Sunday, March 11, 2012

Reflections: POV First Person

Hi, folks, I'm continuing my Point of View reflections this week. I'm tackling first person POV. First person is a popular viewpoint for children's novels. It is a extremely popular viewpoint for YA novels, especially contemporary novels. You are writing a book, and are wondering whether to write it in first person. The following guidance will help you understand some of the advantages and disadvantages of this POV choice.

First Person POV is what I call "the first person shooter" POV. First person shooter is a term that comes from video games. If you are playing this type of game, you are looking down the barrel of your gun -- you are the shooter. For writing, you write everything from: "I". Interior thoughts, dialogue and description (every dang word in the book) all come from the head of the main character: I bought the bongos. and "My bongos are sweet," I said. This is the most intimate form of storytelling, and FYI it also lends itself well to present tense. For example: I buy the bongos. First person creates a deep, visceral experience for readers.

First person POV comes with many advantages. Your reader feels like she actually becomes the character and experiences the journey with your main character. Your reader will wholly identify with internal journey of your main character. And more, your readers will deeply feel the pain and heartache, the joy and triumph of your main character. All this brings a connection -- first person POV peels back the lid that separates us all and gives readers the opportunity to fully know someone else, especially powerful for young people who are hungering for the complex connections of adulthood. Beyond connection, it's the POV of secrets. The reader knows with the main character what isn't being said and this can create "fault line" tension throughout a piece. First Person POV is also a great POV to hide things from readers because your reader can only know what your character knows. Hence the POV lends itself well to mysteries.

So what could be the downside of this? First Person POV is very limited. You have to be comfortable inhabiting the skin of another character. Whatever you think will not be on the page, what your main character thinks will be there. You have to love that character with all your soul to "sell" it for so many pages. You have to know your character and how they will respond in every situation. One false step and you lose your reader. There is no "voice forgiveness" in first person. Every word must be colored by your main character. You must know every color. Your main character has to be someone that your reader is willing to travel with. This requires complex manipulation from the writer, especially if your main character is not a classic "hero" but is really "a pain in the backside". How do you get readers to stay with "a pain in the backside"? Yes, that is a hard, not impossible, but hard.

First person POV can rub the "storyteller' writer the wrong way because this sort of writer has a powerful "narrator voice' that is not off putting to readers. In fact, readers connect with it. In first person, you don't get a separate 'narrator voice', your character inhabits the book (not you), so the narrator is the main character (period). For some writers this is actually is a problem, for others this is the best thing that could have ever happened to them. First person can feel like a straight-jacket when writing it. You are not allowed to know anything but what your main character can know. Some writers find this stifling. Others find it freeing.

So how do you find if first person is for you? Here's the honest truth. Try it. Remember the million word rule. You have to write a million words in first person to be an expert. That's a good rule of thumb. Consider this when trying the First Person POV, is the the story you want to tell being told? If your answer is yes, keep with it. If it is no. Try something else.

I hope my thoughts on POV help you on your journey to writing master works. Come back next week for more reflections on POV. Seize the day.

This week's doodle is "Landscape 3":



This week's quote for the week is called:

“I would so hate to be a first-person character! Always on your guard, always having people read your thoughts!”

― Jasper Fforde, Lost in a Good Book

7 comments:

Candy Lynn Fite said...

Hey, Molly! My pb's are written in 3rd person, it just always seems fitting. My YA was first drafted all 118,000 words in first person. I found, too many times, I became the character herself. I feel in some ways it handicapped the story. There were so many things I left unwritten because, I knew her emotions. There is a fine line between writing as first person and becoming the first person while drafting. Sounds confusing.

When I first when back to redraft the YA, I started in 3rd person, but it just didn't work for me. When I would go back and read it like a reader, I felt removed from the narrator. I believe for YA, at least most of the stories I've read, and mine, it needs to be first person narration.

Teens want the experience. They want to feel emotion, raw emotion. At least I did.

MollyMom103 said...

Hi Candy! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Oh, yes, author intrusion is a real problem in first person. Thanks for pointing that out.

Most of my pbs are in third person too, but I have seen first person pbs -- Not Norman by Kelly Bennett comes to mind. I totally agree that first person is popular for YA (and used almost exclusively in YA contemporary, realistic), but third person limited is used too and third omniscient is used some too. Examples include: Wicked Lovely series by Melissa Marr, the Eragon series by Christopher Paolini, The Maze Runner series by James Dashner, The Dark Materials series by Phillip Pullman are a few that come to mind.

On a personal level, as a teen I definitely had a preference for third person. I especially liked third person, multiple viewpoints (not used much at all in YA). I did like a few first person books as teen, but I can distinctly remember closing books because they were written in first person and looking for something else. I have a feeling that popular POVs may be something that come in and out of fashion.

I think the goal is always to be cognizant of the choices you have made to write your story and then to execute those choices flawlessly.

Faith Pray said...

Interesting! I've read a couple of first person/present tense POV YA books recently. Definitely gripping, interesting, and intensely raw! - and limited! I think Candy Lynn is right. It's more true to the teen experience. Don't we all kind of self-implode during the teen years. Makes sense that we need that POV to engage in a book at that age.
I love the Jasper Fforde quote. Now *those* (Jasper Fforde's) are some wackily fascinating books!

Faith Pray said...

After writing my two bits about teens and POV, I read your comment. I see what you're saying. Trends come and go, and tastes vary according to the reader. I can see how that makes sense. I definitely like distance between myself and my books, because I get too entangled in the plot as it is. Good first person POV just sucks me in and I can't get away.

MollyMom103 said...

Hi, Faith.

Thanks for sharing your perspective too.

I think I should say here that first person is WILDLY popular for teen books and impressive and talented writers think so!

This is me thinking more. I also notice that third person is used more for series than for stand alone novels. I'm not sure what that means at all, but I will think on it.

Candy Lynn Fite said...

I wish we were sitting in the same room instead of miles apart while discussing this. Molly, I had to come back and read this post after I finished with your post on 3rd Limited.

Even though, I believe teens prefer 1st person POV stories, I as the writer would rather give it to them in 3rd. I'm a storyteller by nature. I want to tell them ALL about it, "paint" the landscape.

BUT, with that being said, I have to ask myself WHO am I writing for? YA or adults who read YA?

Thank you, Molly for giving us such insightful things to consider. I guess in the end, it depends on the story, and which POV narrates the story best.

MollyMom103 said...

Candy! I meant to respond. I think we need to figure out a way to get together and chat. Perhaps we can meet somewhere in the middle like Navasota for writerly discussion? That would be cool.

P.s. sorry for taking a while to get back to you.