1. jo spumoni
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    jo spumoni Active Member

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    Omniscient POV?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by jo spumoni, Dec 19, 2010.

    Hey all,
    I've begun working on a new project and it's made me realize that I have an odd sort of habit: I tend to write each scene from more than one person's POV in 3rd person. I know about 3rd person omniscient, but it's not exactly like that. I tend to have a scene mostly from a particular character's POV and then sort of insert another person's ideas into it. It's hard to explain without giving an excerpt, but it goes something like:

    "Mark wandered into the room and grabbed a Coke while simultaneously replaying the dialog with Stacy in his head. While he slumped at the table, contemplating every facial expression she had made, every pause, every word, Annie pursed her lips scowled angrily.

    "'Well you could say hello, Mark!'

    Mark jumped and eyed his roommate. 'Oh, hey. Didn't see you there.'

    You never see me there, Annie thought, biting back the urge to say something more nasty"

    (This isn't actually from any work or anything. Just made it up for this post)

    Anyway, you see how I sort of flop points of view halfway through? Well, I've been doing this for a long time and never really thought there was anything wrong with it. But recently, a lot of people have been telling me I should limit all scenes to only 1 point of view. What do you guys think?
     
  2. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    dfds

    I understand what you mean with switching to different POV. I am working on a story, and in chapter one, I have indicated to the readers that I switched different POV characters, and it may not be that hard. On the other hand, it can be if you are doing it over and over, especially in the middle of the scene. I don't find it hard to understand, but some do. This is why most people say that try to stay focus on one character at a time. If you have to switch POV characters, you might need to start another chatper, or indicate that you switched POV characters, add three stars after the scene.


    Mark wandered into the room and grabbed a Coke while simultaneously replaying the dialog with Stacy in his head. While he slumped at the table, contemplating every facial expression she had made, every pause, every word, Annie pursed her lips scowled angrily.

    "'Well you could say hello, Mark!'

    Mark jumped and eyed his roommate. 'Oh, hey. Didn't see you there.'

    * * *​

    You never see me there[/I], Annie thought, biting back the urge to say something more nasty"


    You see, that the three stars show the readers that you switched POV characters. In my scene, I have three POV characters on the same chatper. Here is a sample of mine and how I dealt with multi POV characters. (I know some writers do it differently, but my personal taste is the three star notice.

    In this scene, Jason is the POV character

    A gasp came across Jason's ears. “My God! Sorry to hear that darling. Mom will protect you every step of the way. Oh, and by the way, did I forget to tell you that we’re rich?”

    “What’s that supposed to mean?”

    “Well, we own land here. If you need anything, I’ll be more than welcome to help, sweetie.”

    He covered the mouthpiece. “Yeah right,” and removed his hands from the earpiece. “Oh, that’s, that’s nice, I suppose. And Guess what Mom. I made a few friends here. Though twin sisters I met last night.”

    “Ohm."

    “Becky and Christina,” he continued as Tom exited the ceremony. “Wait Mom, here’s Dad. You should talk to him.”

    I switched POV characters. Now Tom is the focus point of the story.

    * * *​

    He snatched the phone to the extreme, that he nearly dropped it. “Hello?”

    “How you’re doing?” she asked. “How’s life going for you?”

    “Well um, Jason and I had quality time together. We even run a club.” He wrapped his arms around Jason's shoulder.

    “That’s cool, I…”

    “We’re moving home to see you.”

    “Yeah, Jason told me about that. Alright dear, one more thing, What’s with the club?”

    “Oh.” The empty look on his face seemed as if he knew nothing about it. “It’s basically about hanging around and stuff. Me and Jason work there for the twins, so I collect the money and stuff, and Jason, well uh, the Conflict Manager. So now—“

    She interrupted, fighting him to conclude the conversation. “I see, I see. Anyway, I got some things I have to do. I’ll see y'all when you get here…”

    “Well alright, babe. See you later.” He clicked the phone.

    The moment Jason been waiting for, is that he finally prepared himself to leave California. You didn’t know how blessing this was when Dad told him to pack his bags. Perhaps, living here was the worse state he ever lived in, so they rode down the road to the airport. Ten minutes went by. Just as he were riding to Mom's house, someone cut him off.

