Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Choosing a Point of View

I'm going to start a new novel after Christmas and I have the plot squared away and I know what I have to research, but I haven't decided on a point of view. I assumed third person would allow me to do everything I wanted and had pretty much made up my mind, but then I started reading some old first person novels and thought about taking it straight first person. This would allow me to get cozy with the reader right away and also give me the latitude to throw in everything but the kitchen sink as a I muse along. I have written three first person novels and one third person and I like, as most Americans, having someone tell me a story as if they are sitting next to me. But there are drawbacks.

First person depends entirely on voice. If you don't have an  interesting narrator then first person will not work. The voice of the author should draw a reader in and there should be a melody, a musical quality to the narrator that is pleasing to the ear. I write from the sound of prose as most writers do. You can just tell when something is not right and so you play with the words or the voice until it flows with an unbroken cadence. Of course some first person narrators attack the reader and fight against cadence. But it is the way we like our stories told and there it is no coincidence that blogging with its first person narrator is so popular. It is the great "I" telling the story and we are there.

Now the problem is there are limits. We cannot be everywhere as a narrator and that limits our scope. So that brings in a strong authorial third person. Authors used to be much more assertive, talking to the reader and coming out from behind the curtain. Now a lot of our omniscient narrators hide behind the curtain and tell the story without getting in the way. A lot of people prefer this as they don't want some author getting in the way of  characters and action and giving his or her take on what is happening. We want the author to be essentially invisible, a voice from above.

Or you can get esoteric and use second person which is you. You take the train. You feel sick. You punch the man. You arrive at work and hang your hat and look at your watch. You know that it is a long time from lunch. I am using second person in this essay. I do it in most of my posts about writing and politics. It allows the reader to be part of the story...You. But you have to make a decision about what you want to use in your story.

So I will have to make up my mind soon. I am drifting toward third person because I just don't have a powerful voice nudging my authorial narrator aside. But if he does then I will go with it. And so should you.

Rocket Man will be out in January

Books by William Hazelgrove