Monday, October 21

The "Eyes" Have it: Answers to Point of View Questions

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

I've been delving deep into one question for a while, so let's flip it around today and do a roundup of Q&As, and all about point of view.

Q: Lately, I've been pondering whether writing a novel in a particular point of view pigeonholes me to that POV only. Say I get published in first person POV. Will agents/editors expect me to continue writing this way or can I mix it up? Any insight is appreciated.

A: Nope. Write the POV you want, whenever you want it. Agents and editors are looking for great books, however a writer wants to write them. If you're really good at one type, your agent/editor might try to steer you to write more of that, or suggest a POV they feel would work best, but they won't expect you to stick with a certain type of POV your entire career.

For example: middle grade author Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series is all first person. The follow up Heroes of Olympus series is in third person. It even shares some of the same characters and is set in the same world.

(More on choosing a POV here)

Q: Is there any rule against writing a novel in first person and the sequel in third?

A:
No rules against it, and John Scalzi does it in his Old Man's War series. Just make sure you have reasons for the switch, because it can be a little odd to expect one POV and discover another in the next book.

(More on mixing POV styles here)

Q: In my WIP, I have three POVs (a lot...) but one is my favorite character, the MAIN MC (1st person), the other is a girl who does not like her at all (1st person) but is very influential in the plot, and the last one is third omniscient for when the second MC isn't around, but my MAIN MC isn't capable of continuing of telling anymore. Is this too many POVs? Do you think readers will get confused with the change between 1st person and 3rd person?

A: Impossible to say without reading the book. It is possible to combine POVs in that way and I've seen some writers do it skillfully. I've also seem them make a huge mess with it.

However, from the way you describe it (last one is third omniscient for when the second MC isn't around, but my MAIN MC isn't capable of continuing of telling anymore), sounds like a red flag that the omniscient POV is there just to dump information, and that character has no actual goal or plot reason for being there other to convey information the other POV can't reveal. That's usually indicates the POV is a problem or unnecessary.

Based on this question and phrasing alone, I'd suggest taking a close look at that third POV and seeing if that character has plot-driving goals, stakes, motivations, an arc, and all the things you want out of a POV character. If the character has nothing at stake in the story, you might consider either cutting that POV and finding another way to get that information across, or finding a way to make that character relevant to the plot and story.

(More on things to consider when adding a POV character)

As for switching between first person and third, as long as you're clear which POV you're in, and you're consistent with how and when you switch, readers will follow right along. It helps to establish that right away so readers know the deal going in, so try not to wait too long before you change POVs. Kathleen Duey does is masterfully in her Resurrection of Magic series.

For example, if you stay in one POV for nine chapters, readers are going to expect the book to continue in that POV. Suddenly yanking them to another will likely jar them right out of the story. But if you switch early on, then they know this is a multiple-POV story and how the rules of that work.

Readers, feel free to chime in with answers of thoughts to any of these questions, especially if you know of books that work as examples.

12 comments:

  1. My favorite author, Lee Child, has written 18 books in his Reacher series, three are in first person, the rest are in third. An interviewer asked him why that is, and Lee gave a very logical response. First v. third depends on the plot. If he feels the story will require scenes where the MC isn't present, he uses third so he can be consistent throughout. I agree with him.

    I've read books that mix it up, but for me, none of them have been a 5-star read. Of course, that's just my personal opinion.

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    1. Great example, and good reasons for switching. It makes a lot of sense.

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  2. This is so timely for me. I have been thinking of changing the POV for the second book in a series, but couldn't remember ever reading anything about it. This feels like a sign :) Thanks so much.

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    1. Awesome! And now you have some examples to look at to help make that decision. I love when answers come just when someone needs them.

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  3. great blog. I'm writing a YA historical from 2 POV and both are close third. Since one of the characters has a more pressing story I'm thinking of doing hers in first and the other character in close third. Thoughts?

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    1. Thanks! It could work if you want that sense of immediacy in the first person POV. Especially if that's the character you want readers to most identify with.

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  4. yes, Janice, I think that's the path of this next revision! Stay tuned and thanks for all of your marvelous posts. You are so generous in teaching others what you know.

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    1. It's my way of paying it forward. Let me know how it goes!

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  5. Thanks, Janice! This was so helpful. I have two nearly finished WIP (in the polishing phase). Each is stand alone. One is in third and the other in first. I think I'll submit them to different agents simultaneously and see what happens. Thanks again. Really enjoying your blog BTW;-)

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    1. Thanks! Glad you like it. Always makes me happy to hear it's helping folks.

      That's certainly an option. You might consider what happens if both love the books and offer representation. I suppose it's not that different from multiple agents reading the same book, but that could put you in a tough spot having to choose between novels AND agents at the same time. Of course, if you love both books the same, it might not matter.

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  6. Good discussion. One of my favorite authors writes two distinct series. One is in first person and the other is in third. She wrote one book where both series protagonists came together to work a case. She kept her first person POV in first and the third person POV in 3rd. For technical reasons, I found it fascinating, but kind of wondered how a non-writer would feel about it.

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    1. It wouldn't surprise me if readers see this very differently. They want a great book with characters they love. I'm sure they have preferences like anyone else, but they probably don't notice POV in the same way writers do.

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