by Jennie Bentley
I’m going to list a few of my favorite authors for you:
Lois McMaster Bujold
Dorothy L. Sayers
(All of them are worth a read, if there are any you’re not familiar with.)
And here are a few more of my favorite authors:
Do you know the difference? Why I didn’t just put them together on the same list?
The top are authors who write in the third person. (He said, she said.) The bottom are authors who write in the first person. (I said.)
I’ve been giving a lot of thought to POV lately. So far, everything I’ve written (published and unpublished) has been in the first person. The Do-It-Yourself books are written from Avery’s point of view; A CUTTHROAT BUSINESS and sequels are written from Savannah’s point of view.
First person singular comes easily to me. I think and talk in first person singular. (Yeah, I know. So does everyone else.) My literary voice is also first person singular. New characters pop into my head and take over. I don’t see my books as movies: I see them through the eyes of the protagonist. When the protag looks in the mirror and describes herself, it's because that's the only way I can see her. All of which makes writing first person very easy.
Of course, there are drawbacks to the first person perspective. The protagonist is only aware of what he or she has seen with his/her own eyes, or what someone else has told him/her. If it happened elsewhere, when the protag wasn’t there, and nobody bothered to mention it, the MC won’t know about it. (MC = main character, not master criminal. I get confused on that sometimes.)
Because the first person perspective is limiting that way, it doesn’t work for every book. Or every genre. Romance, for instance, is usually written in the third person. With multiple points of view, to get hero’s and heroine’s take on the same events. Thrillers are rarely written from the first person perspective, and often have multiple points of view, as well. Ditto for romantic suspense, the romance/thriller hybrid. Fantasy and paranormal seem to lean toward third person, as does science fiction, although I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t read enough of either to be able to say categorically that it’s so. That’s my impression from what I have read, though.
Chick lit, women’s fiction, urban fantasy and YA are often written in the first person. Mysteries are about evenly divided, it seems, although there’s a noticeable distinction between funny, lighthearted mysteries and dark, serious ones. Police procedurals lean toward third (Julia Spencer-Fleming, Ngaio Marsh, Deborah Crombie) while sassy girl sleuths are usually first (Janet Evanovich, Nancy Martin, Donna Andrews). PI novels can go either way. Robert Crais’s Elvis Cole books and Lindsey Davis’s Falco books are written in the first person—and they’re funny. Kelli Stanley’s new book, CITY OF DRAGONS, on the other hand—you have to read this book; it’s fantastic!—is written in third, and it’s pretty dark.
You may wonder why I’m giving so much thought to this.
I’m currently between books. DIY-4 was handed in at the beginning of the week, and I don’t have to start DIY-5 until May. (Deadline is September.) That gives me four months to work on something else. Enough time to nail down a first draft. The problem is, I’m not sure what to write. And whether I shouldn’t break out of my comfort zone and try something new. A new genre, a new point of view.
So what about you? Do you prefer one POV over another? For reading? For writing? Do you confine yourself to one when you write, or do you use both? Some people write books in first and short stories in third; some people do the opposite. Some only write one way. Which are you?
And if you have an opinion on which I should be, I’ll be happy to take that under advisement, too.