Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Word about POV

Trying to decide what point of view to use when writing can be tricky. Your choice can depend on a lot of different factors, and even then you can get partway through a manuscript and realize you made the wrong choice. I made that mistake myself when I started my first novel. I began with first person and then realized I needed to get into the other characters' heads too, so had to go back and rewrite 25000 words from a third person POV. It was an interesting challenge.

Now I'm working on my second novel, the second in a series of three, and I'm very happy with the third person POV. It works well in this case.

I bring up the whole issue of POV because I just read a novel written in first person plural POV, The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides. I've got to applaud him for taking the risk, especially since it was his debut novel, and obviously it paid off for him because the novel is well respected and it was made into a movie. However, for me, I'm not so sure it was effective. In fact, because of the anonymity of the narrators (a nebulously vague group of neighborhood boys) and the distance the POV puts between the reader and the suicide victims, I found that the POV specifically made me less engaged in the story. Because I couldn't identify with only one narrator or any of the suicide victims, there was nothing to identify with and as I writer I would think it your first concern would be to engage your reader and keep them engaged.

My guess is that the novel did so well because of two factors (and if you plan to read it but haven't, you might want to stop here): first the uniqueness of the POV, but secondly the morbid curiosity factor with regard to the suicides. Eugenides draws the reader in with one suicide immediately, appealing to the lookie-loo in all of us and then promises more gruesomeness but doesn't deliver until the very end of the book when the rest of the girls kill themselves all at once, in kind of an anticlimax. Everything in between is musings, meanderings, flashbacks...it felt like filler to me - philosophical and moderately interesting - but still filler.

So I'm basically on the fence about this novel. As a writer it was an interesting lesson in POV, but as a reader it really wasn't all that satisfying. I think I'll stick to writing in either first or third person (singular!) POV.

What kinds of experiences and/or preferences do you have when it comes to POV?


Terri Tiffany said...

I wrote my first book in first person and then a few years later, changed it to third--felt I could do more with it that way and I believe you can.
Isn't it funny which books take off and others don't?

Bethany Wiggins said...

I just read Shiver. It is told in first person, from the alternating POV's of the male and female MC's. I am not used to that, and when it shifted, I got confused every every now and then. But the book was beautiful none the less.

How do I decide the POV when I am the author? I don't. The voice just comes to me on its own. It sort of decides itself. That probably doesn't make much sense! Sorry!

Terresa said...

POV...hmmm. I'm writing my current WIP in first person.

What I completely, utterly dread is the day I finish writing it and decide, hey, I should've written it from another POV. Gah!