Thursday, June 30, 2011

OFF WITH THEIR HEADS! How many 'Point of Views' is too many? And who's telling this story anyway?

Lesson Two

Nowwww... a brilliant idea has blossomed within your gray matter. Your fabulous story is germinating at a rapid rate, neurons are synapsing, a character, or three, is/are, taking form in your mind... So, whose story is it, who gets the most screen time?

What you need to decide as a writer, is which narration will serve the overall purpose of your story, and what limitations will be imposed from the POV you choose.

For my 2 year novel in progress, a contemporary romance (with historical and supernatural elements) my main character, Tessa, was birthed a year and a half ago. To decide if I wanted this novel to be in First Person, or Third Person, I wrote a scene both ways:

1st Person:

Perhaps for the last time, I gazed out the third story window. In the afternoon’s muted light I watched two women pushing baby strollers down Forth Avenue. Economical cars cluttered the curb of my tree lined Brooklyn street. I wondered if there was a taxi service on the small Isle in Vermont. Of all the things to wonder about, whether the the little town I would soon inhabit would have a cab available. I smiled at the thought as I lifted my left hand and lay my palm on the cool glass.

My shoulder still ached daily, with varying intensity, as it had for six months now. Ms. Capstone had assured me however, that the physical therapist up in Vermont would be every bit as capable working with me, to restore my left shoulder and arm function to as close to what it had been before the accident.

It was those three words ‘as close to’ that haunted me. My future uncertain, under the best of circumstances, whether I would perform again, brought on a dependable feeling of melancholy that I’d grown comfortable with, like an old wool sweater.

3rd Person:

Two woman were laughing and talking, as they pushed curly headed toddlers down Forth street in state-of -the art strollers. Tessa looked out of her third story window at the clouds hazing the Brooklyn sky and wondered idly if the small Vermont Isle had taxi cabs.

She smiled at the thought, of all the things to worry about, whether the little town she was ‘getting away to’, had a taxi. More likely, they would have an old Dodge truck for hire.

Tessa lifted her palm to the window’s cool glass. Her shoulder ached, as it did daily, though it was blunted now by the pain medication she’d taken earlier. Ms. Capstone had assured Tessa that the physical therapist she recommended up in Vermont would be every bit as stringent in her routine, ensuring the eventual return of full function to Tessa’s arm and shoulder.

The promise of ‘full function’, which Tessa regarded as subjective at best as to whether she would ever perform again, evoked a familiar melancholy that had become her faithful companion of late.

For me, 3rd person felt more comfortable, and because I wanted to include the thoughts of my hero-love interest, and obsessed antagonist, I decided on Third Person Subjective POV (multiple viewpoints). Now with the POV decided upon, I then roughly decided on the percentage of stage time my characters would have in the novel.

Tessa-at least 40%
Michael-at least 30%
Anthony-at least 20%

*Note this doesn’t include some historical sub-plotting which will be weaved in.

Undoubtedly the type of story you are writing will dictate which POV you end up using.

First Person offers the advantage of allowing the reader to feel an immediate connection with your character, and to feel emotions more intensely through your character’s eyes. This POV works well in detective novels, novel’s with confessional, gothic, introspective, or atmospheric facets, as in horror. ( However, this is not to say it can’t work well in adventure, thrillers, sci-fi or fantasy, as Diana Gabaldon so handily demonstrates in her Outlander series).

A few examples of stories written in first person:

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Fever Series by Karen Marie Moning

The Woods by Harlan Coben

One For the Money Series
by Janet Evanovich

*And please don’t forget: First Person, doesn’t have to be a person at all. One of my all time favorite books is The Captain’s Dog by Roland Smith, in which the story is told entirely from Seaman’s POV, Captain Meriwether Lewis’, Newfoundland (with a lovely dog-like perspective, I might add!)

