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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Perplexity of the Narrative Point of View

Remember the historical novel I've been writing? I submitted a few chapters to my on-line critique group a little more than a week ago, and have been reviewing the comments over the past few days. Overall, I'm very encouraged with their feedback and am really happy with how the story is shaping up.

One of my critique members suggested I change the narrative point of view from first person to third person. Another member agreed with this. My writing leans toward the lyrical (Nothing like my blog writing...is this a shocker to anyone? ), and I think the idea is to switch the point of view so the overall narration will be lyrical, rather than just through the main character's voice.

And of course to keep things interesting, another critique member urged me to keep this piece in first person. She liked the intimacy of the piece and thought I would lose the lyrical quality if I changed this to third person.

So...what to do, besides pace back and forth? The only answer for me is to write a few chapters in third person and then compare the two POV's.

I have to tell you, I love my critique group. They have given me such great feedback on three other manuscripts, which are all in various stages of revision. I even changed the narrative point of view (from third person to first person) for one of these manuscripts, and the piece is stronger for it. So I don't mind reworking a piece. It's actually fun for me and helps me get to know the story even better.

A couple days ago, I started to rewrite this manuscript in third person. To say challenging, is putting it mildly. However, if anything, it's a great exercise.

Which narrative point of view do you prefer to read or write?

19 comments:

Christine M said...

I used to always write in 3rd - but lately I've found I like the immediacy of 1st. Of course, a lot depends on the kind of story.

Anonymous said...

Lyrical? Interesting. I'd love to read some of your writing. Good luck with the third person.

Sarah Rettger said...

For me, it's first person. I'd love to give some kind of insightful rationale for why my third-person attempts are so much less successful, but for now I'll stick with "that's what works."

Sara Latta said...

I think it depends on what I'm writing, but generally I like the immediacy of first person. At the Richard Peck workshop, I learned that he almost ALWAYS prefers first person. (Jim D. of your online group was there; it would be interesting to hear what he has to say in light of that.)

Becky Levine said...

Yipes! Did I know you were writing a historical YA? I think I was reading your blog at that point, but maybe I just didn't register it, because I hadn't thought of mine yet! What period are you writing?

Okay, here's my thought on what tense to write in. Definitely listen to your group and definitely play with the different versions. BUT...and tell you critiquers not to yell at me TOO loud, I think we all have tenses and viewpoints we're all most comfortable READING in. I know that I might tell a writer in my group that I think a different tense would work better, but it may very well be based on my preference, not her book! So just keep that in mind while you play and find where you're happy.

I'm actually considering first-person present, which TOTALLY freaks me out, but the MC seems to be wanting to do it that way.

PJ Hoover said...

I love the idea of you writing some in third to see how it feels! This is such the mark of what a great (and patient) writer would/should do!

And it is a great idea for a writing exercise.

The Cole Mine said...

I think my preference depends on the type of story, setting and characters etc. I predict a comparison like you mentioned will reveal your answer...

How did you find your online critique group? Does it cost money to join?

Best of luck with your historical novel. Sounds very interesting!

HipWriterMama said...

The Cole Mine,
Oh dear. Do Not Pay Any Money to join a critique group! On-line or in person.

I love my on-line critique group since I can work on the critiques when the kids are occupied with other things.

You can find an on-line group through different writing organizations (http://scbwi.org/ is one great place to find one) or you might even find one through networking with bloggers who write. Best of luck!
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Tricia,
Thanks. It'll be interesting to see how this turns out. Are you still celebrating?!!
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Becky,
Thanks for your perspective. My WIP is nineteenth century Korea.

Good luck with your manuscript!
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Sara,
The Richard Peck Workshop must've been awesome. That's cool to find out what POV Richard Peck prefers. Thanks for sharing that.
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Sarah,
Thanks for visiting. Write what works best for you. Good luck!
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Anonymous,
Maybe one day.
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Chris,
You're right. A lot does depend on the immediacy of the story. Hope your writing is going well!

Robin Brande said...

Wow, I'm impressed with your good attitude about such a substantive change! Many people would mumble expletives and go about their business as if no one had ever mentioned switching POV.

