February 4th, 2019

SOS: POV, ASAP!

by Laurie Schnebly Campbell

I’m tempted to do this entire blog in initials, but suspect that’d get old pretty fast. Just like discussions of viewpoint can, when writers debate (endlessly) the pros & cons of whose point of view is best for a scene.

After all, does it really matter? Do our readers even notice whose head/s they’re in?

Point of View

Even more important, do they really CARE?

Well, that depends.

Some of them rave with wholehearted enthusiasm about novels where they’re right there with a character through every step of his or her exciting / dramatic / heartwarming / terrifying / enormously satisfying journey.

Some readers never notice.

But those who do? They’re usually enthralled because:

They’ve been in deep POV.

“I feel like I truly know this person; I get exactly how he’s feeling.”

“She could be my best friend -- I’d recognize her immediately if I saw her at any table in Starbucks.”

“It always takes me a while to come back to real life after one of those books.”

Never once, though, has a reader enthused:

“The transitions from first-person to third-person were amazingly seamless.”

“I loved how we moved from omniscient POV to the hero’s whenever things got tense.”

“It’s such a treat reading an author who head-hops so smoothly.”

A writer might conceivably make such observations, but only if we’re discussing craft rather than being engrossed in the story.

And when we think about what we want people to take away from the experience of reading our books, it’s pretty clear which kind of comments we’d rather hear:

I was really THERE in the story” wins every time.

Does that mean deep viewpoint is essential?

Absolutely not. There are tons of successful books where immersion in the character’s world is NOT the primary goal. Shallow viewpoint works just fine for:

  • Delivering several red herrings along with the legitimate clues needed to solve a mystery
  • Describing the unique, richly detailed setting where the characters will begin their quest
  • Providing some backstory on why William left his estate to Jeremy instead of Jonathan.

Those could all be done through the viewpoint of characters in the story, or an omniscient narrator.

Which do you prefer?

Or does it depend on the book? (Hint: that’s the correct answer.)

Some writers have no problem choosing what POV to use -- if each book in this publisher’s particular line or the author’s own series, for instance, uses deep third or alternating firsts. It’s only when faced with total freedom to choose what’ll best serve the story that, well…

We sometimes start to waffle.

Why?

Because nobody likes to make a commitment without thinking through all the pros and cons of each possible choice.

And there are an incredible number of choices for just about any novel.

Advantages of straight-through first-person, like To Kill A Mockingbird or Huckleberry Finn, include:

  • More immediacy in identifying with the character
  • No need to switch viewpoints from scene to scene
  • The amazing ease in maintaining consistency of voice

But of course there’s one big disadvantage, which is that you can’t let the reader in on things the narrator has no way of knowing.

All right, then, is third-person (like in Pride and Prejudice or Harry Potter) a better bet? The advantages of that include:

  • Ability to show whatever readers needs to know from some POV
  • Flexibility in choosing whose perspective will best enhance a scene
  • Narrative from any number of characters (although 187 may be a few too many!)

And yet you know the downsides there as well, right? It’s hard to feel quite as in-tune with someone when you’re in their head only part of the time, and it can get confusing if readers aren’t 100% certain whose head they’re in at the beginning of a scene.

If you do go with third-person, though, do you want it to be an omniscient narrator who knows what everyone is thinking and feeling at every moment?

Or do you want it limited to only a handful of characters, or even just one?

The fewer POV characters you use, the easier it is to go deep.

And that’s something readers almost always love.

There are tricks to creating deep POV, which we’ll look at in my upcoming class on “The Whole Point of Point of View.” But keep in mind that depth of viewpoint isn’t necessarily a requirement for a truly great story.

It’s just one of many tools which could be considered less important than Plot, Character and even Genre.

After all, when you think about the books you’ve enjoyed most during your lifetime, their POV probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. It tends to rank a little farther down the list of “why I gave this five stars.”

But those books that deserve a place on your keeper shelf all make very effective use of viewpoint. Whether it’s:

  • past or present tense
  • deep or shallow
  • omniscient or limited
  • first-person or third…

…whatever choices the author made were the right ones for that particular story, because it kept you engaged.

