Thursday, March 6, 2008

Choosing Single or Multiple First Person POV

As the author, you’ll want to give careful thought to which POV style is better to present your story to readers. Each style has its advantages and disadvantages, and those can be weighed to make a wise decision. While first person presents a more intimate view of the character, single first person POV focuses on only one character throughout the novel. Using multiple first person provides a more intimate view of all POV characters but demands each character has a unique voice as to not confuse readers.

Pros and Cons of First Person Singular
First person singular is the most intimate form of POV and provides the opportunity to know this character from the inside out, to experience her senses, her emotion, and her every thought. Example:
The squeal of car tires and thud jerked me from sleep. my heart pounded in my chest as I leaped from the bed, my legs shaking. I stumbled to the window, flung up the shade where Jack Frost’s abstract had covered the pane. I dug my nails into the icy crystals and dredged it away to clear a small peephole, unwilling to face a full view of street. I pressed my frozen fingers to my lips while my stomach convulsed, then crashed to my feet and back when I witnessed the twisted metal through the foggy glass.

In this example, you are totally in the head of the "I" voice. A man or woman, you don’t know yet, but from the language and action, you could surmise it is a female. You can experience what she’s experiencing, the noise that jolted her from her bed, the icy feeling beneath her fingernails, and the emotional reactions to her anxiety and to what she actually sees.

The benefits of this deep POV allow readers to delve into a character’s motivation, to understand her conflicts (but only as well as she understands them) as she strives toward her needs or goals. Writing in first person is the perfect POV for a novel that is based on the plight of one character who is striving to win a personal battle with the enemy, whether another person, a group, a natural disaster, a personal battle against disease or addiction, or an internal struggle, perhaps, protecting a dreadful secret that will affect the character’s life.

The major disadvantages of first person are, first, the limited view of all other characters. You can only present them through the eyes of the first person POV character. Only what she can see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and know can be shared with the reader. Readers will never experience the thoughts and private actions of other characters because they never have their own scenes. Everything must be presented from the first person POV’s perspective which means we will never know other character’s true motivation, their secrets, or their conflicts with any certainty since we can’t get into that character’s head. We can only view the character’s actions and hear the character’s dialogue through the eyes of the single first person POV character. This doesn’t provide the deep POV you can obtain from being in the other characters’ heads and seeing through their eyes. Another disadvantage is the first person POV character must be in every scene because no one else is able to show the story’s events.

Secrets are nearly impossible in single POV, as well, since you are totally in that character’s head. Unless an author is extremely creative in finding a way to hide the truth, such as: amnesia or remembering details inaccurately, the truth is evident in the character’s thoughts.

Finally, a single POV character must be compelling and dynamic. The person must hold the readers’ interest throughout the complete novel without the help of other character’s intervening in their personal scenes.

Pros and Cons of Multiple First Person
Multiple first person is not as common as third person, but it is a viable means of creating intimacy with two or more major characters in a novel. Unlike singular, it allows the reader to get to know more than one character intimately. Readers can better understand a character’s true motivation for reaching goals or obtaining personal needs and thus can grasp more fully the reason for various conflicts within the story. This style of POV provides the same advantages of third person POV but adds the more personal touch of familiarity.

The main disadvantage of using multiple first person is making each character unique. A writer’s voice is powerful and often an author’s voice can permeate a piece of writing, so while author’s voice in terms of style is still present, an author must let each character’s individuality shine through. Their reactions, actions, personalities, language choice, and verbal style must be vivid to allow the reader to know without naming the character which person’s POV he is in. This takes quality writing, and it is better to forego multiple first person POV and stick to third person POV for newer writers.

Next time, I'll talk about Third Person POV.

No comments: