1. wilprim
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    wilprim Member

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    POV Choices, Which One is most effective?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by wilprim, Feb 28, 2012.

    So I have been wondering if there is a certain type of PoV that is recommended to use for general fiction. I have some idea that it changes the closeness of the reader, for instance a story told in 1st person will definitely sound more personal and the reader will feel as if it were his/her story. But what else could POV change?
     
  2. SplashPlane
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    SplashPlane New Member

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    It all depends on what you want to do with your story. I'd say begin by breaking it down.. what are the themes? How many characters do you want to focus on? How close do you want the reader to be to these characters, or maybe one particular character? How do you want the reader to understand these characters? Basically, what are the advantages and disadvantages of one form or the other in the context of your story?

    It's going to take a little experimentation on your part, but that's really the only way to know which perspective is best for your story. There is no default. Though first-person POV and third-person limited/multiple POV are pretty commonly used in fiction.
     
  3. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    To a beginner (such as I was not too long ago) pov is a very confusing thing. But by far the most common and effective is a third person limited pov.
    I'd recommend an excellent book on this called "Characters and Viewpoint"
     
  4. Erato
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    Erato Contributing Member

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    Or, if you don't want to go buy the book and wait or drag yourself out to the library, allow me to summarize the chapter I just read:

    First-person narrative. This will involve your readers emotionally with your character. They see everything form your MC's point of view.
    "I went into the drugstore and ordered a soda from the boy." Or, "I go into the drugstore and order a soda from the boy."


    Third-person omniscient. The narrator can shift from one person to another, taking more interest now in one person, now in another.
    "Rachel was very thirsty, so she went into the drugstore and ordered a soda from the boy. As she gave her money, he suddenly imagined her as a great spirit of The Customer..."

    Third-person limited. The narrator tells the story focusing on one person, but in the third person. It's much more focused.
    "Rachel was very thirsty, having run all the way into the town, and so she went to the drugstore for a soda. When she counted out the coins, the boy behind the counter seemed to be amused by something about her. She was mildly offended and tried to look cold as she took her soda and left."

    As the author explains it, the third-person omniscient takes less time but is more distant from any one character. The third-person limited takes more time (words) but we are close to one character. We never see, in the third example, what the boy is really thinking. Instead, we see Rachel's reaction to it.

    But definitely read the book anyway.
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    not really!... all those 'i's and 'me's are so clearly the character/writer speaking, that first actually distances the readers, making them mere observors of what's happening to the narrator and keeps them from being pulled into the story as if it's happening to them... which is why third person is by far the most common pov you'll find in fiction...

    only a very rare few of the very best writers have pulled off first person successfully... it seems to have worked best in the noir detective genre, as in chandler's classics... on the other side of the coin, the very popular best-seller author, patricia cornwell, tried it a couple of times to very bad reviews [well-deserved, sad to say]...
     
  6. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have to disagree somewhat maia. I am neither brilliant nor experienced, nor do I write detective stories, and my beginner's natural writing voice was 1st person. Over the past several years I wrote two projects, both in first person, both total fiction but presented to the readers in an ambiguous fashion, so they could believe they were true stories if they wanted to.

    The response was overwhelming, and one thing that stood out is just how strongly they bonded to both protagonists. The fan mail I received would verge on bizarre sometimes, just how much they felt they "knew" the character, and how emotionally involved they were with what's happened to her. I received many confessions via email, people telling the character to "hold on, "be strong" and sharing their personal experiences with similar circumstances. In the end, I just left it, I didn't insist on convincing anyone that it wasn't a true story because it almost felt like killing someone's friend.

    Obviously, a book would be published as fiction so that would prevent this level of suspended disbelief, but still, my experience with 1st person pov has been that it is a fastest way to sucking the reader into the story. But I can see how it would depend on a story.
    I abandoned the first person pov in the current project I am writing because I need third person perspective this time, 1st person is so limiting in some respects, but in my personal experience, first person pov can work really well to give story the authenticity and immediate connection with the audience. For me, it is almost an easy way out.