And it happened so naturally, you might not even be able to identify what viewpoint/s made your favorite novels your favorite. (That is, assuming you leave your own titles off the list!)

Off the top of my head, when I think of “three all-time favorites,” right now they’d be Greensleeves by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, Penmarric by Susan Howatch, and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott…and all I remember is that Penmarric had five sections, each narrated by a different first-person character.

So that leads to a prize-drawing question for you:

What three books do you think of as your all-time favorites TODAY? And if you can remember the viewpoint for any of them, mention that as well.

Somebody who answers will win free registration to my POV class from February 18-March 1, and meanwhile it’ll be a treat hearing about great books from people who know and love reading!

* * * * * *

About Laurie:

After winning “Best Special Edition of the Year” over Nora Roberts, Laurie Schnebly Campbell discovered she loved teaching every bit as much as writing...if not more. Last year she asked her mailing list of writers “what class topic would you like?” More people said “POV” than anything else, so “The Whole Point of Point of View” is coming up on February 18 at https://yhoo.it/2Dofvgi.

All photos from www.freestockphotos.biz.

67 responses to “SOS: POV, ASAP!”

  1. Terry Odell says:

    POV was my first lesson when I toyed with writing. I prefer to read/write in Deep POV (and I've given classes, too!).

    When reading, I prefer 3rd person deep, or 1st person which is almost the same thing. When I write, it's almost always 3rd person deep, although one of my characters insisted on first person. Past tense, though. First person present drives me crazy and I rarely get past the first few pages.

    And yet one of my favorite series is written in omniscient, which I forgive because the characters are so well crafted. Yes, I'm JD Robb junkie.

    Asking me to pick favorite books is like asking me which is my favorite child, so I'll pass on that.

    • Terry, good thought on picking a favorite child -- I don't think any child can be your favorite for more than a few seconds at a time! I think it was in Barbara Kingsolver's "The Poisonwood Bible" where someone said "my favorite is whichever needs me the most at that moment," but somehow we can't really apply that to books. 🙂

  2. Linda Fletcher says:

    Three of my all-time favorite books (but they tie for the top spot with, like, 1,263 more, LOL) are Time and Again by Jack Finney, Christy by Catherine Marshall--both first-person POVs--and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, which was in third person.

    And yes, I had to go look them up on my shelf before I answered because I loved all three books so much that the stories themselves are what stayed with me all these years (and we're talking a lotta years!). The POV was incidental.

    Even today, though, if I like the story I don't care what the POV is (although I tend not to love present tense as much, I admit, but I just finished a book that used it and I liked it). And it doesn't bother me if the POV is deep or not, as long as it's well told.

    • Linda, wow, reading all three of your favorite titles gave me such a feeling of joy -- each one of those is a fabulous read-again-and-again-over-the-years. And I'm right there with you on not remembering the viewpoint in any of 'em...but isn't it handy to have such treasures right there on the shelf?

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I'm so excited - I haven't read ANY of your three favorites...so I just put a hold on them at the library. Thanks for the cool books!

      • Linda Fletcher says:

        I hope you enjoy them all, Jenny. They're completely different from each other--Time and Again is time travel, Christy is about a new teacher in turn-of-the-century Appalachia and has a strong current of faith running through it (but it's not in-your-face), and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a coming-of-age set in turn-of-the-century New York (and there was also a fabulous movie made of it in 1945). And they were written several decades ago, but they're all beautiful, timeless stories that I think I'M going to have to re-read again now! 🙂

  3. Roz Fox says:

    I read so many books and there are so many I love that to name them is impossible. I did just read a book written in first person. I hadn't read one in quite a while and it jarred me at first. But once I got into it, and it was a mystery, then it seemed smooth. I've been known to change viewpoints in a single scene. My critique partners nag, but I've never had a reader say they didn't like it. Mostly I think sometimes it shows that character 1 speaks and character 2 listens, but feels a need to comment on what character 1 just said. Great post as usual, Laurie.