    “Buddy back off! This isn’t NASCAR racing!” He flicked his middle finger at him as Jason covered his face.

    “O yeah? Screw you!” The racer pointed both of them back at him.


    * * *​

    He couldn’t believe his eyes; Richard was here! He recalled on him because of the light skin and the same long black beard on his chin, so he excitedly dashed into him expecting good news.

    “Aye bro? What what’s good?” he said, attempting a response out of him.

    Kelly took her glasses off and frowned. “Jason, hon, Richard... And aren’t you going to say hi to your mom?”
     
  3. Edward G
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    Edward G Banned

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    Yes, shifting the point of view like that within a scene is considered a fault in fiction. It's a fault because it's distracting to the reader. Yes, it fits within the powers of a third person omniscient narrator, but it's still distracting to the reader. It's jarring.

    Not only do you need to stop doing it, but you need to tune your inner ear to catch anything like it and eliminate it while your revising your rough draft .

    I think the common term for that fault is "head hopping." In your example, the omniscient narrator is "focused" on Mark's thoughts; therefore, the reader is focused on Mark's thoughts. When the focus suddenly shifts, the reader becomes disoriented. Mark loses his identity and it's as if both characters (Mark and Annie) are the same person.

    Thanks for bringing up an excellent point and providing an excellent example.

    --Edward
     
  4. jo spumoni
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    jo spumoni Active Member

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    Reggie:

    I hear what you're saying. The thing is that I think I do it too frequently for the *** trick to make sense. The example of a scene I gave is pretty much exactly how I write, and I may switch back and forth five or more times during the course of a 5 or 6 page scene depending on convenience and importance of each character's vantage point. I really don't think it would be appropriate to use *** every few paragraphs, particularly when the scene isn't really broken. Once Annie finishes her thought, Mark might very well take over like so:

    "You never see me there, Annie thought, biting back the urge to say something more nasty.

    There was a long silence. Mark sipped his Coke loudly. Despite the obscene amount of corn syrup dissolved in the amber liquid, it tasted bitter and did nothing to quench the biting thirst on his tongue.

    "How is it, Mark?" Annie must have asked with a little more bitterness than she had intended, because Mark raised his eyebrows quizzically."

    I just feel like it would be inappropriate and redundant to separate it after every paragraph...but thanks for the detailed answer. I may just employ *** more often.

    And for those of you who are skimming this and not really reading it, I am not cussing after every word! *** = * * *
     
  5. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Have the people that have been saying it is wrong read your work? I have never found what you have posted here confusing.

    Does it make for a good story, is it confusing etc? Sometimes doing what shouldn't do can be a flash of brilliance - other times the disaster it should be.

    What is your opinion ?
     
  6. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    Hmm... I understand that the scene isn't broken up. I honestly do not see anything wrong with your example that you posted, and I can follow the scene, but if it still makes you unahappy, It would be eaiser to emiminate "head-hoppings" if the character is in the same room or siting next to each other. I think you need to find a way to keep yourself from knowing what Annie is thinking about. Think of it as if you are really sitting next to her in real life. You'll probably glance at her to realize that she is thinking about something and her facial expression is saying that she wants to say something nasty... I never thought about it this way myself, but it is worth a try.

    (That's if Mark is the POV character of this example)

    "You never see me there, Annie whispered as Mark struggled to understand the comment. She looked at him as she was biting back the urge to say something more nasty.

    There was a long silence. Mark sipped his Coke loudly. Despite the obscene amount of corn syrup dissolved in the amber liquid, it tasted bitter and did nothing to quench the biting thirst on his tongue.

    I honestly do not see anything wrong with your example that you posted, and I can follow the scene.

    Or, if Annie is the POV character:

    "You never see me there, Annie thought, biting back the urge to say something more nasty.

    There was a long silence. Mark sipped his Coke loudly, that Annie could hear it. The amount of corn syrup dissolved in the amber liquid.

    "It taste bitter and it did nothing to quench my thirst..." he said.


    "How is it, Mark?" Annie must have asked with a little more bitterness than she had intended, because Mark raised his eyebrows quizzically."
     
  7. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I disagree with Edward G on this point. The example Jo Spumoni presented looks fine to me, and is typical of some of the third-person omniscient prose I've read. It's not jarring to me at all. I recently read Ernest Hemingway's For Whom The Bell Tolls and it's full of things like that. It's also one of the finest works by one of the best writers of the 20th century.

