Reviewer Roundtable: Point of View
Hello One Book Two readers! Back in August 2015, we did our first Reviewer Roundtable on the mechanics of magic in urban fantasy. That post went over really well, so we’ve decided to do more.
On the third Saturday of each month during 2016 we’ll be posting a new Reviewer Roundtable. A roundtable is a discussion among the One Book Two reviewers about some element of reading/writing. And we’ll be looking for YOU to chime in on the comments. 🙂
The topic for today is Point of View (POV). We can talk about pros and cons, what we like or don’t, when it’s appropriate and when it’s not, whatever. For reference, here is a For Dummies page on POV in literature.
I really prefer 1st person. I think it forces the author to tighten up the story and stay focused on what is happening. It also keeps extraneous descriptions down to a minimum.
I find 1st person to be the most dangerous — all too often it is the perspective that becomes awkward or causes something to fail for me. This is due to the forced tightening and focus Percy mentions. However, it’s also the most powerful, because when pulled off correctly, you’re directly connected to that character in a way other POVs cannot match, and it can impact you all the more.
I agree with Vahn. I used to HATE 1st person books. Then I read one I really liked. I think it’s all about how well the writing is done (obviously).
With 1st person, I find that there is always suspicion because that character can’t know everything. For a mystery, this works really well, because the reader is in the dark as much as the character. What I don’t like is when the author brings in something the reader doesn’t know to solve the mystery, and then claims the 1st person narrator knew it. I feel that’s “cheating.”
Unreliable narrators in 1st person POV are fun. When they mess up, the reader knows it. When they do things correctly and it just seems wrong, the reader knows it. And when the author decides to throw you for a loop by making the character do something completely out of character, the reader gets even more pulled in. It’s fun.
I also think it depends on if the story has an emotional aspect that 1st person would make that more interesting. How much better would the Wheel of Time series be if we didn’t have to read so much of the protagonist’s internal struggle of whether or not to accept the hero role. But when the story is about an internal change, 1st person is necessary.
Annie, you make an interesting point about POV being used appropriately when the story conflict is internal or external I think I prefer 1st person POV because I prefer stories where the struggle is internal. Hubby and I talked about this with Daredevil vs. Jessica Jones (on Netflix). To me, Jessica Jones is so much more interesting because she is struggling with personal issues while Daredevil is fighting against an external bad guy.
Do you prefer the main character telling the story from his/her POV or a sidekick telling the story?
I read a book from the family cat’s POV once. 😺 I liked it!
Annie, I think it has to serve the story. However, in general, I would say I prefer the main character’s POV. Otherwise, it’s too easy for the author to “cheat,” like you said before. Take the Sherlock Holmes stories. The general pattern is that Watson is surprised by some knowledge Holmes has, which is what allowed him to solve the crime. It worked for those books, though. (LOL!)
I have read a few historical fiction stories where the major historical character is the “subject” of the story, but the story is told from the POV of someone close to him or her. It lets the narrator offer personal but yet somewhat objective commentary on the historical figure.
I’m finding that I generally don’t like it when authors change between narrators in a 1st person story. If we need the other person’s POV, write a different book.
I like it when they change POV. I love knowing what the other character is thinking! The Kitchen House does two points of view brilliantly. It’s the story of the life of a black slave and white girl that was held as an indentured servant. She was raised as a black slave but then when she got older, because she was white, she became the heir to the manor. It is told from the black and white POVs.
I don’t mind changes when the cut off is between chapters or somehow clearly marked. I don’t like having to guess whose POV I’m reading.
I love reading and writing first-person, especially if the narrations are split between charactors like in books like Defiance by CJ Redwine and Legend by Marie Lu. In fact I like alternating so much, I use dual 1st person POVs in two of my main writing projects. For me it’s fun because if you have two characters on opposite sides (let’s for say good vs. evil for kicks), and you get to hear the story from both angles. You may even find yourself rooting for the bad guy.
I’d be curious to know if there were some authors out there writing the same story from multiple POVs, and if we could read them. It seems like a writing class exercise, but as a reader, I’d be interested to see how much it impacts my enjoyment of the story.