If you have an epic story, secrets, or other characters you want to have the reader identify with, then third person POV may be the better choice. Remember with first person, you know everything your character is thinking, and unless they are delusional or mad, you will know where their loyalties lie, and most all of their secrets (unless they have subconsciously repressed them.) Also with first person, you can’t know what the other guys and gals are doing outside of your sight (see the Jurassic Park example in Lesson one).

Third Person Limited/Multiple Third Person Subjective (I’m lumping these together for brevity’s sake)

This is the most frequently used and widely accepted POV, which allows the reader to have an expanded view beyond the main character’s psyche and thoughts, as I noted in the first lesson. This comfortable narration does have a few cautions to go with it, however. Choose only one character’s POV for a scene or section, DO NOT slip into someone else’s thoughts, or the head hop warden will be filling up your sidebar with admonishments! If you have more than one POV in your novel, plan ahead as to how much air time each POV will have. For instance in J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood Series, the POV’s go something like this:

Hard body Alpha male 40%

Beautiful female 30%

Other supporting characters 30% ( but folks there is a whole lot in between...grin)

Developing a pattern as to when each character’s on stage, will clue the reader in so they can anticipate when their favorite character is coming back, and thus prevent your reader from becoming frustrated, or jarred out of the story. Carefully transitioning from one character to the next through scene changes, or even better, using a new chapter to switch POVs, will help you accomplish a solid and satisfying story.

A few examples of stories written in Third Person Limited/ Multiple Third Person Subjective POVs are:

Ashes to Ashes by Tami Hoag

Cold Blooded by Lisa Jackson

Winter Moon by Dean Koontz

It by Stephen King

Invisible Prey by John Sandford

Third Person Omniscient

This narration is used less frequently, but can be effective when used in a novel where there are mixed POV’s such as in Neil Gaiman’s American God’s. The main POV is Third person limited, Shadow’s mostly, and a couple scenes where his dead wife Laura checks in), but has a sprinkling of omniscient scenes revealing what some of the other characters in the book are up to.

A few examples of Third Person Omniscient:

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Your Task: Either check in on your own work in progress, or brainstorm something new, then let me know in the comment section, if you’ve chosen First, Third, or Omni POV, who your main character is, and if you have multiple characters, what percentage stage time will each have?

*Wrap up, (with a fun exercise) and at 3pm Pacific Time.


Liz said...

I'm a huge fan of the third person limited and use it in all my books. I really really really like to jump inside my hero's head(s) and see what they are thinking. I am a Head jumping nazi though and when I encounter it in a book I will usually stop reading it. In my opinion it's amateurish and lazy.
I have never written in first person and am not a big fan of it to read either. For example, I recently devoured the Hunger Games Trilogy which while deliciously creative, got a little old for me always knowing Katniss' every increasingly whiny POV. I wanted Peeta's or Gale's!
thanks for the these great lessons.

Nancy Bell said...

Great workshop Sara! This is a topic that is much misunderstood and your information helps to make it clearer for sure. Laughed at your comment about the head hop warden filling the side bar with comments. LOL


Sara Durham Writer ~ Author said...

Hi Liz,

I agree, I want to know what the other characters are thinking as well. 'Increasingly whiny POV'-LOL, unless the plot is totally engaging, then just listening to one person go on about what they are thinking and feeling can get old. However, I did just pick up First Grave on the Right, by Darynda Jones (newer PR author) and I must say she hooked me right into her first person character--because of her clever humor. Really funny stuff:)

Thank you again Liz for coming by and offering your take on POV's!


Sara Durham Writer ~ Author said...

Ah Nancy,

I thought you might find that' little bit' humorous, but you are the one who inspired me after all!:)

Thanks so much for checking in today:)

Cheers, Sara

Anonymous said...

Wow, Sara, this is an amazing workshop. You've got a lot of information here.

I've also written the first few pages of a project in different POV's to help me make my decision of first or third.

Thanks for sharing so much.

Kay Dee