    I'm sure there are times when jumping from head to head is jarring to the reader, but if the technique is established early on in the work so that the reader is expecting it, it shouldn't be jarring, nor should it be considered a fault. Keep in mind that writing is an art, and there are no absolute wrongs or rights. It's all a matter of taste and judgment. Good judgment trumps any set of hard and fast rules.
     
  8. jo spumoni
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    jo spumoni Active Member

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    Edward G: "Head-hopping" is a perfect way to describe it. I know it's a little unusual, but is it really all that "jarring"? It seems pretty obvious to me who's thinking what...but of course, I'm the writer, so I don't know that that counts for anything. Forgive my skepticism; I've been using this style for so long now that I never noticed anything funny about it, and now that I've been told by a bunch of people to limit it 1 POV, I'm finding it an exceedingly difficult habit to break.

    Elgaisma: Thanks for the compliment. It's not really that people find what I write "confusing" as much as they think it's just improper or amateurish. I'm usually pretty careful at stating who thinks what, but some readers don't like the constant switch between 2 or more narrators. For my part, I can't imagine writing any other way, unless it was in 1st person. I never really saw the point in limiting 3rd person POV to 1 person because I always just thought that that was the point of 1st person. I lack the perspective and experience to know if it makes a good story or not; to me, my writing sounds "natural" and is, of course, not confusing. I've only recently become aware that it's not customary, or even "acceptable" according to some people.

    Reggie: I see what you mean about changing what I have into one point-of-view, but that never would have occurred to me on my own; when I write, I add other POVs almost unconsciously. And often, I comment on things that the first character never would have noticed. For example, Mark did not even realize that Annie was glaring at him when he didn't say hello, and Mark wouldn't have realized that she asked the question "with a little more bitterness than she had intended". If I'm writing the scene from Mark's POV, do I have to leave these little (sometimes important) tidbits out?

    Minstrel: It's good to know I'm not the only one who uses that POV. Of course, Hemingway was a very talented and experienced writer, whereas I...well, let's just say in a rather PC fashion that I'm a "developing" author. Nonetheless, I'm glad I'm in good company :)
     
  9. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    No, you don't need to take that part out. Like I said, I really see nothing wrong with you using unless you aren't satisfied with the way your example was written, so to me, I think using Omniscient POV is perfectly fine. I use it all the time in my previous novels. "Let there be Light," was my first book ,and I think about other characters rather than just my POV character.
     
  10. jo spumoni
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    jo spumoni Active Member

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    Reggie: Sorry, I appear to have lost my ability to read these days. My brain has become mush due largely to final exams two weeks ago. I'm glad there are a few others who do use omniscience, because I was starting to think "nobody" used it anymore, with the exception of those few innovative geniuses who can do whatever they want (e.g. John Irving, Amy Tan, Vonnegut, etc) and still pull it off.
     
  11. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I think your initial example would be a problem in a work being considered for publication. It isn't a problem to shift POV within a chapter - Tom Clancy does it all the time, to name one example - but there should be some boundaries. So, if you stopped your segment with "Hey, didn't see you there" and then had a break in the text, so the reader understands there is a shift (like a scene change in a play), and then have Amy thinking, You never see me... and follow that with the scene from Amy's POV, or delve further into her thoughts, that would work. An alternative would be to continue the dialogue in the scene without Amy's thought, finish the segment, and then pick up the segment with Amy's POV.

    As written, the sudden shift to Amy's POV doesn't really seem to have a purpose, especially if the POV immediately switches back. And if the dialogue continues from Amy's POV, the reader will not know whose POV they are supposed to be seeing.
     
  12. Edward G
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    Edward G Banned

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    It's not that the reader doesn't know who's doing the thinking; you've indicated that with a tag. The problem is that it's jarring to the reader. As one of the commenters mentioned above, Ernest Hemingway sometimes does it--excuse me--did it, but that was seventy years ago, in the early part of the last century. It's important to write for the culture and time your audience inhabits. And today, it's not acceptable.

    As I said, it tends to make both characters seem to be the same character, because the narrator is one voice to the reader and yet giving the reader the internal thoughts and motivations of both characters.

