Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Point of View - first person

Point of view (POV) is a biggie and the most confusing aspect of writing, in my opinion. What IS point of view? Simply put, POV is WHO is telling the story. Whose eyes are we seeing through? Whose thoughts do we hear? Browne and King write: "Some writing books distinguish as many as twenty-six different flavors of points of view, but there are really only three basic approaches: first person, third person, and omniscient."

There is a second person voice, but that is mainly reserved for magazine articles.

Let's look at the different POVs in the most basic form.
First person: "I"
Third person: "We"
Second person: "You"
Omniscient: any of the above

I've attended conference and workshops aplenty. Every single one was adament in NOT switching POV when you are first learning to write. Pick a character as your main character and tell the story in his/her POV. Don't get into anyone else's head and, if you do, for heaven's sake, don't head hop! And yet, I read novels all the time where the POV changes as quickly as a pixie.

Most people have no idea if you are switching POV and do they really care? Maybe not. But learning to keep to one POV will help you stay focused on the story. It will keep the reader in the story in a more intimate way. And it will help YOU, the author, hone your craft. When you are more experienced, you can switch points of view, but there's a way to do it. We'll talk about that later.

Let's look at first person. Writing in first person has some advantages, the main one is that the reader has a deeper intimacy with the viewpoint character. We are actually in their head all the time. In order to succeed in the first person POV, you have to create a character strong enough and interesting enough to keep your readers going for the entire novel. But you don't want the reader to feel trapped inside the character's head, so the character needs to be believeable.

The disadvantage is that you lose some perspective. You can't write about anything the POV character couldn't know, which means you have to have your main character on the spot whenever you want to write an immediate scene. This can limit your plot development possiblities.

When you write first person POV, your readers get to know only one character directly. Everyone else is filtered through the viewpoint character.

Here is an example of first person - from The Ballad of Frankie Silver by Sharyn McCrumb: "They have brought me down from my beautiful mountain in the white silence of winter, my wrists bound with hemp rope, my legs tied beneath the pony's belly as if I were a yearling doe taken on the long hunt. And perhaps I am, for I am as defenseless as a deer, and as silent."

POV is a personal choice. I typically do not write in first person. I enjoy third person (we'll talk about that next week) and I tend to switch POV when I begin a new chapter. We'll talk about that later, too.

How about you? Anyone out there write in first person? Give us an example so we can see how you do it.


  1. I used to hate writing in first person, then read Sharon Hinck's Sword of Lyric series and loved the way the first-person POVs brought out the quirkiness of one character in particular. Since then I've played with first person, and I've actually come to really enjoy it.
    Here's an excerpt from my novel Night Sword:

    I saw them across the desk, talking to a portly man bundled in a waterproof cloak. As I started for them, a sailor jumped in my way.
    "Here now, where be you going?" he growled.
    I tried not to choke on his rancid breath. "Just wanted to speak with the captain."
    "He's busy."
    "I'll wait."
    The sailor curled his lip and motioned for me to move to the side rail. I obliged, only because I didn't feel like getting tossed off a ship by an overgrown monkey. The man and the girl seemed to be reaching the end of their conversation with the captain. The man was nodding, and the captain had a beaming smile on his chubby face. The captain and the huge man shook hands. Then the man and the girl started toward me.
    Let's test this giant, I thought, walking toward the captain. I brushed elbows with the man as he and the girl passed me. Instantly his hand went to his sword, and his eyes locked on me. I offered an apologetic smile and a "Sorry."
    He grunted and moved on.
    Talkative fellow.

  2. I love first person, but most of my stories work out better in third.

  3. I normally use third person, and I switch POV between different chapters.

  4. Heather - what a great example of first person. You've also given us a nice look at your character. I'm assuming it's a male. He's bold, but careful. He has a sense of humor (didn't want to be tossed off the ship by an overgrown monkey. HA!!) And he's determined.

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Thank you for your kind words and the opportunity to share, Pam!