A great example is the series I’m reading now – Life As We Knew It and its companion novel, The Dead & The Gone. They are about an asteroid that hits the moon and knocks it out of orbit. On earth, tsunamis hit badly, earthquakes and bad weather are frequent, the coasts wash out to sea, plague, famine, death…It’s very intense. One character lives in a rural area, the other lives in New York. Very different situations impacted by the same event.
Actually, Alex Hughes just wrote two companion novellas in the Mindspace Investigations series from two different first person POVs — Fluid and Temper. The novellas cover the same time frame, and the characters periodically come together during that time. It is interesting to read how each character thought about the other.
Okay, I can see how having contrasting POVs can serve a story. At the same time, POVs that don’t contrast drastically might not work. And that’s what I want authors to avoid. Like with most things, there has to be a reason for the POVs.
I’d like to clarify that a tad more, Percy — there has to be a reason, and that reason needs to be integral to the story or have an impact on the reader in some way. I prefer 3rd person if there are multiple characters. I’ve seen it pulled off with 1st person a few times, but more often than not it’s a tad jarring.
Though I like 1st person best, I’m not against 3rd person POV. I think the number of POVs does need to be limited, though. The whole reason I couldn’t read G.R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones was because there were too many POVs. When each chapter switches to a new person, and six chapters later it’s still a different person each time? NO thanks!
I can see Percy’s point on the A Song of Ice and Fire series since there were so many characters. This is why I think I lost interest in the books. In the fifth book, there are so many different POVs, you almost never get back to the characters from the first book in which you were originally invested. When there are so many characters, in either 1st or 3rd person, it’s too difficult to keep track of who’s who.
How does everyone feel about 2nd person? 2nd person is when the narrator is talking to an audience but referring to said audience with the word “you.” He/she may ask for advice, tell jokes, or just have a mental breakdown.
David Duchovny wrote a book about a cow, and the cow talked to the audience a lot. It made it really funny.
I think 2nd person is really interesting and incredibly odd simply because it’s unfamiliar to me, and rare enough that I can’t think of a novel written entirely that way that I’ve read.
I don’t think I would like second person. I don’t want to feel like it’s a lecture or someone talking to me. I want to read about what a person is doing.
I just started listening to a book by Ari Marmell, one of his Mick Oberon series. It’s written like a 1920’s pulp noir mystery, which were commonly written in 2nd person, as if the protagonist were telling you a story over a beer at the local pub. The Yancy Lazarus series is kind of that way as well. Mostly it reads like a first person, with the occasional comment to the audience, but it does feel more intimate.
I find the 2nd person POV more often in kid’s books than adult books, like RL Stine’s The Nightmare Hour books.
Oh yeah. In kid’s books where you are trying to teach them about proper behavior, 2nd person works well because the reader get the moral message.
If the story is good, any POV can work.
Honestly, I like any POV. I’m not going to be instantly turned off by a book just because of the POV it is written from. Obviously, I’m sure we can all agree, it comes down to the writing and the author’s skill.
If a book is recommended or the description sounds good I’ll read it (or attempt to) regardless of POV. But if the POV isn’t handled appropriately (regardless of which it is), it can be a deal-breaker for me.
Agreed. I definitely don’t avoid a book because of POV, but my satisfaction when it’s over can definitely be hindered by the wrong choices.
As a group, here is what we want to communicate to authors about POV:
- Have a reason for the POV you choose that supports the purpose of the story. If there is no compelling reason for a particular POV, stick with 3rd person limited (we consider that the “norm”).
- Stay true to that POV in your writing; know which narrator is “talking” at any one time and be intentional about what the narrator knows or doesn’t know. Don’t mix up your perspectives; it confuses us and reads as unprofessional.
- Don’t overwhelm us with too many POVs. We can’t keep that many people straight!
- If you do have multiple POVs (meaning narrators), don’t make us guess who’s “talking.” Make sure it’s VERY clear who the narrator is every time you switch narrators.
- Ask your editors and feedback readers to check your use of POV, among other things.
- We’re open to any POV as long as it’s used appropriately and with skill.
Now, what do YOU think, readers? Chime in on the comments, we want to hear from you!