    It's all well and good to make a protest against this rule (no head hopping) in the name of "art." But a writer does that at the cost of alienating their audience. A writer as an artist is free to do whatever they want. I have a habit of spelling Hemingway with two m's (Hemmingway). I have to edit for this error. You say you have a habit of head hopping; therefore, you must work at editing that out of your writing--with one caveat:

    If the story is better served by head hopping (perhaps the character has multiple personality disorder) then do it. As writers we are always first and foremost slaves to the story.

    I would also like to take a moment to comment on the name dropping going on in some of the comments to this post. It doesn't matter if Tom Clancy does something, or John Irving, Stephen King, or any other modern writer. They can publish their laundry lists and they will sell because they have huge established fan bases. But that doesn't make it any less jarring to the reader. If King does it in his writing it seems just as bad as if I read it in an unpublished author's work I'm critiquing. Good writing is good writing; bad writing is bad writing.

    Case in point, I just finished reading Stephen King's, Full Dark, No Stars, and I think he has simply given up as a writer. He doesn't have to try, therefore he doesn't. It's obvious; it's sad, but it's just apparently the way it is.
     
  13. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    Yeah, I do it, and there's really nothing to be sorry about. I often find it difficult to communicate people's words, even yours, and it's probably my fault and I should probably read it more carefully. And yes, I'm not smart myself and I still use 3rd person omniscience.
     
  14. jo spumoni
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    jo spumoni Active Member

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    Edward G: To clarify, writing from this point of view was never meant to be a particularly "arty" idea; I just wrote that way because I thought it was "normal". I honestly never even thought of it as "omniscient" until someone pointed it out. So I'm not trying to make a protest in the "name of art"; I know that I'm new at this game and that just because Hemingway (I do that too, with the two ms) did it doesn't give me a pass. I just enjoy writing in this way.

    You compare this to a spelling error, but it's not so black-and-white (or so easily fixed!). Spelling Hemingway with two ms is simply incorrect; Microsoft word will tell you so, and you can left click and select the correct spelling. But there is a POV called "omniscient", and although I don't do it in precisely the conventional way, it's hard to say that the way I have written the excerpt is as wrong as spelling something wrong. I'm not saying what I've written is "right", or better-stated, as good as it could be. But it's hard to look at something as complicated as writing and just say flat out that something is "unacceptable". Even the laws of spelling and grammar are bent on occasion.

    I am learning to be a slave to my stories; it's not always easy for me, but I've grown a lot as a writer in the past few years and I'm starting to understand that you sometimes have to get rid of things that you like for the sake of the story. It's just that at the moment, I can't imagine telling my stories in any other way than I do. None of my stories have included a character with multiple personality disorder (which I'm sure you already guessed), but sometimes my characters have interesting thoughts that do add something to the story. So it's not as though I do it just for the hell of it.

    This is going to seem like a stupid question, but how do I know if the story is better served by using omniscient POV or not? I've gone through such a hard time editing a novella I wrote last year because I find that everyone has a different idea of what will make it "better". Some love my supporting character and some think he's utterly pointless. Some like the way I don't mince words and others think I could be more descriptive. Now starting my next project, I've vowed to do a lot more planning, but I'm finding out that the problem is that I just don't know what's best right now.

    I'm doing my best to understand that the way I've been writing isn't always the best way, but it's difficult because...well, I've always done it that way.

    EdfromNY: I hear what you're saying. Please note that this isn't the greatest example of it; it was just concise and accessible. There have been times in my writing when the other person's POV really did serve a more obvious purpose. But it is true that in other cases, it hasn't served a very big role. It's kind of just the way I think when I write; I never really intended for it to do anything special, but I never really thought there was anything wrong with it until a few people told me I should try to limit it to one point of view. I don't want it to be confusing or "jarring" or whatever, but I'm still not convinced it's "wrong", at least not in all circumstances.
     
  15. Edward G
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    Edward G Banned

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    Ok, here's the thing: you asked whether it was right or wrong in your OP. I told you that's its definitely an error in modern fiction. You then argue that it's not necessarily so and that it's how you want to write. Hey, it's a free world (literarily speaking). You can write however you want.

    You say you have a novella written. Well, why not post it on your website or something so it can be read. Maybe you've discovered a way to make work what is commonly considered a fault in fiction writing.
     
