Friday, October 9, 2009

Guest Essay: Point of View

"Who Said What?"

Unraveling the Problem of Proper POV Use


Handling point-of-view (POV) is up there with said-bookisms and dialogue tags for Tricky Craft-of-Writing Matters that can give new writers a headache. I asked some while back about doing a write-up for TLYDF, revamping some material I've posted in my own journal where I sometimes talk about craft of writing issues.

First, some simple terminology, because I've become aware that a LOT of readers (and writers) misunderstand and misuse these terms.

"Voice"first, second, third and omniscient are the choices for "voice" in storytelling. "Voice" is who's speaking. It's connected to pronouns. "I" is first, "you" is second, and "he/she" is both third and omniscient. The distinction between third and omniscient has to do with the narrator, not the use of pronoun.

The most common voice employed is THIRD, sometimes called third limited. Why third? It's the most versatile voice. I realize that may come as a surprise to some Twilight readers and writers pre-programmed to use first. *grin* But seriously, folks, the overuse and abuse of first-person in Twilight fanfic really needs to be drop-kicked. More on this below.

"Point-of-view" character — This is WHO relates events in any given scene ... not to be confused with "voice" overall, although obviously, they're related. The point-of-view character may be a character in the story (first, second or third), or an omniscient third-person narrator (omniscient).

"Genre conventions" — These are the unspoken rules that are nonetheless widely recognized by published writers of any given genre. Every genre has conventions (yes, even the non-genre genre of 'mainstream fiction'), although how strictly writers are expected to adhere to them varies a good deal with each genre. Some genres are more flexible, some less so. But conventions MATTER because they dictate what readers expect in their stories . . . and what writers can get away with. I mention these because they still apply in fanfic, even though we often forget about them when reading. There is more to liking—or disliking—a story than characters, pairings, or plot. STYLE (dictated by genre conventions) counts more than the bulk of readers quite recognize. Does this affect POV? You bet your sweet patootie is does. It affects a lot of things in fiction (fan or pro).

. . .

Now, before I go further, I need to 'fess up to something.

I LOVE first-person voice. I often use it, both in profic and fanfic -- although I've only used it once in Twilight (for "Amputated at the Neck"). Why so little? Because so much fanfic in that fandom employs it! I also haven't used it in Harry Potter because, well, I'm not British. I doubt I could mimic a thoroughly British headvoice, and I know it. I have my HP material Brit-picked as it is because I do care about getting the language right.

Yet in my own original material and when writing X-Men I've used it frequently. It suits me because, for good and ill, I have an idiosyncratic narrative voice. It's essential that any author know his or her own personal style, or narrative voice (a different use of 'voice' from what I defined above, mind). This helps in determining what and how we write best. Having an idiosyncratic voice isn't always a GOOD thing—sometimes it gets in the way. There are some stories I can't write well because my voice is too distinctive. Much depends on what an author is trying to accomplish.

I specifically mention that I like first person . . . because I'm about to tear into Twilight fanfic for its over-use. Yet I want readers to be aware that I have nothing against that voice in itself and feel a certain affinity for it. Nor am I saying Twilight stories should never employ it. Please note that. But my love for first may be WHY I get downright twitchy at the apparent assumption that Twilight fanfic somehow should be in first. I've actually had reader or three "scold" me for using third. I mean ... what? Seriously, guys!

First-Person POV Is Not the Default Voice for Fiction.

As noted above, if there's a default, it's simple third. If you are using any voice other than simple third, you need to ask yourself WHY? What will this particular voice (first, second or omniscient) add to this story that requires its preference over third? If you can't give a definitive answer to that question? Don't use it.

Now, I realize that sounds mighty absolute, but I wanted to get your attention. ;> Does that mean a fanfic author should never use first? Of course not! I just want to kick new writers out of an apparent mindset that first person is somehow a default just because Meyer used it in her novels. I'll be real honest here, folks—Meyer didn't use it well.

Of course Twilight is Meyer's first novel and unsurprisingly, she makes a lot of first-novel mistakes. I liked the book, or I wouldn't be here. It also obviously tapped into something very basic or it wouldn't have sold like it did. I'm not knocking that. But it's important to separate mass appeal from being a master of a craft. It's OKAY that she's not a master of the craft—yet that means we must take care not to over-elevate her writing style and assume it's brilliant. I think Meyer herself recognizes that and wouldn't claim she's in a league with Anne Tyler, Annie Proulx, or Jane Smiley (all of whom won the Pulitzer).

I doubt Meyer gave a lot of thought to what voice she needed to write her story in. She just sat down and started writing—probably like a lot of fanfic authors inspired by her, and like most new authors everywhere. That's okay. Another thing I want to make clear: even if you may have previously made some choices that I critique below, I'm not saying you're a 'bad' author or that you should quit writing. Good Lord, man, you should read the first thing I ever wrote and got published! It was 20+ years ago, a short story in an SF/F magazine now thankfully long out of print, and I keep copies of it WELL hidden because I find it embarrassing! And that's even something somebody paid me for! Imagine my first-ever story. Gag! Learning to write is a process. Most of us aren't Carson McCullers to pen a brilliant classic at the tender age of 21 (The Heart is a Lonely Hunter).

