Who's in first, or third, or...?

Thursday, March 14, 2013
I was having a discussion with a couple of fellow authors the other day about point-of-view (POV). By that I mean first person (the story is told from the POV of the narrator, as if in their head) versus third person (an omniscient narrator). (I'm not going to discuss second person, because, frankly, that technique jars me and I don't read books told in second.)

I know there are a lot of people who don't like first person POV books, but I'm not one of them. I love first person, because it puts me in the  narrator's head and lets me feel and think from there. It means sometimes, the actions of other characters are seen through that character's filter, so to speak. We don't know the motivations and thoughts behind other characters' actions. We don't know what's coming next. Only what the narrator knows (or thinks they know). And as a writer, sometimes it's fun to settle down in one character's "voice" for a whole book, something that might not be sustainable for a third person POV.

I don't write a lot of first person POV, simply because many of the stories I'm telling, you have to get inside the principle characters' heads and jumping around in first person to do that would be...well, unusual. Not necessarily "bad" because I did that in Domme by Default. Of course, there were only two narrators and the POV switched back and forth by chapter between them.

But, honestly? I don't understand why some people don't like first person. And this is NOT a rant, please understand that. It's just me trying to understand the whys. I get it that it's different strokes and all that, and no problem with that. Is it just a personal preference? I don't like second person, and I also don't like present tense for a book. If I see a book is written in either of those, I'm done. I'll pass. First person present and third person present will not find me a fan. It's just a jarring technique to me, especially if I find "slips" into past tense in the story (there almost always are).

So I can understand that people don't like first person past tense, but I don't understand the why.

What are your preferences for reading (or writing) a book? Or do you have one? Are there POVs and tenses that turn you off and you won't read them regardless who the author is? If you're a writer, do you have a preferred POV you stick with, or do you play around? Sound out in the comments below and let me know what you think.

7 reader comments:

  1. Pat C. said...:

    I read and write both. What works, works. I wasn't even bothered by first person present in The Hunger Games. If you can get the reader caught up in the story, POV won't matter.

    One thing I'm too chicken to try writing is a love scene in first person. How do you folks handle that?

  1. I usually prefer 3rd person only because with 1st you ONLY get that and I've found that some authors just don't give enough in this instance. Almost as if because they are already in their characters head they forget that the reader isn't! Most of my favourite books are in 1st person but whilst the list of authors I like is quite long the ones that write 1st person well are in short supply :(

  1. Bonnie C said...:

    Whether first person or third, the POV doesn't bother me. As long as the story is told well and I can relate to the characters, POV is irrevelant

  1. I'm stating my case from the "Other Side of the Pond" and confess from the start to being a founder-member of the Grammar Gestapo and the Punctuation Politzei (the Jesuits who had me under their Iron Thumb for eight years at a British Grammar School have a lot to answer for! LOL)

    I find it easier to write using 3rd Person POV, but I can't imagine being able to sustain a believable 1st Person POV for a full length Novel (my main field of interest). I find I simply MUST 'get inside the head' of different characters as the plotline develops. I concede that this CAN lead to the "crime" of Head-Hopping - which I know some people think ought to be a Capital Offence [yes, I KNOW that's a British spelling but, hey! We were here first!!]

    I guess I only feel 'comfortable' with using 1st Person on the rare occasions I experiment with poetry. Poetry is such a Personal matter, it lends itself to 1st Person POV.

    As far as Sequence of Tenses is concerned, I'm comfortable with the strict [Latin-based] grammar rules beaten (sometimes literally) into me by the aforementioned Jesuit Brothers. There's even a certain beauty in using a technique called the "Historic Present Tense" which was popular with British novelists for a period roughly in the early 1900s. And as anyone who's dabbled in French Literature will be aware, the Subjunctive Voice which the Romans imposed on Europe in general is still widely used in modern French (and to a lesser extent in the UK and certain other European languages).

    Here endeth the First Lesson. For light relief, here's a link to a classic comedy turn from Abbott & Costello which still cracks me up every time I play it. They don't write comedy like this any more ...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sShMA85pv8M

  1. Well not a writer at all. As a reader I think that as long as the POV fits the story I'm okay with it. The only one that drives me crazy is 1st person that bounces between characters without any kind of break or transition. (Not a problem with Domme by Default by the way.) I mean even **** or something. I actually made myself finish one because the overall story was good but I would end up reading several sentences that suddenly didn't make sense until I realized oh wait this is the other guy. It was was annoying.

  1. Vanessa said...:

    As a reader only, I prefer to read books written in the 3rd person. I find the 1st person jarring especially if I find an error in grammar, editing or formatting where perhaps a set of "speech" marks are absent if the character has changed or if different characters speech follows on the same line and you have to go back to find out what is going on as it didn't make sense. If it happens once I find I am more aware/distracted, expecting to see it again... so the story doesn't read as smoothly.
    I will always pass on books witten in the present tense no matter the POV, if I am aware. I rarely buy dead tree books now and sometimes the POV/tense is difficult to determine in an eblurb, which can be annoying when I am so irritated by the book I delete it.. but oh well! if that is the most promient issue in my life I am havng a good life![shoulder shrug and smile)

  1. @Pat C. - I haven't read The Hunger Games yet. (Hanging head. LOL) I actually don't have any trouble writing love scenes in 1st POV. I prefer writing them in 1st as opposed to 3rd, myself.

    @Trudi - Good point!

    @Bonnie C. - I'm the same way.

    @Paul - LOL Thanks for all that. :)

    @Katy - Agreed. (And thanks! :) )

    @Vanessa - Good points. :)