But as long as you're comfortable trying it both ways and seeing what works for YOU, I'm all for it. You get to decide what your style is and how best to tell your stories. Suggestions from critique partners are great--I've really improved my writing over the years thanks to mine--but you still have the final say in what you think is right for your characters and your story.

Glad you're getting so much out of your group! Keep writing, HWM! That's how you end up published!

laurasalas said...

Great question! I prefer reading in first-person. I think the reason for that, which I never thought about before, is that I don't like a ton of overt characterization in my novels. I like story and learning about the character *through* the story. So I absolutely love to hear the main character's voice. It's how I crawl into the character, the story, the book.

Of course, there are many brilliant third-person books I love! But I think first-person is my favorite. Thanks for making me think about it. And have fun playing with your wip in both forms so you can see what resonates for you.

jules said...

It depends, but I have to agree that there's nothing like first-person immediacy sometimes.

Good luck with the revisions!

Patty P said...

I haven't been able to weigh in on this issue because I think it's deeply personal, artistically speaking. I love how it already sounds. Having said that, 3rd person would work. It's fun to try both, especially early in the early stages.
I wrote parts of my first novel in both 1st and 3rd. I eventually settled on third because I didn't want the intimacy 1st person brings.
I'll be interested to see what you settled on.

Kelly said...

While I LOVE first person, I think nothing touches the magic of a wonderful 3rd person text. Think "His Dark Materials," as an example.

Good for you, HWM, for taking on this challenge. I can't wait to see what the results will be. Our fab writing group will read both variants and weigh in, I'm sure. I wonder if we'll all agree?

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Hey! I'm catching up here, and shivering over the deer tick story. Egads. I remember when my mom had to check my ears for ticks every day when we lived in the woods. However, a tick was found on a friend of one of my daughter's the day after I took her for a walk, so it can happen even in urban settings. Still... gack.

As far as your questions about POV goes, it really all depends. I lean toward third person because there's a bit more room for objectivity and description, but I also enjoy first person in fiction, too. With third person, you can get basic descriptions of people done without too much affection-- otherwise, there's so much of the "I looked in the mirror and scowled at my variegated eyes, russet corkscrew curls, cappucino skin* and slightly upturned nose that reminded my best friend Frank of a pixie." La la la.:)

*This is an allusion to a post Finding Wonderland did that asked why writers so often feel the need to describe skin tone in terms of caffeinated beverages.

courtneywrites said...

I know someone who changed her first novel from third to first, and it became a bestseller -- sometimes you just need a change in perspective. Good luck with it!

Sheri said...

Hip, I feel your pain, because I recently did the opposite. i was writing in third and switched to first and it made a HUGE difference. Suddenly my book came alive and had a depth it didn't before. So switching POV can really bring about a dramatic change. As far as which to use... well first person is very limiting. As you know, you have to always ask yourself, is this something the MC would know. Basically the reader only knows what the MC knows. To me, first person feels like someone is telling you a personal story - a fly on the wall kind of experience for the reader. But third feels so different. It feels more… literary. And for historical fiction, I think it can be the perfect choice.

I say copy two scenes and paste them into a new doc. Copy one scene you love and one you think is weak. (They don't have to be consecutive scenes). Rewrite them both in third and see what happens. I am sure you will get your answer pretty soon. I know once I write from third to first, it was like a light bulb went on.

Good luck!

Jim D said...

Sara asked my thoughts regarding Richard Peck almost always prefering first person. I feel his style of writing goes well with 1st person. He likes to move quickly from scene to scene. His main character is in the heart of the action.

This is not always possible.

The fact is different stories fit better with different POV's. I think Richard Peck chooses stories that almost always fit 1st person. I might add that I'm glad he does. I'm a huge fan.

Jim D

HipWriterMama said...

Wow! I love all of your thoughtful comments. Thank you!

Sara Latta said...

Jim, you made a good point, that he chooses stories that almost always fit with first person. I hadn't thought of it that way. Much as I admire Richard, I did wonder if he were trying to steer everyone into writing first person, even when their stories were better suited to third.