  4. Michael Mock says:

    Hm. Okay:

    Roger Zelazny was a big influence in my teens and twenties, so let's start with the Chronicles of Amber. (Yes, okay, I'm thinking in terms of favorite authors rather than individual books, and I just started my answer with a series of five rather than a single book. That still counts, right?) Intensely first person, with a single narrator except for one chapter in about book 3 which is told in the voice of a different character. First person works in part because it's a white room kind of opening, so the reader gets to learn about the world along with the protagonist. But several of his other works (Eye of Cat for example) are written in third person to allow for multiple points of view (and in that case, some other styles of text, including a telepathic group-conversation that's structured almost like a poem or play).

    Martha Wells is another author where I'll read anything she puts out on the strength of her existing work, and again POV depends on the project. Her Murderbot novellas are single-narrator first person, which allows for a quirky, distinctive voice and a deep identification with the character. Her Raksura novels, on the other hand, are third-person limited, but (at least for the first three books) still following a single character - balancing, I think, between using third-person to allow more explanation and description, but not confusing the narrative by moving from character to character (and there are a lot of characters).

    Lilith Saintcrow writes in a wide variety of styles and genres, and POV varies on the story, so let's go with... Cormorant Run. Third person, multiple viewpoints, but it needs to be that way because this is an intensely visual story with a rich (and deeply weird) setting. It's less the story of a single character's journey than it is about an ensemble of characters and their interactions with a strange, world-altering phenomenon. (The closest comparison I can think of is the movie Annihilation, but even that's not quite right.)

    • Michael, what a treat to have authors you know and love well enough to be able to summarize each one's POV styles -- and the fact that they're all over the board is a great testament to the value of flexibility. I'm impressed by your analysis of why each novel needed the viewpoint/s it has; it sounds like something those authors would feel privileged at seeing. 🙂

  5. Laurie Dennis says:

    This is tough as I try to read many genres. One favorite is Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. I loved the history intertwined with the story written in third person. I also like reading the classics from time to time and just finished The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Surprisingly modern storytelling given the time. I can't imagine this story told other than first person, like Huck is whispering in your ear. A third is a tough choice, I love mysteries many are written in first person but I select another classic Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. Great characters in impossible situations. Only third person would work to capture the scope of the story.

    • Laurie, it's such fun seeing old favorites again through your perspective on POV -- you're right about how third was the only way to capture those multi-character Chicago and Old West sprawls, whereas Huck's story works all the better because he's whispering to us. Nice images, and you've got me wanting to revisit all three of those!

  6. Fran Colley says:

    POV is imperative for me. I hate willy-nilly head-hopping. *LOL* Nothing will make me drop a book faster...and don't get me started with whatever it's called when it's an omniscient narrator...I think it's lazy and too telling.

    Favorite books that showcase POV:

    The Hunger Games series. It's in 1st person POV--and it makes for a very personal connection to character. What's interesting is that we're never in Peeta's POV, but you can sense his pain as he loves Katniss more than she even notices him... It also makes the trauma that Katniss experiences much more personal as we're experiencing them through her, rather than happening to her.

    Harry Potter was third person but almost read like 1st person. RARELY did we ever see another POV in those stories--so while we had the usual 3rd person pronouns/names, it had the bonus of being a 1st person narrator who was unreliable. (Another reason I like 1st person--you're melded with that POV--and you champion them, but sometimes you realize that what they're doing and thinking isn't actually the best thing all along. Their POV is skewed by their perception and can cause issues. Take Harry's hatred for Snape--it completely skews him all through book 6--and he relies entirely on his belief in Dumbledore, who proves to be less than forthcoming and flawed. It's interesting to see how he comes around in book 7 and grows from this.)

    • Fran, I never realized we didn't get Peeta's POV -- that's sure a tribute to those books! And it says a lot about the depth of Harry's viewpoint that it feels like an unreliable first more than an unreliable third...go figure.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      All these series you mention are SO GOOD, Fran. And like, Laurie, I don't think I ever thought about not being in Peeta's POV. I still understood clearly what his angst was because the author did such a bang-up job.

