So what I told you was true, from a certain “point of view”

What starting a new novel feels like...

What starting a new novel feels like…

I haven’t looked, for I fear I would go down the rabbit hole only to reappear just before bedtime, but I suspect there are exactly  1 bazillion blogs out there on point of view and the advantages and disadvantages. My writer’s group and I were discussing this last night, and I thought I would take a moment to share my thoughts on the subject.

First – to anyone who is not familiar with what I’m talking about, point of view, or POV, is one of the basic characteristics of your storytelling for a particular story. You may remember some of this from your middle school and high school English classes. First person is “I did that,” second person is “you did that,” and third person is “he/she/it did that.” Then there is tense: “I do that” is present tense and “I did that” is past. I suppose “I will do that” is future, but if you anyone is out there writing in second person or future tense (or both – wow…) they are braver than me.

So, what’s the big deal? I basically wanted to share my story and where I’m at today.

The first thing I ever wrote since starting down this path called “WRITER” (i.e. not counting anything that I wrote prior to 2003) was my first novel, Pawn’s Gambit. A broad contemporary fantasy epic with a complex story, multiple characters both good and bad, and important things happening that my main character wasn’t privy to all but required third person. In a first person story, unless you are changing who the first person POV character is (which you can do, of course), you can’t see anything that is happening that your POV character isn’t present for in one way or another. This can be limiting, but also can help. My second novel, The Mussorgsky Riddle, is all first person, as it deals with the main character (a psychic detective of sorts) and how she perceives what is happening to her over the course of the story, both in the real world and in the mind of another character. My current novel is interesting, in that the source material I’m drawing from for inspiration was written in third person, past tense, and I’m writing my “version” of this story in first person present tense.

Another interesting thing I’ve discovered is that for me, third person lends itself very well to past tense and I have trouble doing it in present tense, though it can be done well. First person on the other hand sounds so much more pleasing in my head when I do it in present tense. It’s almost like the reader riding along and encountering the story with the character. So that third person past tense for first novel, and first person present tense for second and third novels. My short stories? Well, they’ve been all over the place, but it’s usually been one of the above. I contemplated doing my recent story, “The Eye of the Beholder,” (which was just picked up for Dark Hall Press’s Cosmic Horror Anthology) as second person, present tense, just to get the full gross out effect of the last page, but from what I understand, it’s hard to sell second person, so I stuck with what I knew.

The main thing I’ve learned? Likely there is a best POV for each story. It may be governed by what a particular writer is best at doing, but I believe it has mostly to do with the story you are trying to tell. Can you imagine trying to tell the story from Star Wars from a lone first person POV? Gah. Now admittedly, J.K. Rowling did an outstanding job keeping everything in the Potterverse down to only what Harry could see or what he was present for, but even then she went 3rd person, past tense with a close, non-omniscient narrator. If Harry didn’t know it or couldn’t figure it out, the narrator wouldn’t spill it. That’s one of the many things she did well in that series, and one of the many skills she brought to the table that made her series so successful.

Omniscient vs. Close is a discussion for another time. My friend, Jay, thinks that omniscient narrators may have their day again, but for now, third person POV out there seems to be sticking close to the focus characters senses and thoughts. Probably more of a trend than a rule. (It’s sold in the past. Don’t believe me? Go read some Tolkien.)

So, your homework. Take a look at your story. You may find, as I did with Mussorgsky a few years back when I was in about 10,000 words, that your third person past tense story is screaming out to be first person present tense. Don’t be afraid. It’s not as hard as it sounds. Just change almost every subject and verb for 30-50 pages, read it through a couple times, and drive on. If I can do it, so can you.

And now, I’m off to Starbucks, for some first person, present tense words are itching to fly out my fingers and onto the screen.

Happy Writing!

Darin

About Darin Kennedy


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