About Me

My photo
Author of queer, wry sci fi/fantasy books. On Amazon.
Editor of all fiction genres.

Monday, 5 September 2016

PoV Party: First, Third, and Second Person

Hello hello!

Today, I'd like to talk about something that almost all authors struggle with from time to time. Some of the more experienced writers might be comfortable with this already, but it never hurts to review things. Today, I'm going to cover points of view and how to write them, as well as how not to write them.

But wait, what?

First vs third person

This is fairly simple. First person means that one (or more) characters do most of the talking; pronouns used tend to be "I" and "me". Third person means that characters are referred to by pronouns like "her", "xe", "he", or "they". Writers may use close third or distant third; close third is basically like first person, but with different pronouns, and it's popular for stories with a lot of emotional weight. Distant third can be better when an author wants to convey a broad idea of the circumstances.

None of these is better than the other, but one may be better for your particular story. You may even want to alternate between them, but make sure to signal that to the audience, and not to switch back and forth at random.

Second person narration DOES exist, but it's very rare in fiction; "choose your own adventure" books and many of my blog posts, as well as many how-to and self-help books, are written in second person. The reader is addressed as "you", and it can result in an intimate but confrontational writing style.

What is headjumping?

"Headjumping" is a slang term for moving between characters' perspectives without warning, and when it's inappropriate. In omniscient narration, commonly used in genres like science fiction or fantasy, it may be fine to let the audience in on what various people in a scene are thinking. In romance, mystery, or thrillers, however, it may be inappropriate to let the audience in on what another character is thinking. But why? Let's break it down.

Why it's bad

Headjumping is currently out of literary fashion, and perhaps for good reason. After spending a bunch of time in a particular character's perspective, getting to know about the innermost thoughts of another character can be very jarring. It can also make writers "have their cake and eat it too", so to speak, undermining dramatic tension by revealing too much at once. Finally, it can be distracting and hard to follow for readers.

When it can be good

Douglas Adams was a master at switching viewpoints for the sake of comedy; during a tense scene, switching between characters' perspectives can function similarly to rapid cuts between characters on a TV show or movie. It can also prevent audience boredom or character fatigue from having the same person "on screen" for too long.

Where it gets tricky

Distant third is a very common and comfortable writing style, but omniscient writing shouldn't result in herky-jerky jumps between characters' thoughts from sentence to sentence. The current style recommendation is to choose a particular character to follow around and to switch viewpoints when a paragraph or scene break presents itself. This makes the story flow more smoothly, and can also help authors avoid confusing themselves. Characters should have distinct personalities, and "cross pollinating", so to speak, can water that down when it's done too often. At the same time, having more than one or two PoV (point of view) characters can provide a lot of variety for the audience, and give them a better overview of a situation.

Third person tips

Be judicious and deliberate with your viewpoint characters. Every change of perspective should have a purpose; you don't have to shout it at the audience, but you must know why you're doing it. Don't resort to PoV switches out of boredom! They do make great writing exercises, but putting them in a finished manuscript is another thing. Above all, make sure your beta readers and editor(s) generally agree that the manuscript flows well and makes sense. If you have too many characters, you may get lost. In my own writing, I find that between two and six point of view characters tend to be ideal. Some characters spend less time in the spotlight than others, but alternating points of view is a good way to make use of an ensemble cast.

Do you have any questions about how to write points of view? Any thoughts or tips?


Thanks for returning to the nest. Leave a comment and say hi! I want to hear from you. Keep up with the new releases by getting on the mailing list. Buy my books on Amazon, and keep up with me on TwitterFacebookTumblr, and the original blog. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out!

No comments:

Post a Comment

As always, be excellent unto others, and don't be a dick.