  7. Julie Glover says:

    I don't know if these are my favorites, but three novels I loved are:
    1. TILL WE HAVE FACES by C.S. Lewis - first person, deep POV
    2. REBECCA by Daphne du Maurier - first person, deep POV to the point that we never learn the protagonist's name!
    3. FINDING PARIS by Joy Preble - first person, deep POV
    Huh. Looks like I have a favorite approach! 🙂

  8. Margie says:

    I remember when I first toyed with writing I had found a writing group that a lessons with in depth critique sessions. You could always tell the newbies by the pervasive head hopping. It really wasn’t until the group leader made a comment about how you should analyze your plot and make note of which character would be able to tell the scene best that way you could transition the jump smoother. As for me I still struggle with POV at times. I never got the hang of omniscient POV. It always came acrossed as flat and shallow.

    As for my favorite books, like so many before have said it’s hard to say. I suppose since these three have been in my book shelf for over a decade it would have to be The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett written third person. There’s just something about the rhythm of the witty banter I just love about Hammett. Nancy Atherton's Aunt Dimity's Death also Third person. This series made me want to move to the English countryside. Finally, Pelican Brief by John Grisham mostly third with some narrative parts omniscient. I liked this one more about the plot. I do have to say Michael Crichton, Rick Riordan Olympian series and JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series are also a fav.

  9. I have too many favorites to even list any off the top of my head. I generally prefer 3rd person, but recently wrote my first book in 1st person. It definitely gave it a more in-depth personal touch to it. But I have to say, I do like seeing multiple points of view in a story. I like being a different character's heads.

    • Emma, you sure nailed a big advantage for both first-person and third...sometimes it's hard to decide which (the in-depth personal touch or the multiple perspectives) will serve the story better. Good for you on switching from third to first, so you can experience both ways for yourself!

  10. Margie, three cheers for your critique group leader's observation about which character can tell the scene best! And the fact that you're picking a variety of good storytellers shows that for you, the dialogue and setting and plot are every bit as -- if not more -- important as POV.

  11. Nancy R. says:

    I read a lot of books, hard to narrow it down to 3. I just finished reading The One by John Marrs which tells the stories of something like 5 differerent characters reacting to a similar new technology (perfect Dating match.) The point of view for each is third person limited, so you're seeing the situation in each piece from one person's point of view. It was well-done and easy to get involved in each person's story.

    Madam Will You Talk by Mary Stewart. I think this was her first book, written in the 1950s. Told from first person. Wonderful descriptions. It was easy to feel like you were in Greece and the first person point of view really pulled you in.

    Memory Man by David Baldacci. The main character was a football player and a big guy who has a memory that remembers everything forever due to a football injury. The story is told from his point of view (third person limited, I think.) Since I'm not male or huge or have a perfect memory, I think it's best not in 1st person. But you do feel for him and I do get caught up in the story.

    I don't like present tense much either (earlier comment mentioned this.) I think POV does affect how much I get involved in the story.

    • Nancy, it IS hard -- I can't even imagine if the 3 picks were all we could take to a desert island! You've got me curious about John Marrs, though; and loving the memory of that Mary Stewart book...hmm, if I updated my list now I suspect she'd be on there. Present tense doesn't seem as compelling for long, although in somebody's head (like Decker's) it can for a short while.

  12. Hey Laurie! Well, to answer your question:
    What three books do you think of as your all-time favorites TODAY? And if you can remember the viewpoint for any of them, mention that as well.

    1. 19 Minutes by Jodi Picoult: I think it was written in alternating POV's but I don't recall.
    2. My One and Only but Kristan Higgins - I believe it's written in the main character's POV
    3. Dead Silence-The Stillwater Trilogy by Brenda Novak - don't recall the POV. Maybe 3rd person?
    In reality, I prefer alternating POV's in a book, especially most of the books written by Catherine Ryan Hyde. I read her books over and over when I was about to write my first book in alternating POV's and it was very helpful. Thank you for this post, as always.

    • Patricia, I'm amazed that I've never heard of Catherine Ryan Hyde -- if she's as good as the three other authors you mentioned, I've gotta check her out. And, boy, you're right about the drama of alternating first-person narrations; it can be tricky but hugely rewarding!

  13. Hi Laurie, your new class sounds awesome! I love writing in deep POV and am always striving for improvement.

    I remember when I first learned about head hopping & POV. It's one of those "I remember where I was" moments. LOL!

