier to develop the voice you’re looking for, and you might be surprised how well that voice survives (and how easy, if time-consuming, the process is) if you decide to change it back to third-person.

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