If you're new at this writing business, learn to cut yourself some slack. But also learn from the mistakes you make. It'll make you a better writer. (I do assume that anybody reading this wants to BE a better writer, even if they don't want to go on to professional publication. We don't have to aim to be professionals to want to improve.)

That's part of why I'm writing this—to address POV choices ... how we evaluate what voice will let us BEST tell our story. Other voices may work ... they just don't work best. That's the question EVERY writer needs to ask— preferably before we start the story.

Let's begin with Meyer herself. I want to discuss her choice of first-person as an example—where I think it succeeded and where I think it failed. Her use of first allowed the reader an intimate connection with Bella. The books have been described as being like reading her personal diary. In many ways they are. That's WHY they appeal so widely—they create a strong emotional connection for the reader. That's a big, gigantic plus. Another plus was that we "discovered" who Edward and his family were along with Bella. A nice mystery. First person can be a good voice choice for mysteries for that very reason. (Although in other ways, it's a problem in the mystery genre. Again ... much depends on what the writer is trying to achieve.)

BUT if we're looking at how her voice choice worked in terms of her action plot ...

Good novelists are deliberate.

They make choices that follow throughout a novel or a novel series. When the author abruptly changes the pattern in the middle of a series, then it's indicative of a wrong or at least problematic initial choice. Part of growing as writers is learning to consider which tool we need from the toolbox in order to succeed in our storytelling. If I want to put a nail in the wall, I can use a wrench ... but it won't work nearly as well as the hammer, right?

Learning the craft of writing involves learning how best to employ the tools. And choosing the RIGHT POV is one honkin' big tool. Capisce?

All right, let's turn then to looking at the three major Voice choices. I'm not going to discuss second (you) because while some writers use it (like Tim Robbins' Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas), it's atypical, difficult to master, and carries a didactic tone that sets some readers on edge subconsciously. Second person is found more often in self-help books and other "educational" non-fiction. Unless you really know what you're doing—or you want to experiment with a short piece—avoid it. (And that sentence right there is in second person. Ha!) I have seen it used well in fanfiction, but it's not common. (Let me point to my long-time editor's own piece in the "House" fandom, "Playing for Position" which does, I think, utilize second person effectively.)

Before I begin, let me explain that I'm going to describe POV like a camera. WHERE is the camera for "filming" any given scene?
. . .

I'm starting here because it's not a common POV in fandom or—these days—even in published fiction. It's sometimes called the "God voice," and also "The Master's POV" because it's damn hard to do well. In omniscient, you can imagine the camera up high, able to see all events and all characters. Like "God," the narrator is not IN the story, per se, but above the action. All events, persons, and motivations are described with intimate knowledge, but from outside.

The omniscient narrator KNOWS ALL. And comments on all, too. The narrator knows what any given character is thinking at any moment, knows that character's history, future, what s/he looks like, and what s/he ate for breakfast. This is really, really useful in some sorts of stories.

But it has one BIG BIG POTENTIAL PITFALL. It's hard to do well. It's easy to do badly. And by "badly," I mean in a way that comes off as trite. Shallow, mundane, even downright pretentious.

What this voice requires to work is one of two things (and preferably both) ...

1) A unique and distinctive (quirky) headvoice.
2) Some genuine wisdom and insight about "the human condition."

I'm 45, published, a former bereavement counselor, and I still stay the hell away from this voice most of the time. I've only ever written one fanfic story utilizing it—the X-Men novel An Accidental Interception of Fate. And I chose it there for one basic reason.

I wanted the whimsy. Omniscient works well when the author can inject a bit of whimsy into the narrator's voice, cutting down on any feelings of "pretention" that the voice can automatically generate in readers. So omniscient CAN be the POV of choice in certain types of stories. Humor might be one reason. Also stories that are concerned with "the human condition"—e.g., character novels—can benefit from it, as long as the author is able to rise above that pitfalls of pretension or merely stating the obvious. But again, many, many masters of the craft do employ a touch of humor when using omniscient precisely to overcome that pitfall.

Last, mysteries, thrillers, and similar can benefit from this POV. When the reader does need to see into the heads of multiple characters and understand the motivations of multiple players, this might be just the voice you want! It's a far wiser to use omniscient than 40-'leven 3rd person POV characters, some of whose heads we're in only once. As you'll see, I'm a big van of few POV characters. Less is more! If you really need oodles of heads, then what you actually want is omniscient voice.

So while this POV may often be the "poor cousin" choice in fanfic, there are some types of stories where it really is the best choice, especially for the needs of the plot.

Just be careful with it.
. . .

First Person
Ah, first POV—the preferred choice of so, so much Twilight fanfic. Let me 'splain you why this isn't the Holy Grail of fiction writing. :-)

The use of first person voice in fiction has one primary purpose—to create an intimate link between the character and the reader. It also has a secondary purpose—to limit what the reader knows at any one time.

