Point of View covers a LOT of territory, so let me know if there are any parts of this you want me to get more in depth on, and I’ll try to work it in.
- First person, present-I am writing a novel-This is most common in YA and MG. It gives it a stronger sense of immediacy, which is helpful in getting that younger sounding voice. (Scorpio Races, of course, uses this from two character’s perspectives.) Some adult novels use this too, especially ones that have a focus on action.
- First person, past-I wrote a novel- Mostly used when you have an older version of the character telling their story. (Six-Gun Snow White)
- Third person, present-Hetal is revising her novel
- Third person, past -Hetal wrote her novel.-Most common in Adult novels.
There are, of course, exceptions. You also have the choice of limited-readers can only know what the character knows- vs omniscient-it can jump between people/events that the main character may or may not know- narration.
The Star Trek: Next Generation tie in novels, for example, are in third present omniscient, and so it mimics the effect, mostly, of looking through that camera lens. It gives you a little more insight to the thoughts and motivations of the characters than the TV episodes, but that’s basically just replacing the body language you’re missing from the screen. When you do this unintentionally, it’s called head-hopping, and gives me a headache to read, frankly. It makes it hard to get to know the characters, and often ends up making a mess in action scenes. Generally, if you want to do third person, stick with one or two people in limited POV. Past or present, whichever is more common for your genre and fits your story best.
What’s harder to figure out is who that I should be, or who needs to be holding the proverbial camera the most in third person. Your main character should be the person with the most at stake emotionally. This is why I always suggest keeping as few POVs as are ABSOLUTELY needed to tell the story. Sure, you can show what’s happening to the research team, the hot archeologist, his love interest, her cat, and the new intern who gets eaten by a grue… But some of these have more at stake, and the more POVs you have, the more chances for things to go wrong. Each person you take a POV to needs to earn their perspective, not just because it’s cool in this one spot.
Since this is already getting a bit unwieldy, I’m going to focus on the most common- First person past limited, and third person past limited.
A lot of YA does first person because it lets you FEEL a lot more of the emotions. When you’re a teenager, everything feels so much more immediate than once you get older. So this is great if your story has a lot of strong emotional situations causing internal conflict, and less external conflict. I hesitate to use it for stories with a lot of explosions or frequent battles, because that tends to end up with a lot of the POV character being knocked out, which is not nearly as fun in real life as novels tend to make it sound.
You’d think, from that, you’d want most adult romance novels in first person, right? Nope! Oddly, it’s a genre with the convention of dual close third narration. You follow the heroine, and the hero, but you’re not entirely seeing the world from their perspectives. It’s more like a camera that can read their body language as key thoughts, you just don’t get the ongoing narration. Close third is more useful, generally, than omniscient third. (For a good example of omniscient third, check most any TV tie in novel, like the Star Trek: The Next Generation ones.) You get a strong sense of the main characters, who they are, what they want, and how they feel, without getting bogged down in their internal monologue. In the case of romances, this lets you relate to the heroine/hero without getting in the way of the fantasy it’s building. The characters there are developed, but as part of those roles specifically.
Either POV, if you’re using more than one POV character, you have to craft different voices for them. You should be able to easily tell, without a chapter heading, which character you’re dealing with. It’s in the details-word choice, the details they notice, and the cadence of the sentences. We’ll go over this a bit more in a later post, but the way you weave the details in around the dialogue and into the action is really key to making a novel work well. This is where studying awesome books comes into play. I’m a firm believer that all the advice and help in the world won’t get you anywhere if you’re not reading. Yes, I know, it takes time, time you could use for your writing. Do it anyway. Read amazing books, read mediocre books. Just don’t read books you don’t enjoy. Life is too short for that.
More to come! (I’m not 100% sure what post is next at this point. Whatever I finish next, haha!)