    I'm not sure I can name just 3 favorite books so I won't even try, but I will confess I'm not crazy over 1st person but I have some on my keeper shelf written in 1st (The Hating Game by Sally Thorne being one) so it all depends on the author and the story.

  14. Hmmm... three of my favorites. You know this is hard to choose, don't you? So I figure I'll choose those books I've read more than once.
    1) Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. First person POV. I felt like I WAS Bella and I became obsessed with the story. So obsessed. But I really (REALLY) wanted to know what Edward thought and was so disappointed we never got into his head. I've read this book 4 times.
    2) The Stand by Stephen King. Third person omniscient. You kind of have to have omniscient when it's a big ol' thriller/horror. But I loved the characters. They were all so...different. I lost count how many times I've read this one.
    3) Lightning by Dean Koontz. Third person. Don't remember if it's omniscient (he does write a lot of his books that way), but I don't think it was. Might not have been deep like books are nowadays, but I was wrapped up in these characters regardless. I've read this book 3 or 4 times.

    • Stacy, good idea to use "books I've read more than once" as your marker...that does narrow the field a bit. 🙂 I'm impressed that right off the bat you can tell the viewpoint of the first two; I'd have a tough time doing that even with a book I read last week!

  15. This is a perfectly timed post. I am working out whether I would prefer 1st person or 3rd person right now. I think I am leaning towards 3rd person -- so I can get multiple perspectives -- but my redraft may take me straight back to where I started, inside the head of my protagonist.

    As to other books - please don't make me pick three favorites. I would need to break that down by genre, period, and more. How about three recent books?
    1) I just read the recent installment of the Flavia de Luce mysteries, The Grave's A Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley. It's something like #9 in the series, all written from the point of view of the young Flavia and her voice is so delightful that it is a huge part of why I have loved them all.
    2) Summer At Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan. It is written in 3rd person but sticking with a single POV and it makes the story feel personal and compelling.
    3) Sophia of Silicon Valley by Anna Yen. First person POV -- and she has a great voice. The author does a wonderful job of having her protagonist grow up and grow wiser, all from the interior of her brain.

    Oh dear, all of these live inside a single head for the entire story. Might have to revisit my decision to head hop. 🙂

    • Catherine, talk about timing! What's handy is that you reached that realization of how much you like "single head for the entire story" while you're still in the decision process for your current book...it's always good to save time on rewrites by knowing which you prefer sooner rather than later.

  16. Janet Ch says:

    Hi Laurie, what a difficult question! 🙂 Years ago, in my late teens/ early twenties I used to love SF especially anything by Asaac Asimov or Arthur C Clarke ( 3rd person past tense. ) and read little else Then Later I discovered category romance and discovered 2 books by Leigh Michaels that I particularly liked --and still have --O'Hara's Legacy and Capture a Shadow. (3rd person past tense) And when I had children I loved the children's book Tom's Midnight Garden Phippa Pearce. (It seems to be in 3rd person past tense but the author supplies little snippets of information so it's probably more like omniscient POV--quite an old fashioned style now). Once I became interested in writing my own romance novels, I Took lots of courses to learn a much as I could and as a result became far more critical and often struggle to find a book I really like. i'm reading one at the moment that I bought simply because I got hooked in by the blurb and first chapter. It's not at all the type of book I've gone for before and is a combination of a thriller and a family story.Loving it and I think this is going to be a favourite as I just can't put it down. (The Boy That Never Was by Karen Perry. Dual POV alternating 1st person past tense) This has a lots of deep POV which I think, is what make it so rivetting (and emotional)

    • Janet, what a great bunch of recommendations -- isn't it a delight when you get hooked by a blurb & opening and the book turns out to be every bit as good (or better) as your expectations? You've got me curious about Phippa Pearce; now I want to hit Amazon. 🙂

  17. M. Lee Scott says:

    Laurie, I'd read so many books before seriously taking up writing that I never thought about 1st, 2nd, 3rd or all those other POVs. When my critique partner pointed it out to me in my own efforts I became so hyper-aware of it that I made it a challenge to figure out POV in all the books I read thereafter. I'm not really that picky over POV as long as the book takes me where I want to go and keeps me there, but when even the dog gets one, I draw the line.
    As for three favorites, I plead the fifth. If I don't throw the book against the wall after the first chapter, it's my favorite at that moment.

