Tuesday, April 16, 2013

POV: you can't make me!

Point of View. Why does it matter which one I use? Why can't I write a first-person, present-tense short story or be back and forth in the heads of many important characters? Leave me alone and let me write what I want! You can't make me conform!

I found five reasons to write in conventional POV, at least until you already have a large and loyal readership that will buy whatever you write just because your name is there on the cover: confusion, distraction, expectation, experience, and reputation.

Confusion: If the writer hasn't made it completely clear who is talking/thinking/important on a page (more difficult than it sounds) then the reader misses information. You want to make every word count, right? If your reader is missing information because she can't figure out who's talking, your carefully hoarded words are not working!

Distraction: If your reader is confused, she has to go back, re-read, figure out, read again...in short, she's been pulled out of the story.She might say to herself...Hmm, I'm hungry. Oh, the dog needs to be let out. Dinner's ready! Bedtime already? No, I don't want to read that book anymore, it was confusing. What else can I read? And you've lost her. UGH!

Expectation: When a reader spends his money on a (insert genre here) book, he has certain expectations about the way that story will be told.Will he be happy reading a murder mystery in which three of every five pages is about battling space monsters? Probably not.Will she be expecting seven main characters in her romance book? No to that, too. Just as a reader expects a story to follow certain plot conventions, readers' expectations include familiar point of view. Without that familiarity, you might be right back at "Distraction."

Experience: Point of view affects a reader's response to the characters of a story. In murder mystery, knowing everything the narrator knows is not going to make things mysterious! In an action story, the reader will not feel the rush of jumping out of a plane if the writer is talking about how hot and sexy the hero is from the pilot's point of view. In a romance, the most important thoughts and feelings are those of the hero and heroine, not the tow-truck driver or the cabbie, unless those are the hero and heroine.

Who is the reader experiencing? Whoever the writer has written, of course. If that experience is not what the reader expected, again, you are back to distraction.

Reputation: Most of us write to sell, even if we first write for other reasons.When a reader buys your book, Whooo, baby, that rocks! But if the reader couldn't see how great the story was because it was also confusing and distracting, you've lost the next sale. Besides that, your reputation is damaged, and word gets around, so you've lost other sales, too.

OK, here's the cleverness:
Don't let confusion distract your reader and ruin her experience. Meet his expectations and your reputation will be on the rise rather than at the bottom of the ravine.

I found some highly useful information about how, how not, and why to accomplish tight, clean, appropriate POV here, here, here, here, and here. I actually found a surprisingly large number of blog posts about this topic. If you're interested, I'm sure you can find them too, so I won't list them all here.

What is your favorite POV to read? To write? Why?

Happy writing!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the work and research you poured into this post, Meggan. Nice one.

I prefer first person. I really like first person, present tense. Both reading and writing it. It goes through rounds of popularity and has both friends and foes.

The romance I'm currently writing is third person past. This may sound funny, but it's harder for me to write than first person present!


Paty Jager said...

I like third person, past to write. I read both third person and first person.

Great post!

Karen Duvall said...

Really interesting post, Meggan. I like all POVs, reading it and writing it, and I write in all of them except 2nd person. That would be just... weird. Wait, I take that back. When I wrote for an advertising agency, I did write 2nd person: "This deal was made just for you!" Ugh.

I'm like Danita in that I find it more challenging to write in 3rd than in 1st person. And I miss the I, me, my, we, us and our. :( I obsess over using the characters' names too much. And when and where to switch POV, because in 1st person there's no switching. However I do enjoy getting into the heads of my other characters. So far for this book it's just been the hero and heroine, but I will likely work in the villain at some point, but sparingly. :)

Meggan McQuaid said...

Danita, Paty, and Karen, thanks for your comments!

I myself have been writing in third person past, almost exclusively in the heroine and hero's heads. But I plan to write a chapter or three in the villain's point of view. And though I like to read kick-butt first person urban fantasy, the one experiment I did with first person myself was something of a disaster. So Paty and I have that (and quilting) in common.

Sarah Raplee said...

Great post,Meggan!

I write in limited third person, how limited depends on the story. One book is in the hero, heroine and villains' povs, the other includes sceneds in two villains' povs and the subplot hero and heroine povs.

Genene Valleau, writing as Genie Gabriel said...

Nice post, Meggan! So far the books I've written have been in third person. When I'm developing the story, I will many times write a character's background information in first person because it's deeper and that's the way they talk to me. But not much of that goes in the finished book.

I read books written in both first person and third. I don't have a preference as long as it's done well. :)

Meggan McQuaid said...


That's interesting that you wrote a whole story mostly from the villain's point of view. My mind is churning over how you accomplished that and how it was received. Wow. Thanks for your comments :)

You bring up a good point too, now that I'm thinking about it. My notes are often NOT in third person past, but in third person present. Isn't that interesting? I wonder how many other authors do notes in something other than what their final draft is in? Thanks for your comments :)