I promised a writing craft post this week, which I haven’t done for a while. See, this is what happens after the garden is done and we get a foot–yes, a FOOT–of snow over the course of one day. No worries on the snow, though. It’s supposed to be close to 50 degrees F this week. It’s just those days until then …
I’ve been doing more reading lately than I have for a long time, trying to clear off some of the entries on my TBR list. Pretty sure I haven’t made a dent, though.
Anyway, I was reading a book a couple weeks back that got me thinking about POV. Raise your hand if you remember the last time you read a book written in 3rd person omniscient. I mean, that was written this century.
Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
I haven’t read omniscient for, shoot. Hmm. Agatha Christie? Most books I’ve read are in 3rd limited, 3rd deep, or 1st person. I write in 3rd deep (or try to), and I have written in 1st person, but 3rd omniscient? Tagged onto that is tense. Most books I’ve read are written in past tense (“I dashed up the stairs”, or “He eased around the corner”), a very few in present tense, usually in 1st person present (the Divergent books), rarely in 3rd person present.
I think writers choose POV depending on 1) how comfortable they are writing it, and 2) how deep they want to pull readers into the character(s).
In first person POV the reader gets the story, both the feel and the plot, from only one character, as if they themselves were in the character’s head looking through character’s eyes. Add present tense, like in Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, and the reader experiences the story “in real time”. Even with past tense, the reader is right there in the action. Can’t get any closer than that.
Yes, I know there is 2nd person POV, but you don’t see it much in fiction. I write in 2nd POV for my job as a tech writer. Just sayin’. Moving on …
Third person deep or limited POV takes the reader another step back from the action. It’s like first person without being first person. You’re deep into the character; not looking through their eyes, but pretty close, like you’re in a mind meld with them, but not them. The reader still only knows what that one character thinks and feels. Is third person limited the same? I used to think so, until I read an article about it. There is a difference, but I don’t remember what it is. I think it has to do with how much the narrator pops in to describe or explain things, but don’t quote me.
Then there’s 3rd omniscient, the “god” view. This puts the reader into the story, but not into any one character, so they can see and feel all the action and get the feels of all the characters in the scene without being limited to one POV character. It’s the most “distant” POV. Because of that, I think it would be tough to draw the reader into the story unless it’s a very compelling story. It’s one reason I don’t write it.
So, back to the books. I read Laurie Buchanan’s Indelible. I know Laurie from the Writers’ Institute, so of course she’s on my TBR list. What first struck me is the book is written in 3rd omniscent, present tense. Yes, present tense, which brings the reader closer to the action than past tense. The characters and the plot were intruguing, and even though I knew from the beginning who the bad guy was (omniscient, remember), I cared enough about each character to follow them through an intriguing story that had enough surprises to keep me interested.
Before that, and after that, the books I read were written in 1st person, past tense. A LOT of urban fantasy books are written in 1st person (in fact, I can’t think of any off the top of my head that are not in 1st POV), which is what I’ve been reading a lot of lately. However, I did read Jess Lourey’s Unspeakable Things, written in 1st person, past tense from the viewpoint of an adolescent girl in the 80s. Again, I tried to pay attention to how the book was written, and why the character drew me into the story.
As I was reading each of these books, the writer in me kept asking “why”. What compelled me to keep reading? Why did I feel close to the characters in 3rd omniscient?
With the 3rd omniscient, it was partly the present tense, which brings the reader closer to the story than past tense, and partly the voice. Oh, don’t forget the setting: an idyllic writing retreat in Oregon! If it really exists, I wanna go there!
With the 1st person, it was the POV, but again, the voice. It wasn’t just seeing the setting and story through the POV character’s senses, but the voice of that character, and how she described things, and the secrets she knew but never came out and said (hence, the title, Unspeakable Things).
Voice. That thing we writers always hear, but have a hell of a time trying to define. It’s that something about a writer that lets us recognize an author’s work as theirs rather than someone else’s. We are told we need to “find our voice” in our writing. It’s maddening, because no one ever really tells us how to do that outside of “just keep writing. You’ll develop it”.
So helpful … not. Far be it from me to give anyone advice on finding their voice, because I’m still searching for mine. Anyway, maybe I’ll delve into that a little next time.
Or I’ll bail and make my Muse write the post 🙂
Anyway. Gotta slog through a foot of snow to check on the chickens, so I’ll spare you more ramblings. Just think, in less than two weeks the days start getting longer again! Yay for the Winter Solstice!