  16. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    A little "head-hopping" doesn't need to make the text jarring or unclear, but also consider this: by anchoring the POV to a specific character, you can show the world as they see it. The way they see things can reveal something about themselves. Devoting a scene to showing your main character from the outside, as other people see them, also gives a greater depth to them. You can create a lot of interesting effects by keeping on to one POV for a while.
     
  17. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    However if it is working don't change it - sometimes your writers gut will tell you this is the way your particular story works best. In fact if I can manage it your method will be perfect for a final scene of mine hmm wondering if I can use it to tweak first person and have two first person POVs.
     
  18. jo spumoni
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    jo spumoni Active Member

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    Edward G: I know how me arguing against your point of view sounds--convenient, naive, unwilling to listen to the other side etc. But that's not quite it; I'm just trying to understand 1) why it is, according to you, completely unacceptable in all modern fiction, but OK according to some others, 2) if I need to change the way I've been writing for about half my life, and 3) how I would do so.

    I didn't mean "it's just how I write" as some kind of excuse; I just meant that the purpose of my style wasn't to be "arty" because you said something about making a stand "for art's sake" not being a fair point (and I agree). I admit that I was a irritated by your spelling analogy; it felt a little condescending, but I am often overly sensitive. I am a very new writer, as I'm sure you guessed, and I thought that the battle would be finishing my book. Now I realize the writing was the easy part; it's the editing I can't seem to get right.

    Yes, I have a novella written. But unlikely as it sounds, I was really hoping to have it published some day, so I have been reluctant to post it online. It is written in that style. I thought it worked. Some people have commented to me that maybe I should change it, but nobody has called it "jarring" yet. But only three people other than myself have read it, so I suppose my point of view is limited.



    Islander: I understand that keeping it in one head has all of those advantages. But head hopping has never particularly impeded me from doing those things. Probably because I "head hop" only when I think it adds something...but of course, that's inconsistent, and probably the writing police will come and arrest me and burn all of my works and blah blah blah (BTW, can you tell that my next book is about censorship?).



    Elgaisma: The thing is that I don't have a lot of perspective. I thought it worked up until I was told that I should limit it to one point of view. And I'm still unsure.
     
  19. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Maybe pick up an old piece and reread it does it still sound good?

    If I had listened I would never have written first person present tense - I keep getting told how bad that is. However I have a number of people who just read my stuff for fun, when I suggested doing my second book third person past tense they revolted on me and kept sending me emails not to lol

    When I reread it the other day I was glad I hadn't changed it.
     
  20. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, you can just ask a number of readers if they think the change of POV is unclear or jarring. If it works, it works, and there's no need to change your style.
     
  21. jo spumoni
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    jo spumoni Active Member

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    I have asked the few people who have read my novella. They kind of disagree. One thinks I should change it to one person's point of view, one is unsure, and the other thinks it's OK as is. I need more readers, of course, but it seems like everyone has a different idea of what's best for the story.
     
  22. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Writing isn't a democratic process. The only important thing is to do what you think works best. If, at some point in the future, someone legitimately makes you change your mind, then so be it, but for now, the only right thing to do is what you want.
     
    1 person likes this.
  23. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am going to agree with Arron. Sit down with a mug of your favoruite brew, your favourite nibbles in your favourite chair and read it as a reader not a writer. Forget you are the author and just make it the book you are reading for now.

    When i look at my first novel as a writer/editor I see how far my writing has come and it gets me down. It is 'rubbish' when I just read it then I laugh and cry in all the right places, love the characters and really enjoy it.

    Give it some time working on other things if you haven't already then put aside some time just to enjoy it- if you don't enjoy it, or you don't like it then it needs to change.

    My first three readers of my book - first read it in a night and loved it, second hated it couldn't stand it, questioned was English my native language etc - it was a bit telling that as annoying as he found it he actually read the whole book, then the third came back with a thoughtful review it took her longer than the other two but I was able to work with that to produce a better story without stamping on my style.

    Over past few months of the people have read it most love it - however I have several who absolutely detest it, cannot stand it. Then my bestfriend finds it weird because it is like living inside my head lol

    I am on the side that enjoy my work so first person and present tense is staying.
     

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