Archive Post – The Perils of First Person POV

I have been giving a lot of thought to any faults in any of my previous work – obviously, I want to learn from both my experience and mistakes.  One of the great elements that many writers struggle with is Point of View (POV)

The most common Points of View are:

First Person Point of View
‘I’ is telling the story.  In many case that same ´I´ is the protagonist of the story.  In others, such as is the case of Dr. Watson in the Sherlock Holmes stories, ´I´ represents a close witness to the events of the story.  In all cases, the only action that can happen in the story is that to which the protagonist is witness.

Second Person Point of View
In second person POV the voice is ‘You’.

You get home from a hard day at the office.  The key slips into the lock and you step into your apartment.  You hear the phone ringing.  Five rings before the answering machine clicks on – you catch it on the fourth ring.

This POV is very rarely used, particularly for a full novel.

The Third Person Point of View

There are variations of the Third Person Point of View.

Objective
Subjective
Limited
Omniscient

These differences should be obvious.  Objective is without judgment while Subjective allows for opinions and feelings.

Limited is in a way similar to the First person Point of View – the narration is filtered through the experiences of a particular character.

Omniscient is a god-like narrator that sees all, is in all places and knows everything about everyone in all scenes.

Finally there is the Epistolary Form POV in which the story is told via correspondence between the characters.  Dracula by Bram Stoker is a fine example of this style.

Another issue is the time chosen for the story.  It seems that lately, much popular fiction is written in the present tense.

Instead of:

I woke up and reached over to the night table for my glasses.

It would be:

I wake up and reach over to the night table for my glasses.

So with all these possible choices, one would have to think that there is one style or perspective that is the best.  I am a great believer in variety so it´s my nature to try everything and hope to either succeed at it or in the worst case scenario (where the result really sucks) at least to learn from the experience.

So far my writing has been slightly leaning toward the First person.
My memoir ´A Rose by Any Other Name – Life Lessons from an Unremarkable Dog´ was completely written from the First person perspective.  Obviously, there are norms and genres that lean toward 1st person.  I am reminded of the Spenser series by Robert B. Parker and the works or Raymond Chandler.  Nothing wrong with 1st person when it is appopriate and done well.

My Novel ´LOBO´ was a mixture of Third person narrative mixed with interview segments that were written in First person from each different character´s experience.

Mexican Mutts, Tequila Pups and Chili Dogs – Short Stories of the Dogs of Mexico has one short story written in Second Person and one written in First person plural in which I try to blend the identity of the narrator into two brothers, never allowing the reader to know which brother is speaking at any given time.

The rest of the stories are in First person.  I didn´t plan it this way.  It just worked out like that.  It seems to me that an unplanned, spontaneous story that falls into one or another perspective must have been meant for that perspective.

The beauty of my mistakes is that since I am constantly going off the beaten path, I somehow manage to alleviate the impact of my mistakes with some interesting variation.  In the case of ´Mexican Mutts´ it might have been a disaster to read ´I´´I´´I´ all the way through the book but it is broken up by a number of newspaper and magazine style articles which are written in the Third person.

So now we come to the gist of the article.  What is the peril of first person perspective?  What is the best POV?

The peril is that almost all INDIE writers are jumping both feet first into the first person voice.  And that´s ok.  Nothing wrong there.  However, if that´s their whole trick bag, they are hardly going to have a career in writing.  First person is just too damn easy.  There is no need to worry about Subjective vs. Objective and the limited vs. Omniscient issue goes out the door.  The only limitation is that the character must be in each and every scene.  Of course we can get around that by having another character describe what has happened while the character was away.

Some writers even go the cheat route and drop the occasional Third person POV chapter in between the regular First person narrative.  I despise this and consider it a complete cheat.  (Yes, I did much the same in Lobo but it was a structural decision from the get go, not a write myself out of a corner maneuver at the half way point)

These days, if I pick up a novel, I am putting it down in seconds if the perspective is ´I´ – I´m bored.  I don´t care.  I already know what is going to happen – the protagonist is going to survive.  There can only be one outcome, the winner will win and the loser will lose.

Now we all read a book with the hope that our protagonist wins in the end.  It´s a contract between the writer and the reader.  We readers agree to follow along, suspend belief to a certain extent and go for a ride with the writer and he or she agrees to give us a logical and fulfilling story that concludes in a satisfying manner at the end.

Doesn´t the First person perspective deny us a lot of the mystery?  After all, if the story is told from the
protagonist´s POV, we have to assume that he / she survived the ordeal …. there goes the suspense out the window.

Not to mention the tendency that so many writers have of telling vs.  showing.  In the First person, a writer has a tendency to put the backstory and other issues into the mouth of the protagonist.  He just blah, blah, blahs the story instead of showing us the action and story props etc. that give is a subtle idea of what´s going on.

So I really want to steer away from First person for a while.

Second person is just a lark so we´ll leave that for the PHD´s and other learned scholars to play with.

That leaves third person.  It is recognized that the third person perspective is the most common by far.  As are stories told from the past tense perspective.  So in as few words as possible, I suggest to that INDIE writer that is struggling with perspective that he or she WRITE IN THIRD PERSON, DAMNIT!

That still leave quite a bit of wriggle room.  If you make it too easy for yourself, you will never learn or grow so my next project is going to be Third person limited.  Actually, I´m not sure the exact technical grammatical term but the idea is to have various limited perspectives from a third person POV.

There will be about 4 or 5 key characters and each chapter or scene will have at least one of them in it – the chapter will be completely from each key character´s perspective.  Then on to the next chapter and a limited POV from the perspective of the next character.  And so on.

That is my objective and in my not so humble opinion, the superior POV – I think it will make for a better novel and it will make me a better writer doing it.

I will also be using the past tense.  The current trend of present tense writing is just that, a trend.  Very little outside of the Young Adult Pulp Fiction genre is written in this fashion and even less of this fashion is memorable.

That´s all for today.

David Gordon Burke

Find my books HERE!

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