    What I am trying to say is, different writers have different voices and talents and I can easily see how a beginner can prefer 1st person, and I have seen it work well so I would never discourage anyone or make claims that only rarely it pays off. For some, it's the natural way to write and I would encourage anyone who is interested to try it.
     
  7. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I have to say, POV threads have become so common on this board they are almost mind-numbing, and I was tempted to pass this one up. I'm glad I didn't because of the following morsel:

    I never thought about it that way before. If I read maia correctly, reading usually invites us to step into the place of the MC, and it's hard to do that if the MC is telling the story. My own view is that first person works best when the narrator is a minor character in the story. Michener did this very well, and so did C.P. Snow. Harper Lee did it in "To Kill A Mockingbird" and I believe Fitzgerald did it in "Gatsby". Herman Wouk did it in "Inside, Outside", although there the narrator is much more involved. I don't take maia's advice as prohibiting, only as a caution. And a caution it should be.

    A lot of novice writers seem to think that First Person is easiest to write. Perhaps that stems from the notion that the writer is telling the story, and so should write in the manner that (s)he would speak. This isn't true, and it probably leads to a common flaw in novice writing, namely writing prose in the same manner that one would speak. There is also a notion that a story told in the first person has more authenticity because the reader is getting it "from the source". But a first person storyteller is often seen as less objective and less reliable than a third person storyteller: great feats come across as exaggerated.

    I only use 1st person when I have a direct reason for doing so.
     
  8. Phoenix Hikari
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    Phoenix Hikari Contributing Member

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    Personally I dislike first person POV method. For instance I'd have been very interested in the story (The Lake of Dreams) by Kim Edwards but after the first chapter I found it quiet the bore. Maybe it's because I hated the MC (Lucy) or maybe because 1st person always makes me feel like the MC is obsessed about themselves and their emotions and interests. Since the text keeps using these 'I' and 'me' and 'Mine' and whatever. I'd hate to put myself in my MC's shoes and try to write him/her, no matter how much I understand him/her or sympathize with them, I still can't bring myself to be them.

    A suggestion is that you try one chapter with each method and see how it goes, if you feel that 1st person is what suites your story and that you can pull it off brilliantly then congrates, go ahead. If not, then I strongly recommend either of the other two methods. Maybe I sound bias, but I do dislike 1st person POV.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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  10. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    They would, absolutely, and I find this annoying also. But with the first person pov, the trick is to flesh out the character in great detail, and then, as a writer, to really want to know what happens when you put yourself in their shoes. Obviously, there needs to be a story too. The stories told in first pov should never be classic heroic stories where the MC is describing themselves doing something awesome. That is insincere, obnoxious, even. A matter-of-fact writing, almost as if one would do in a diary, or writing a letter to a dear friend (but without Dear so and so in the beginning of each chapter) works best. Heroes who have many flaws work best. Lots of internal struggle works best also.

    I guess all I was trying to say is, certain stories work really well when told in this way, and also, not every beginning writer chooses 1st person pov for all the wrong reasons.
     
  11. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think this is the problem with writing in first person pov. It's hard to show that the character have flaws without seeming like the writer is justifying them since it's written in first person and most people (even mc) aren't objective enough to look at their own flaws with somebody elses eyes. Therefor it's likely that is will not be a very complete picture of the character but only of how the character sees himself. Even a character trying to show how he's not perfect tend to not sound very convincing in first person but just like he's complaining or hating himself, which IMHO is not a very interesting read.
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    thanks, ed, that's exactly how i meant it... and i agree with the rest of your post... you've put the problem [and echoed my opinion] very well...
     
  13. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Tesoro: I agree, all those are the pitfalls. But having done this more or less successfully, the way I negotiated that issue is to show the character the way you would experience them if you (the reader) was a friend reading the letters from another friend (albeit detailed and chronological). Or even, as if you were a therapist listening to a patient talk about their life and ongoing issues and events. There's always an element of a confessional in the 1st person pov. The character's need to share a story with others has to be genuine and acknowledged. In my experience 1st person pov fails most often when it pretends that there is no conscious MC participation in the narrative. Nobody goes around describing things in their head just for the sake of it, and if someone else is telling the story, then why is it not in 3rd person? No, 1st person pov needs to be intimate and confessional if it's to be believable and comfortable to read.

