This will be a post about POV – point-of-view – in writing, so if this kind of thing bores you to tears, look away now. For everyone else, I have a question:
Do you enjoy First Person POV – i.e. the type of story that is all about what ‘I said’, ‘I saw’, ‘I did’, ‘I thought’, ‘I felt’?
The reason I ask is because I’ve never particularly enjoyed First Person POV, but I didn’t actively hate it until I began reading the second book in First Person POV in almost as many days.
The first story I read was actually pretty good. It had a lot of the elements I look for in a good sci-fi story. But it also had a heroine I simply could not ‘like’. She vacillated between ridiculously wimpy not-quite-adult and hardcore, kickarse hero. The motivation was there, but it was almost too much, along the lines of ‘familiarity breeds contempt’.
I like characters that aren’t perfect. I like them to have quirks, weaknesses, flaws. I even like them to be ‘broken’ because then there’s the hope that they will heal and grow. What I don’t like is seeing them from the inside.
I won’t name the story or the protagonist because I’ve suddenly realised that these are criticisms I apply to almost all First Person POV fiction. There have been exceptions [C.J.Cherryh’s Foreigner series is one], but they are rare, imho.
This issue crystalized for me when I started reading the second ‘Me, Me, Me’ story. It was even worse. Just a few chapters in and I couldn’t read any more. Not only did it have editing issues, it had a main character whose motivation can only be described as schizophrenic. This particular character spent virtually the whole first chapter being paranoid, for no real reason. Then she did a complete about face and…
Enough. I doubt that the author concerned will ever read my blog, or this post, but I don’t want to say anything that might identify the story because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Writing is hard. Publishing is harder, and none of us need other authors criticising us in public. That’s why I never leave reviews of books I’ve hated. Sadly, I hate this one.
Moving on. So what do I like?
I like Close Third Person POV – i.e. where we see the character from the outside, but also get some thoughts and feelings.
I also like reading more than one POV – i.e. where we get to see the story through the eyes of two or more characters. Importantly, we get to see the main character[s] through the eyes of other characters.
I know that some of you find multiple POVs distracting, and I can understand that; you’re reading along happily and suddenly, bang, total change of POV, of scene, of story arc etc. Unless you enjoy that particular technique, multiple POVs can be hard work. Nevertheless, don’t you think we get a more truthful version of the main character when we see them through the eyes of others?
I know I’ve been surprised by how others see me, sometimes in a good way, sometimes not. When I’m honest with myself, however, the change of perspective usually makes me grow as a person.
I’m not saying that I lie, to myself or others, but I’ve learned that we all see ourselves through the prism of some sort of bias. Confident people generally see themselves as hero material. Less confident people may focus on their flaws to the exclusion of their good qualities. Outsiders, however, can often see things we are incapable of seeing in ourselves.
Just as I believe this ‘outsider’ view is healthy for real people, I also believe it can work for characters in fiction. I think it helps to balance out the internal distortions of ego, providing a more realistic, and often likable, character.
Coincidentally, this outsider view also allows the author to avoid the necessity of writing that awful mirror scene. You know the one:
‘Look at me. I’m looking at myself in the mirror/pond/reflective glass so I can describe what I look like to you, the reader’.
That technique is a tool, and like any tool, it has its time and place, but like all the other tools in the writer’s bag of tricks, it shouldn’t be abused. And it shouldn’t be…predictable.
Okay, that’s probably more on writing than I’m comfortable with, but I would like to know what everyone else thinks. I really am open to persuasion. 🙂
‘You’ve just been reading the wrong books…?’