    • M. Lee, what a great observation about your favorite book "at the moment" -- that's an even better narrowing down than "today," because who hasn't dived into more than one book during a single day? It's nice you've got that familiarity with different types, and you're keeping your hand in at spotting 'em every time!

  18. Laurel Greer says:

    Three? Just three?? But... BUT... Three in 2019? Sure:
    1) Overnight Sensation by Sarina Bowen (first-person, dual POV hockey romance)
    2) Home Game by Odette Stone (first-person, dual POV hockey romance...)
    3) An Inheritance of Curses by Dee J Holmes (third-person, multiple POV urban fantasy)

    I never used to like first person, but so many authors are writing it so well these days that it's probably become my preference. And it's definitely made me pickier about the third-person POVs I read. I expect them to go much deeper than I used to to get that closer-to-the-character's-head feel.

  19. Jenny Hansen says:

    Laurie, just an FYI to you...I approved a few comments so you might want to take one pass from the top. Thanks for such a fun post!!

  20. I can't do the "all time" thing, either, except to name Harry Potter, which has already been mentioned. 🙂 I never read them, only did the audiobooks, probably at least 10 times (more for the early books).

    One thing I noticed is that in Sorcerer's Stone, Rowling has a couple of scenes that move out of Harry's POV. Notably, when he's flying during a Quidditch match and someone interferes with his broom. We move into a more ominiscient POV as Ron and Hermione watch what's happening, and she stops it.

    In later books, that never happens. She starts some of the books in another POV, like in Goblet of Fire and Half-Blood Prince, but otherwise we only know what Harry knows when he knows it.

    • Natalie, I'm sorry I missed this yesterday! And I'm impressed that you spotted those few glitches in the Harry Potter books; I couldn't have told you about a single one but now that you mention 'em it's a big "oh, gosh, that's right." Or, er, wrong. Although it's hard to ever say ANYTHING about that series is wrong. 🙂

  21. Hi Laurie! I can never remember the titles of individual books, even those I've enjoyed, but there are series I've read (and loved) over the years that stick in my mind:

    1. The Courtneys saga by Wilbur Smith. I read the early books as a teenager (some thirty years ago) so I can't remember POV. Third person, I think.

    2. Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch series. Again, can't remember POV but am thinking third person.

    3. More recently I've gotten hooked on Linda Castillo's Kate Burkholder series about an ex-Amish female police chief. These books have an interesting mix of POV - first person present tense for the main character, Kate, and third person past tense for other characters. At first this threw me a little, but only because I hadn't encountered it before, and I soon didn't notice it. As with any kind of writing technique, it all comes down to how skilfully the author executes it.

    • Ange, good point about how something that at first seems jarring can become just fine within a few pages or minutes if it's done well enough. I think you're right about the Smith and Connelly books; they don't stick in my memory as first-person...but now I can't wait to check out the Castillo series!

  22. I dimly recall a time long ago when I read without a clue as to what POV was. Since becoming enlightened by my attempts to write a fascinating manuscript, the richness of the choices and how stories are told is another delicious layer to savor and ponder as you turn the last page and take a moment to think about the narrative just shared. My first two novels, Nardi Point and A Path through the Garden were third-person POV. I enjoyed telling my characters' stories. With the next, Yellow Pansies in Blue Cobalt Jar, I opted for first person for the immediacy of the story and the impact it had on the heroine, a boomer. I liked it so much, I chose it for my Loving Vintage series. My goal with that was to show the story point from each of the three friends involved at about the same time. Each book then allowed for an interesting take on events as far as behind-the-scenes motivators and influences for the action. I thought this would be a different twist from an omniscient storyline. Your class will be an amazing analysis and look at this amazing technique!

  23. Cate Tayler says:

    My two all-time favorite books are A Prayer for Owen Meaney and The Great Gatsby, which are first-person but not from the POV of the titular character. Something I only just realized lol. I do enjoy a good first-person, as long as it's done well and doesn't end up a laundry list of "I" statements. Vi Keeland, Penelope Ward, and Judy Blume all do a great job.

