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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Point of Preference

I often say that I’m a literary omnivore—I’ll read almost anything. But, of course, even with tastes as broad as mine there are exceptions. There are biases. And we all have them, even if we don’t hold a single genre above all others.

I’ve been thinking about a specific preference of mine while reading Leigh Bardugo’s excellent Six of Crows. The story is told in a multi-point-of-view third person. Meaning, each chapter is told in the third but with a skew toward one character or another, and, in this case, the character’s name is at the top of each chapter.

Taken all together, Six of Crows has that sort of dramatic irony that is completely delicious. Yes, delicious. Because it’s “meaty” when we get so see so many sides at once. For example, this is exactly why the Game of Thrones books are so enticing—you are constantly getting another side of a very intricate story.

When it’s done well, multi-POV third can feel like a movie, because that’s sort of how it’s written—a collection of scenes from different view points that make a full and captivating story when combined.

Now, back to biases. I realized when I was reading this book that I almost never prefer books from third person that have a single point of view. Maybe this is bias from writing exactly that way when I was in newspapers. But most of the time, I just think, “Why not just write this in first person?” I feel like third person’s greatest benefit is the ability to have the reader see more than one side of the story. And if there’s one problem it’s that the voice can feel distant as compared to first person.

All that said, it’s not that I don’t like single-POV third person—in fact, if it’s done well, I won’t notice the distance and I’ll feel as close to the main character as if they were telling their story in the first person. (Shout out to my Pitch Wars mentees who have achieved this!)

Do you have a preferred POV? Is it different for writing as for reading or are they the same?


Gail M Baugniet - Author said...

I prefer writing in 1st person POV (for now). But I have no preference in my reading choices, as long as the author doesn't become too creative with head hopping.

Kait said...

In writing, the story needs to dictate the POV. Few cozy's can survive the third person pov because to suspend believe, it is essential that the reader and the sleuth are as close as possible, while traditional mysteries can benefit from close third that allow input from clues outside the sleuth's immediate vision. Personally, I enjoy most POVs in reading, and in writing.

Jim Jackson said...

I dislike second person POV – although I find in essays I sometimes write it! In fiction I write both first person and third person POVs. I do have a preference for past tense over present for novels. I notice YAs seem to prefer the present tense – which is designed to make it more immediate – but often it comes off as only contrived.

Which goes to your point that if something is written really well. I won’t notice the POV or tense.

~ Jim

E. B. Davis said...

My natural inclination is to write in third person, but that's because my stories are usually told from multiple POVs. I see no reason to use third person voice if the story is only told from one POV so I understand your irritation, Sarah. From the first person POV, the story unfolds with much more intimacy. The reader can get inside the MC rather than from the more distant third person. Not that intimacy can't be infused into third person voice, but it is less natural. I think multiple POV adds more dimensions to the plot, and readers get to know more characters than the MC. But the decision on which voice to use depends on how the plot unfolds and, in mystery, how many characters are investigating. There's a lot to think about before putting hands to the keyboard. I once had to change POVs and go through the entire manuscript editing. Believe me, it's a chore! Worth thinking about it thoroughly before writing.

Warren Bull said...

My first book, Abraham Lincoln for the Defense was written in the third person from multiple points of view. On reviewer who did not like it compared it to the television show Law & Order. I think Law & Order is a great show. Just think about all the spin offs. With short stories when things are going badly I may switch points of view. Sometimes it goes much better after the change.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Sophie Hannah's Woman with a Secret, the MC is first person present, the investigation in third past, with emails and newspaper editorials interspersed, a representation of present-day information overload. It's crazy, but she makes it work.

I write in close third, and am experimenting with first for short stories.

Gloria Alden said...

I read a lot of different books, and not only mysteries although they are my first choice. I
think it's wise to read all kinds of books which is one of the reasons I enjoy my two book clubs so much. I can enjoy any POV if it's well written, however a single POV doesn't work
as well in third as it would in first POV.

Like E.B. I prefer writing in third with multiple POV. I've only written in first in several short stories.

KM Rockwood said...

If an author handles the POV well, I don't care which one he/she uses. Some people are so skilled they can handle "head hopping" well and I don't even notice it unless I stop and analyze it.

I find my own stories appear in my head with a POV, usually first person or a very close third. This is very limiting, in that I can't convey anything that the POV character doesn't observe or think.

Grace Topping said...

I always said I didn't care for books written in present tense. That is until I was in the middle of a well-written book and only discovered then that it was in present tense. I hadn't even noticed. If it is done well, it probably won't matter. In my own work, I wrote my manuscript in third person POV, thinking that was the way to go. When I was advised to add more personality to my main character, I switched to first person POV. That really helped bring my character more to life. Big difference. Who would have thought it could make such a difference, but it did. I wish now that I had tried first person long ago.

Sarah Henning said...

Great discussion, everyone! Interesting, because I also find that if it's good enough, I won't notice the tense either!

Shari Randall said...

Great discussion! I haven't written that much, but when I do I gravitate to first person. I like the immediacy and control. I am looking forward to trying third person POV as an experiment, just to see if I can do it. Second person - I'm not there yet. That seems to be the hardest to pull off successfully.