Wednesday, 22 April 2009

The PoV Question

Over the past week, I have read, three new books written in first person PoV. Well, to be accurate, I have started three books. One I discarded after chapter three, one I finished and enjoyed, and the third I am really ‘Into’ and it has inspired in me an ambition to write one of my own.

However, any critique group and other writer’s forums will tell you that First Person PoV is frowned upon by editors who advise
strongly against using it. So what about these three books I picked off the shelves of Waterstones last week, all published in the last five months written in First person.

I write historical fiction, so if I am going to attemp
t this, I need to have a strong and interesting main character. The plot and other characters have to be seen entirely through her eyes, and yes, it will be a she. Those happenings require a unique slant to make the reader empathise with the character, are 'walked through' their life and care what happens to her.

I also have to place her in a world she doesn’t necessarily feel comfortable with. After all, if she’s meek, obedient and hasn’t an original thought, she'll be predictable and who’s going to be interested enough to persist to the end of the novel?

My reasons are: instead of writing as an observer after the fact, I can live the events with my character. The shock of a discovery, an impulsive action she regrets later, her remorse, contrition and then the resolve to do better in future. All the things handled in third person PoV, but in a more raw, immediate way.

The disadvantage of course is that events that happen ‘off screen’ have to introduced as eavesdropping, hearsay or using some other way of revealing facts. The story has to unfold with all the misinformation, prejudices, incorrect conclusions and revelations which happen in real life.

With first person, everything has to be made clear in one head – the heroine’s. How she reaches the knowledge she needs, the character growth and overcoming a prejudice, cannot simply happen, but must be logical and credible.

I would be interested to know what others think about first person PoV.
Is it a natural and easy way to write, or do you find it restrictive and full of obstacles?
Do you like reading first person PoV novels, or do you prefer seeing things through multiple character’s eyes?


Augustina Peach said...

For my first book, I started in third-person, but the manuscript seemed flat, like it was missing something important. I tried first-person, and that immediately felt better to me. After editing and re-editing, I now can't imagine it being anything else BUT first-person. I like playing with the idea that what the narrator is telling us may not be the exact truth, but the "filtered" truth; that can even become a plot device when the readers realize the narrator doesn't have things quite right. Then you can milk the tension of "will she ever figure it out?" I like first-person, even though, like you, I've been told writers ought to avoid it. I like it as a reader, too.

Nixy Valentine said...

I also have noticed a lot more novels I've purchased recently have been in 1st person.

I don't mind it if I identify closely with the main character, but the minute he/she starts acting like an idiot, it annoys me. The other thing I notice is that sometimes I feel like the AUTHOR is telling me how to react to something by putting me in the characters shoes and then having HER react a certain way. If my reaction doesn't mesh with the character's, then I feel at odds with the book.

I've considered trying to write something in first person to see how it feels. Unfortunately my current book has more than one POV character, so it wouldn't work for this project. Maybe someday. =)

Kerry Allen said...

However, any critique group and other writer’s forums will tell you that First Person PoV is frowned upon by editors who advise strongly against using it.Another shining example of how writers, working together, collectively conspire to kill each other's careers. A good half of the books I read are written in 1st person POV and somehow managed to sneak past all those discouraging editors, who appear to be unaware of their legendary bias.

I don't mind reading it because I see it as a character relating his or her experiences to me or reading that character's diary, not myself being inserted into the role of "I."

My preference is for writing in 3rd because I like having access to more than one perspective, but I'm currently working on a story in 1st because that best serves the gimmick attached to this particular story. It's challenging to confine myself to the narrow beam of one character's knowledge. I've tried changing it to 3rd to force it into my comfort zone, but it doesn't work as well, so I bow to the will of the story.

Carol A. Spradling said...

Hi Anita,

I'm not bothered by first person. I see it as an opportunity to develop a deep connection to the character. Many times, third person pov isn't able to achieve this depth.

I think the story dictates which pov works best, and a good author will recognize it.

Anne Gilbert said...

I really think it all depends on what you're writing. I've read novels that are POV first person and novels that are third person, and I've enjoyed some of each and hated or been indifferent to some of each. I have one novel "on the shelf" at the moment, that's narrated by a young woman about very important things that happened to her when she was 15 years old(no, it's not a "literary" novel; it's probably going to be aimed at Young Adults and is basically science fiction. Yes, first person is hard to write and maintain, but in some cases,like the 15 year old girl, it just seems to fit the story. Other stories just don't need that kind of narration, IMO. But maybe I'm being idiosyncratic. I don't know. I just try to write what feels right to me.
Anne G

Julie Conner said...

I've written in all types of POV, and the one that works best for me is first person. It is limited because you can only see out of one person's eyes.'s a first person POV deal. You only see out of your own eyes, unless you're a mind reader. (That's what I want for my super power.. Screw the old saying that eavesdroppers never hear anything good. I would love to know what the people around me are really thinking! I digress. Anyway) To deal with the one-sightedness of 1st person, I've written practice scenes from the other people's POV so I can know, and show, what's in their heads. Maybe that's why it takes me so long to upload a chapter lately.

N. Gemini Sasson said...

You mean there's an option? Writing in first person carries me (and I hope my reader) to the time, the place and the events as they happen. The first couple of stories I attempted to write were in third person. They never quite achieved what I set out to do. It wasn't until I leapt into the skin of my MC's and wrote in 1st that the story came alive in my mind and heart and I FELT what the MC felt.

Kate Allan said...

You can still have multiple viewpoints in first person novels.

Mirella Sichirollo Patzer said...


First, I love the new template. It's terrific!

I think first person narratives hvae become popular for biographical historical fiction novels. I know it made a huge difference in my story about Mechthild of Ringleheim. I've definitely noticed a publishing trend in this regard.

I've also learned that it's not easy to write in first person. It really limits the author's freedom in telling a "full" story. So first person narratives won't work for all types of stories.

I'd love to know what the three books you read this week were. Care to share? I'm always on the look out for first person narrative books. They are my favourite because it is a deeper insight into a person's thoughts and allows me to really sink into the character's thoughts.

I think the reason why some publishers don't like first person narratives is because many readers don't like them. So that limits sales. But I have noticed the trend for biographical historicals to be first person and that's one of the reasons why I changed. Besides, it has helped me take a long saga and narrow the focus.

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