Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Point Of View

What I'm Listening To: BT - Circles

What I'm Doing: Recovering.

I just spent the majority of the day reading over Miss Snark's First Victim's Secret Agent Contest entries, and I now feel as though my brain is leaking out of my ears. The entries I saw this time around weren't as bad as the entries I saw for the last Secret Agent contest, which was a mild improvement, but I've got to know:

When did the memo get around that all YA novels have to be in the first person? That detracts so much from a book, more-so if it's not all that interesting in the first place. I can name two first-person based novels off the top of my head that I willing read over and over: Sunshine by Robin McKinley, and The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley. Ally Carter's I'd Tell You I Love You but Then I'd Have to Kill You is also in first person, but I've not read more than the first page, when I found it in Walmart. And although I loved the first page, and I'm partial to Ally as a person, that's no guarantee that the book is going to be one that I'm going to love, and reread so many times it begins falling apart.

(I know there are people who take meticulous care of their books, and don't bend or crack the spine at all, but I'm not one of them. If a book is worth reading a hundred times, then it's going to show the signs of those hundred reads, and I do have more than one book that's in two pieces because I've read it so many times that the binding simply gave out.)

But for the most part, first-person is a no-no for me. And after thirty of them, my patience started to give out, and it showed in the comments I left. I read them backwards, from 50 down to 1, simply because it was easier to keep up with that way, and my comments on the first thirty (by which I mean from fifty down to about number twenty) have good, written out, well-thought comments on what worked, why I didn't like it, why I did, what I would have changed, and the like. Down towards the bottom, the comments started to say things like, "First person point-of-view would have been better as third person, limited. Not hooked."

Think about it. My example would be this:

I stepped out of my shadowed doorway, and gazed across the open courtyard before my house. God, what a mess this is, I thought, and carefully picked my way across the open spaces between piles of junk.

(When I'm reading first person, I feel as though the story is being told to me by someone. Normal people don't say "I carefully picked my way through the labyrinth of trash" they're going to say something like "I had to watch my feet so I didn't step in a pile of shit."
So I like to feel like I'm sitting on the main character's shoulder as they're making their way through the story.)

Katreen inched the door open slowly, and stuck her head outside, surveying the mess that was the open courtyard in front of her house. She shook her head at it, thinking of all the work that would have to be done. What a mess this is. Stepping out into it, she made her way carefully among the piles of trash that littered the ground.

There are two reasons I prefer third person (generally limited) to first person. The first is that I read a story for the characters. It doesn't matter that the setting is in a beautiful palace filled with jewels and rare treasures if the main character is a shallow, empty-headed thing. But if you've got a rich, dynamic character set within a dirty shack, well, I'm still interested in it, because I'm not reading for the setting. I'm reading for the character.
That said, third person introduces the character to you immediately. It has to. Even if it's something as simple as "She opened the door." You know something already; the main character is a girl. With first person, this is utterly lost, until someone says "Katreen! Girl, get over here!" which could be anywhere from the first sentence on into the third page, and that whole time, you don't know who your character is.
The second is the reason I gave above; I don't want to be told the story, I want to be right there in the thick of it, feeling what my main character is feeling, and going where they go.


  1. I find myself torn by this post because I agree. I don't completely hate first person, but I've always found it difficult to write and I have very naturally written in third person limited nearly all the time.

    I'm sure there have been a few circumstances in which I didn't use that POV due to what I was trying to get across with what I was writing, but in general that is default setting.

    And yet, the story I am currently working on is in first person. And it is strange. And possibly part of the reason I am having trouble sticking to my writing. But for some reason when I started planning out scenes and conversations in my mind it was all from a first person POV and it felt right.

    I've thought about changing it to thrid person limited, but I'm not sure. I might actually end up with two manuscripts in the end, a first person and a third person. That would be a bit of a nightmare...

  2. Ha, my roommate keeps her books in pristine condition. I don't know how or why. As soon as I know I'm going to keep a book, I break its spine. I bought Red-headed Stepchild the other week, got two chapters in, realized it was a keeper, and promptly flattened the book against a table to start a crease. MINE. I used to draw lines across the tops of the books to mark how many times I'd read a certain book -- got that from my father.

    As soon as I start work on a story, I know what perspective it must be in. Some stories only work 3rd limited, others 3rd omn., but once in a while I get a story that I know I can't write in anything but 1st. I've tried now and then to change POVs, but the story stalls out and refuses to get written.

    I tried to enter the Secret Agent contest, but I didn't make it through the lottery. <3 Hee, maybe next time. MAYBE NEXT TIME IT WILL INCLUDE COMMERCIAL FICTION, HOMG.

  3. "So I like to feel like I'm sitting on the main character's shoulder as they're making their way through the story."

    Yeah, that's exactly what it feels like for me. I despise first person. I feel like it really limits the possible dialogue. The only time I've ever enjoyed it was for The Year of Secret Assignments, which was written entirely in letters (and other materials) going back and forth between the characters. It worked really nicely~