POV: 1st Person

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Special thanks to www.bensound.com for the intro and outro music!

Ask the Author: Jacqueline Patterson via Facebook: How do you know when a book truly is finished? With every new draft, I get a million new ideas that radically change the story. Well, maybe *less* than a million. 😉

Aaron: First of all, I want to say that I had the pleasure of meeting Jacqueline at Blue Ridge. She’s a fine writer. Really good stuff. But she asks a question here that is very common. This is one of the most common questions I’m asked by other writers. And there’s really no good answer. Here’s how I think about it. How do you know when your child is ready to leave the home? Are they ever REALLY ready? In the same way, I’m not sure a book is ever REALLY ready to leave home. As long as we have it, we’ll tinker with it. The goal is to get it as ready as possible so it can find an apartment, a stable job, do its laundry, brush its teeth each morning and evening, etc. Forgive my mixed metaphor, here. If you’re looking for “markers” that indicate a ms is ready to submit for publication, I’d look for these things: 1. The story is complete, clear, and compelling. 2. The prose is as free from grammatical errors as possible. 3. Beta readers give it the thumbs up. And 4. You’re pleased with the whole. Note, I did not say “pleased with every sentence.” You never will be. But you can be pleased with the work as a whole. I hope that makes sense.

Al: Short answer: You’re done when the story is told to the best of your ability. I used to teach people that if you expect perfection in others you will always be disappointed. The same can be said of a book. One person’s perfection is not the same as another’s. Fear is what holds us back. Tolkien kept fiddling with his first Hobbit book until C.S. Lewis told him to stop and send the thing in. There comes a time for a writer to muster the courage to launch the book–then start the next book.

MJ: Aaron can tell you, I’m prob’ly not the person to positively answer this for you. Actually, any of the critique groups I used to be in can say the same thing. I started NOLA about eight different times. I’m constantly editing and reshaping the pages, the plot. In the last few months, I’ve worked more on moving forward than refining and it’s working. As a parent of a person and a MS, I agree with Aaron and would say we’re never ready to let it go, but sometimes you just have to trust that you’ve done the best you could, and watch it go out on its own.

POINT OF VIEW: 1st Person

  • What is Point of View? Simply put, it is the viewpoint from which the story is told. (Among writers and editors point of view is abbreviated POV.) The most common types are 1st and 3rd, but 2nd is a viable option, too (though few novels are written in 2nd).
    • Second person POV is difficult for most readers.
  • A quick run down of the types of Point of View:
    • 1st Person (I did this; I did that…)
    • 2nd Person (You do this; you do that…)
    • 3rd Person (He did this; she did that…)
      • Omniscient (can see in all characters’ minds)
      • Limited (only sees in one character’s mind)
      • Distant (or camera) (sees in no character’s mind)
      • Serial Limited (chapters are told in 3rd limited, but from different characters’ perspectives like in Game of Thrones)
  • Verb tense often is considered a secondary part of point of view. Generally speaking, books are told in past tense, though many are now written in present tense. To my knowledge, no books are written in future tense (Frank will drink his coffee. Frank will then drive home to his wife. Etc.)
    • Past tense is the most common way to tell a story (I ordered a cup of coffee and played on my phone while I waited for the waitress to return). It is perhaps the easiest to read, as we’re trained to read this way from childhood. Because it’s so common, it is familiar to us.
      • It also harkens back to the days of oral storytelling. These were often epic tales of days gone by. Past tense has been a prove technique and used over centuries.
    • Present tense is less common, but has become very popular of late, especially in YA. (I order a cup of coffee and play with my phone while I wait for the waitress to return). The advantage to this is that the end is not set in stone. Obviously–at least in first person POV–if your story is in past tense, the narrator must survive. But 1st person present tense, that may not be the case. Some people feel this adds a layer of tension.
      • It is becoming popular to mix first and third POVs. This takes a deft touch and can be jarring to the reader.
  • A note on reliability of narrators: While all narrators are inherently subjective, it is generally assumed that 3rd person is more reliable than 1st. I (Aaron) would argue that all first person narration is unreliable (meaning the reader can’t fully trust the narrator). However, there are varying degrees to this. Everyone tells their story differently.  Perhaps a character is unreliable because they’re hiding something. Perhaps a character is unreliable because they’re crazy (see Edgar Allan Poe, Fight Club, etc.). Consider this when writing.
    • A first person narrator can be unreliable because:
      • Her knowledge is limited to what she sees, learns, is told, or experiences. A first person character is not omniscient (all knowing).
      • He is delusional.
      • She is receiving bad information.
      • He may exist outside of mainstream human experiences.
  • The advantages to writing in first person:
    • Many readers enjoy first person narration. They believe it helps them form a closer bond to the protagonist, or they slip into the role of the narrator more easily. Vicarious reading.
    • Allows writer to conceal information without being gimmicky. Your character is only privy to certain information. This works very well in mysteries and allows readers to discover clues at the same time as your protagonist.
    • It is limited in scope. The extra time you spend on your protagonist means you’ve got a very well-rounded character.
  • Some potential pitfalls:
    • Because it’s limited in scope, readers don’t always get as close to other characters.
    • Because of the limited scope, first person novels are generally a little smaller than their 3rd Person Omniscient counterparts.
    • It can be tricky to figure out how much to narrate. Many first person novels have very self-aware protagonists (staring into the mirror and describing every detail of their physical appearance). However, not describing physical appearance at all can be a detriment to your novel. Finding the balance of what to describe and how much time is allotted to it’s description can be challenging.
      • (i.e. “I was walking home. I heard a sound behind me. I turned around. With my aqua-seafoam eyes, I saw a green snake coiled and rattling. I think he wanted to attack me.)
      • (or… “While walking home, a strange rattle behind me got my heart racing. Behind me, a deadly rattler coiled.)
  • Versatile presentations for 1st person:
    • Interior Monologue: Someone speaking to himself or herself.
    • Dramatic Monologue: We overhear one person speaking to another person. Narration sounds like dialogue.
    • Letter Narration: Monologue or dialogue. Letters exchanged/sent to other characters (Everywhere and Nowhere, The Perks of Being a Wallflower).
    • Diary Narration: Entries of a diary or journal that spell out a story (Flowers for Algernon).
    • Subjective Narration: One person’s side of an event, it is subjective and therefore unreliable.
    • Detached Autobiography: A telling of a significant event in narrator’s life, but told later in life with a new perspective (Several stories in Corpus Christi).
    • Memoir or Observer Narration: Narrator is observer of action or another character, not necessarily involved in events (The Great Gatsby).

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