May 1, 2018

May 1, 2018

Once upon a time, I started writing a book.

Yes, THE book.

It was not the first novel I ever started, nor do I plan on it being my last, so I thought I had a pretty good handle on the whole process. (You will think this about every book you start. And every book you start will prove you wrong.) But with my very first decision, I made a grave error.

I told my story in third person point of view (or POV).

For my new writers and non-writers, fiction writers lean toward two main points of views: first person and third person. With first person POV the reader resides directly in the character's head. With third person the reader observes from their seat on the character's shoulder. Neither is inherently better or worse, but you may find one that fits better with your story or writing style.

And, as I found out 43,000 words into my first draft, first person point of view fit this particular story better.

I do not recommend this method of finding out if you're using the wrong point of view. Probably better to experiment with the two at the very beginning and then go with the one that feels right. Otherwise, you end up rewriting the first half of your novel.

That said, I'm glad I made the switch. It makes the story more lively, more immediate.

So, as someone who has been honing and refining first person point of view for the last three years, here are a couple of the things I've learned over the past three years or so:

  • Description will feel a little wonky at first. Nobody is as observant as your protagonist needs to be--well, maybe some people are, but I'm drawing a blank on nonfictional examples at the moment. As the audience's only window into your world, your protagonist needs to notice things the ordinary person will walk past. Everything has to filter through them. The ordinary person tunes out their commute to work, but your main character needs to notice the weather, the type of landscape, and the angry lady next to her in the Toyota Corolla. All of that builds atmosphere. Find the balance between what your audience needs to work and what feels realistic. 

  • While we're on the subject of your world, letting your character interact with their surroundings is a fun way to make details pop. Your protagonist could simply observe the pen on the table, but what happens if they pick it up and fiddle with it? They can mention that their jacket is wool, but even better if they run their fingers over the rough, woolen texture. Obviously, this doesn't work for everything. While feeling the texture of their own clothing might be acceptable, it'd be pretty weird for them to go around petting other people's clothes. Use it where it works. Find other ways when it doesn't.

  • Filler words will kill your sentences. I'm not talking about your regular filler words (a quick Google search will provide plenty of blog posts). When you write first person, you are literally in the protagonists head, so words like "feel" and "think" and "see" are unnecessary nine times out of ten (as with everything else in writing, there are exceptions). This happens to be my biggest sin when it comes to writing first person, every draft I find more that need weeding out. 

  • Writing from the POV of a character like you is not as easy as it sounds. In fact, my current protagonist is probably the most like me out of all the protagonists I've ever written. It makes getting out of my head and into hers difficult at times. Playlists help with this. So does questioning everything as I write it. Not the easiest solution, but eventually I get to what she's thinking instead of what I am.

I'm sure I've learned many, many more lessons about writing first person POV, but those are the ones I can form into coherent sentences for all y'all.

Tell me: Which POV do you prefer?

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