    But Kristan Higgins does a fantastic job with third. It almost feels like first. I'd put any of hers as my 3rd favorite book, probably In Your Dreams. It alternates between Heroine and Hero, 3rd-person, very seamless.

    I told love to be able to nail deep POV like that!

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      You and I like to read thee same types of books, Cate! I absolutely cannot get enough Kristan Higgins, and A Prayer for Owen Meaney is one of those books that always stayed with me. John Irving is just a genius. Do you know that he always writes the ending first and works backward from there?

    • Cate, thanks for sparking such great memories! You're right about the strange coincidence of Gatsby and Owen both told the same way, and that any Kristan Higgins book goes as deep in third as most authors would in first. Jenny, I had no idea John Irving started at the end, but looking back that sure makes sense.

    • Laura Drake says:

      Okay, that's it. I've said I needed to Read Owen Meany since I read the first line somewhere. Going to buy it today.

      I tried first person a few years ago, and I'm so in love with writing in it, I'm not sure I'll ever write anything else!

      And I'm sure The Hunger Games had something to do with that.

      • Laura, it's a surprising book...I'd always thought I didn't much care for John Irving until my brother said this was the best book he'd ever read, and since the only one he'd ever said that about before was Jack Finney's Time and Again I figured he might be onto something. About 15% of the way in I felt dubious and skipped to 40% at which point I got engrossed and went back to 15, so don't worry about hopping around if that makes the read better. Later on, straight through was equally good!

  24. Heather Jackson says:

    Well, I have two books and a short story which appears in several collections. The short story is "The Color Out of Space" by H.P. Lovecraft. Actually I like almost everything Lovecraft writes, but this is a particular favorite. It has mixed POV because the beginning and ending are a first person narrator, but the story he tells in the middle is third person.

    "Alice in Wonderland" and "The Phantom Tollbooth" are the other two. Both third person.

    It's interesting that I can read third person and not even notice, but when I write, I use first because when I try third I always feel like I'm doing too much telling.

    • Heather, good for you on figuring out the best viewpoint to keep you from doing too much telling -- that IS a big advantage of first person! Or, well, assuming your characters aren't the type of people who run off at the mouth...which I think, having met them, is a very safe bet. 🙂

  25. I'm heading off to dinner with our brand new daughter-in-law tonight, because she's sad that her husband got a 10-day assignment at a solar energy plant in India. So to cheer her up, we're doing a Girls Night...but I'll check back tomorrow in case I missed anything!

  26. Hi Laurie,
    I'm late getting here, but I finally made it. I have to say that all my favorite books are written in 3rd person POV. I have a very hard time reading stories in 1st person. I don't know why.

    • LeAnne, it's been interesting to see how many other readers say first-person just doesn't do it for them. I don't know if that's connected to being writers as well, or if non-writing readers feel the same way...but you're sure not alone. Good thing there are plenty of third-person books out there, huh? 🙂

  27. What a great post, Laurie. I always enjoy hearing what you have to say about craft.

    I really loved Sue Harrison's Storyteller Trilogy. It was written in third-person, but not a deep POV, but deep enough where the emotions and journey were captured brilliantly. She was ahead of her time, using all kinds of techniques I learned through Margie Lawson's workshops that I spied in the books.

    Another one is Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese. Richard writes in 3rd person but not deep, yet everything comes through in his prose; emotions, setting, action, etc. He's one of my favourite authors.

    The last one is The Late Great Me by Sandra
    Scoppettone. This was first person. I can't remember if the narrative was present or past tense, but the author did a brilliant job taking me through Geri's descent into alcoholism. That one stayed with me for a long time as a tween.

    As you said, it's not a matter of how deep the POV is, I find it's what the story calls for. I've read omi, deep, present, past...and the author did something to keep me in the story.

    • Maggie, you're the first person who's mentioned THREE writers I've never heard of -- talk about a great expansion of boundaries! I especially like your description of what makes each one so good...thanks to you, there are now three new names on my TBR list.