    In any confessional, the self-delusion needs to be dosed correctly to benefit characterisation as well as the storyline. But the unconscious revelations by the MC, about who they really are, what their motivation is etc don't come from self-description but from describing of events and MC's reaction to things as they happen. Just the way you and I would describe a parade, a pretty girl, a dip in the stock market, will characterise us better than any educated opinion, and in that sense, it works exactly the same as 3rd person pov.
    Writing it, I felt that it was a careful manipulation of public opinion, striking a good balance of realism and heroism, since nobody wants to read about someone boring or depressed, and yet nobody likes a show off.
    I don't know, I had great fun with it and don't see what the fuss is all about (regarding 1st person pov). Stories are either well written or they aren't.
     
  14. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    To make it work, I think you need to write between the lines.

    For example, a main character who's over-confident and deluded, will describe how smart they are, how everyone around them is an idiot, and how every time they fail it's because of someone else's incompetence. The reader has to read between the lines to realise the truth, and the writer needs to make the truth apparent between the lines, without any help from the main character.

    Of course, that's easier said than done.
     
  15. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Hey, what are friends for? ;)
     
  16. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree, that definitely sounds like a great way of doing it. But I think it takes an experienced writer to accomplish that. I guess that is why so many people advice beginning writers against using first person.
     
  17. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ed...
    'noo nawkahs' stick together, right? ;)

    getting back to the question at hand, another major reason not to tell a story completely in first person is that nothing other than what the narrator sees, hears, experiences can be told about... and that seriously limits what the reader can know about what's going on with the other characters and in other places... which puts subplots out of the picture, thus limiting the writer's plot options...
     
  18. RusticOnion
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    RusticOnion Contributing Member

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    Depends on which one you're most comfortable with, no point using 3rd person if you're terrible at it. A decent first person story might actually accrue more followers based on its subversive qualities . . .
     
  19. Lightman
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    Lightman Active Member

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    Anyone who claims that third-person or first-person is objectively better is almost certainly just projecting their own personal preferences onto the wider world. Great novels have been written in both points of view, probably in about equal measure. Perhaps there's a differential when it comes to merely mediocre novels, but I tend to avoid reading those when I can help it.
     
  20. superpsycho
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    superpsycho Contributing Member

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    Ist person makes it easier to get your character developed since it's all you but limits you on telling what's beyond their view. You have to do the "If only I knew at that moment across town at a little seedy cafe" type of thing.
    Third person makes it easier to do multiple characters who can develop seperately which can give a wide perspective to a story.

    Which is better is relative to the storyline and what you're trying to achieve. A narrow personal viewpoint, perhaps an emotional tour de force or a wider worldview. Painting a portrait or landscape.
     
  21. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    It entirely depends on the story. Right now I am tackling a horror in second person and it works very well for that, and it can be effective in a detective story.

    First person allows for a writer to place themselves directly inside the head of the character, and locks in the point of view. Some of my favourite books to read are first person (Kathy Reichs' Temperance Brennan series, Gervase Phinn's Dales Series and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre). The POV is particularly useful for inserting humour and making a full use of an unreliable narrator.

    Third person is useful and comes in several different forms. I use limited for my detective stories and omniescent (which is unfashionable right now) for a collection of stories about an old couple and their grandson. (sory of Harry Dresden marries Miss Marple). It allows a different feel to the story, and changes the style of humour and emotion.

    Personally, I don't find any of the narratives easier or more difficult to write. When it is an uphill struggle I usually find I've chosen the wrong one for that particular story. What is different is my relationship with the characters - first person characters tend to be far harder work and fight back more. Third person characters are more biddable but will object to certain elements. Second person is by far the easiest from that point of view.

    Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon is an interesting read as far as narrative and POV is concerned. He developed his own second/third person hybrid.
     
  22. wilprim
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    wilprim Member

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    Ty for the book recommendation jazzabel! I started reading it and it is awesome so far!
     

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