Wednesday, August 28, 2013

On point of view

Sunset on a recent trip to Twain Harte, CA.  I'm pretty sure Andi took this one!

I'm working on a new manuscript, and a few weeks ago I met with my favorite former teacher for a consultation.  I tend to write in a billion documents scattered throughout my hard drive all at once, and I was startled to discover, when I knitted them all together, that they made up about the length of a book. I'd been writing in fits and starts and not feeling like things were really coming together yet, and one thing I hadn't resolved yet was the point of view.  When I sent off the manuscript the first two-thirds were in the first person, and the last part was in the omniscient third.

I always write in the first person.  I can remember exactly one exception in the past decade or so of writing, and it's a short story I've been toying with on and off and halfheartedly trying to publish somewhere, so far without success.  But when I was writing my last book there were some mechanical issues that would have been so easy to resolve if the story wasn't told only by a narrator who wasn't around for everything I wanted to include in the story, and last summer I also read a book in the omniscient third that I loved so much that I thought, I need to try that.

So for this story, I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone, and took what felt like a risk, or at least would be considered one in a workshop: I wrote in the omniscient third.  I entered the consciousness of even peripheral characters and I made declarations about them; the narrator knew everything.  I played with that, and I wrote it, and I sent it off.

The first thing my teacher said to me when we met was that she wanted just to focus on the first part of the story--the first-person section--because the other wasn't working; there was, as she put it, no portal to welcome the reader into the story.  It wasn't a surprise, and if anything, it was something of a relief, and to be honest my instincts had been telling me the same thing already.  Because what was missing was the most important part of a story for me: the act of the narrator retelling it. Everything I've ever written has been so much about a narrator piecing together his or her story after the fact, sorting through the details and the meaning and the implications of it.  Without that, I was missing the fuel that drove the whole story.

Do you notice point of view when you're reading?  Does it make a big difference for you or do you have a strong preference for what you read?


  1. I never wrote in first person when I began seriously writing, although a lot of what I was reading was in 1st person. It took me two books written in 3rd person before I gave another viewpoint and shot, and I realized I really enjoyed it! It's more difficult to keep a story inside one person's head, but the challenge is wonderful, too.

    I guess we should go with our guts when something feels wrong. We'd probably save a lot of time and heartache if we did.

  2. I notice POV when I read, especially when I'm on a reading binge and read book after book. I usually allow myself a chapter or two to adjust, then I don't really notice it anymore. As long as the story is well written, the POV doesn't bother me.

  3. I definitely notice POV when I read, and it's one of the first things I grapple with when I start a new project. I'm not a huge advocate of first person, partly because so much YA is first person. If I write in first person, it's because I've fought against it and failed (as is the case with my current WIP). Does it make a difference to me with regard my reading, as in will I choose reading material based on the POV? No. As Kimmie said, a great book is a great book regardless of POV. It's possible the POV helped make the book great, but as a reader, my attention should be grabbed by the story and the characters. That's why as a writer, I choose the POV that works best for the novel, not the POV I prefer to write.

  4. i did take that pic! twaine harte was the best :)<3