  28. Rowan Worth says:

    I used to HATE first person books. I'm thinking it was because the POV wasn't well done. I still prefer third person. I have real issues with the modern trend in YA/NA to go with first person present tense--"I walk over to the table and pick up a book." All I can think is, for me, it's too immediate to get into the character's head, maybe?

    I forgive headhopping it if is well done or the story is great enough I don't notice it. I've gotten better at not doing it. : ) Still enjoy the immediacy of the other character's reaction.

    Things get scrambled when it is NOT well done--I've read manuscripts where a chapter in, I still wasn't sure who the main character was, because everyone who walked on the page had their own POV, sentence by sentence. Getting it right is a skill that needs honing,

  29. Rowan, your phrase "things get scrambled" is a perfect one for bad headhopping. And doing it right seems to be a skill like carrying a tune or skiing, which some people find effortless and can't fathom why anyone would have a problem with it, while others are still putting the wrong foot in the right place at the wrong time...okay, yes, that would be me. 🙂

  30. Elaine Bedigian says:

    Hi Laurie, Again, I'm late to the party...Another great post. I love reading about POV because it was such a sticking point with me early on. Better, but still working on it. As for favorites...well, I've been re-reading a stack of favorites: Mary Stewart's novels from the 60's and 70's. First person POV. I do enjoy them, so I'll claim her romance/adventure/mysteries as my favorite just now. Love her more historical/legendary based works as well: Crystal Cave (Merlin-Arthur). Mary Renault's Bull from the Sea is another such set. I read and loved these books a half century ago, and yes, I still re-read them. Both sets are filled to the brim with the magic that carries a reader away to another world. Probably urged on by the arm-chair traveler in me.

    • Elaine, it's always such fun coming across another Mary Stewart fan -- aren't those books amazing? I remember picking up a Mary Renault thinking she was Mary Stewart (you can tell what a very small selection of books were on that shelf) and being disappointed I'd gotten the wrong author, but now I'm thinking I should find Bull from the Sea!

  31. […] Voice and Point of View (POV) are often inextricably linked. Mary Kole teases out the differences between authorial voice and 3rd person voice, K.M. Weiland lists 10 advantages of writing a single POV story, and Laurie Schnebly Campbell reminds us that no matter which one we choose, POV should engage the reader. […]

  32. awordgeek says:

    Laurie, this was one of the best written POV articles I've ever read! Thank you.

    Personally, I always love deep, or omniscient third, but for some things, first person is great, too. Since my current genre is cozy mystery, I can say I enjoy reading them no matter what the POV, but generally, they seem to be fairly well split between first person (of the amateur sleuth) and either omniscient third or limited third, at least the latter is what I think you call it.

    I have a contemporary romance started in third, but I've been toying with the idea of seeing what it "sounds" like in first person. As it stands now, it's in rotating third between the two protagonists/eventual couple, where each chapter is in a different POV. I love that style, as it allows you to either write - or read - deep inside each main character's head. But they're all centered around the same events in the book, so the reader builds a piece-by-piece picture of the story. But then, I love having more than one protagonist, too, with a limit of three.

    Favorite books and their POVs:

    "To Kill a Mockingbird", by Harper Lee (first person)
    "The Once and Future King", by T. H. White (King Arthur/Merlin fantasy, omniscient third person)
    "The Cat, the Sneak, and the Secret", by Leann Sweeney (cozy mystery, first person)
    "Hawaii" or "Centennial", by James Michener (historical fiction, omniscient third person)
    "Pride and Prejudice", by Jane Austen (historical romance, limited omniscient)
    "Ben-Hur", by Lew Wallace (historical fiction, I think in omniscient third if I remember)
    "Winds of War" and "War and Remembrance", by Herman Wouk (historical fiction, omniscient third)

    I know, I cheated with more than three. But since I'm late on the comment, and don't qualify for the contest, I couldn't help myself. Just too many books of value out there. But each of the above affected me profoundly at different times in my life. You will note a preference for third person, in general, and that many times I opt for long, multi-generational novels.

    You can tell this article inspired me to remember books which, for me, were profound. A writer knows that the POV of a book makes a huge difference in how it affects the reader, and when I read, I am no exception!

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