Thursday, December 22, 2011

I, You, He/She

The right point of view (POV) in a story can make or break it. Sometimes it takes awhile to play with it, try different things before you find the right fit, like searching for that perfect pair of shoes. If you don't get just the right fit your feet will hurt and you'll get blisters. But sometimes, all it takes is a little breaking in.

When reading a story, personally, I am a huge fan of 1st person POV. That is, a story told using I, me. I walked to the store and got hit by the car. I'm not sure why I like it so much. Maybe it's because I feel more a part of the story this way and get a real close and personal look into the mind of the protagonist.

When I write, I often write from the 1st person POV but also feel quite comfortable writing from the 3rd person POV. So instead of me getting hit by the car, she walked to the store and got hit by the car. (Thank God. Better her than me. I don't deal well with pain or near death experiences.) This is somewhat easier when telling a story with more than one important character.

Tucked in with 3rd person are two other alternatives. Limited 3rd person or omniscient. Limited only means you're still in only one characters head, your protagonist. But still told in he or she. Omniscient is different because the narrator is not actually in the story at all. It's kind of like a fly on the wall kind of thing, where the narrator can see and hear everything, and if he's really good he can also read minds, but it's not that common and for me, it's really hard to read. I can't even think of a story told from that point of view.

Then there is the 2nd person POV. That is a story told using you. You walked to the store and got hit by the car. It's not a common POV I think because it's difficult to write. If you don't do it properly, it can sound very close to first person and can easily confuse the reader. Or in a lot of cases, piss off the reader, because it's like the writer is talking directly to the reader and telling them what they did or what they are going to do or what they are doing. (No one likes to be told what to do.) But when it's done right, it can be an incredibly powerful tool. Especially for emotional situations that are hard to write about. For me, I find the 2nd person tends to slow down the tone of a story. It makes the reader, in this case me, really pay attention to what's going on because it's got to be something important if the writer chose to tell the story that way.

Choosing a POV can come down to preference in the writer. Or can be based on the protagonist. Maybe your main character has some really interesting quirks and thoughts, and an undeniably intriguing voice so the only possible way to tell it is from his POV. First person.

Maybe you're writing a story about a really difficult topic. Maybe it's a true story about something that happened to you, or loosely based on something that happened to you. And in that case, third person helps the writer create a distance between themselves and the story.

The same can be said for 2nd person. It creates somewhat of a distance. The writing is putting the bad thing that happened onto someone else. Or good thing, but more often than not, I think it's bad or sad. Evokes more emotion that way.  I just recently started reading, Kalila, by Rosemary Nixon. The story is told from multiple points of view from multiple characters. But it's the 2nd person POV that really draws me in for some reason. And it's beautifully written. And it's on a really difficult topic. A sick newborn baby and the parents dealing with it each in their own way.

Long ago I tried writing in 2nd person and found it limiting and difficult to maintain. But I also don't think I was doing it right. So I stuck with what I knew. What I was comfortable with. That is, until recently.

I was once again on Twitter, and came across a tweet from Sarah Selecky, doling out writing prompts. One of them really struck me. It was, write a story titled The Way to Amsterdam. Yes, I was drawn in simply because the only European country I've spent much time is the Netherlands and that's where my hubby is from. And, I really liked the title.

So I took the challenge and started a story called, The Way to Amsterdam. And what do you know, but much to my surprise, the story automatically started coming out in 2nd person. I didn't plan it that way. It just happened. (Sometimes you just have to go with what feels right.) And even though I still don't quite know what the story is about, I can feel something coming. Something unexplainable, something sinister (maybe) something emotional and raw. Perhaps even bone chilling. And that's not how I usually write. But heck, there's nothing wrong with stepping out of your comfort zone now and again.

Anyway, the point is, I am trying it again and I like it. In this one instance. I really like it. And who knows, maybe I will end up doing it well.

Ultimately, my only recommendation would be, to stick with what feels right. If you're unsure. Try it multiple ways. A recent exercise I did with my critique group was quite eye-opening. We took the first paragraph of a story (that someone else wrote) and changed the POV. Rewrote it, to see how it sounded. The big thing I learned was that a simple POV change can alter the tone of the story significantly. For the better. Sometimes for the worse.

But if a change makes it worse, you know your initial choice was the right one.

So go with it.

Maybe I will share The Way to Amsterdam when I am done with it.

Happy writing and happy holidays and all that fun stuff.

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