Additionally, it can be a good POV for beginning writers who are having trouble distinguishing between third and omniscient. (Confuse those and you've got a mess ... and a lot of beginning writers do confuse them). BUT it's a difficult voice to use well. In fact—and here my bias for it may be showing—but, as one who likes and writes in it a lot, I'd say it's a more difficult voice to master than omniscient, and maybe should be called the true "Master's" POV.

Why? Because the narrator may not be telling readers the truth! So how do you—the writer—clue in the reader to that fact? It can be a real trick. An unsophisticated writer confuses "reality" with "narrator's voice" (as unfortunately, I think Meyer sometimes did). But a clever writer won't. Don't trust the insights of the first-person narrator just because they're the narrator! Bella Swan, Jacob Black and Edward Cullen are not—nor should they be assumed to be—reliable narrators. No, not even mind-reading Edward. Just because he reads the immediate thoughts running through the heads of every dick, jane, and harry doesn't make him either objective or all-knowing. In fact, it might make him considerably less so because he THINKS he's all-knowning. ;>

Again—a clever author will/can/should play with that.

However. First person has some distinct limitations that anybody who chooses it needs to be aware of. The biggest limitation is that the reader can only ever know what the POV character knows. That makes first a really good choice for novels that are intensely personal—character novels, in particular. Novels that are internal journeys ... although the internal journey may also be reflected in an external journey (e.g., the classic "road-trip" story). But first-person stories connect the reader to the narrator/protagonist VERY tightly. It's intrinsically intimate. I think this is one reason it worked so well for Meyer in some ways. Twilight is a personal journey and coming-of-age novel for Bella. Where it failed her was when she injected an external (action) plot that involved knowledge of events required to resolve that plot that Bella couldn't be privy to.

In a first-person story, the narrator is—almost always—the protagonist. The bulk of the story will be about him/her. There are a few exceptions to this—perhaps most notably John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meaney where the narrator (John) is not the real protag (Owen). Mostly, that doesn't happen, however. Some genres in which first-person voice work especially well include literary mainstream (especially any novel that focuses on the development of a particular character), some mysteries, some romances. Other genres can use it, certainly, and use it well, but the ones mentioned find it particularly helpful.

Like omniscient, first person will also benefit from a unique and distinctive narrative voice. If the author can't be interesting, then first person devolves into something akin to reading the average adolescent's personal diary ... BORing. (Sorry, being honest here ...)

Let me give a personal example of where I made the choice of first person with great deliberation and why. I'll apologize in advance as it's not Twilight, but it's an easy example to discuss. In Special: the genesis of Cyclops, I selected first person because the novel is a coming-of-age, transformational prequel (to the movies) that began with the comics background for Scott Summers (Cyclops) taken to a very dark extreme. I then traced his rescue from life on the street as a hustler, the traumatic emergence of his mutation, his developing friendships, his therapy, and his eventual transformation into the field leader of the X-Men. It's primarily a personal journey of healing, and thus, exactly what first POV is made for. Furthermore, the Scott here isn't nice. He's a street kid and a survivor. And I don't pull punches. Seen from the outside, he wouldn't have been terribly sympathetic. He's sarcastic, stubborn, unpredictable, angry, and all-around difficult to live with. That's the reality. Wounded kids often are like that. They're not an Afterschool Special. But because of that, I decided to show him to the reader from the INSIDE. The reader is thus pulled into his personal struggle to rise above the hand fate dealt him, and the extreme intimacy created by first-person served the need I had.

This is the sort of story where first works best. Transformational journeys. In stories where there's more of an action plot that may require events to be related from the points of view of several characters, first is NOT the choice to make.

And this brings me to something I see frequently in Twilight and it's BAD. Yes, this will likely make some of you hate me, and some of you ask, "Who the hell are you to tell me . . ." Keep a few things in mind. I'm about to get brutally honest, but unless I name you, I'm not talking about you. It's not personal. *grin* Second, I'm not just saying this stuff for no good reason. I'll tell you why it doesn't work. If an editor can't tell you why X isn't working, ignore her/him. Last, everything I say here is not a "rule" but a "rule of thumb." There is only ONE rule in writing. "Can you make it work?" If you can make it work, then you can get away with it. That said, there are a hell of a lot of beginning authors who think they're getting away with stuff they aren't. ;>

So ... what's Min's Big Unpopular Opinion?

Multiple first-person POV stories need to disappear from Twilight fanfic ... the sooner the better.

Folks, MOST writers cannot handle this, even multiply published writers in the business for years. Professional publishers normally won't touch a novel with two first-person narrators. Go out and look. Try to find some. There aren't many. (I can't even think of one off the top of my head, although there surely is one or two somewhere.) The reason for the dearth is that multiple first-person POVs require that the author be able to maintain two or more distinct headvoices far beyond just dialogue. And unless the author is either a gifted mimic or a specialist in linguistics ... she can't.

All the voices sound the same. That's why you don't want to do it. If you've got two people telling the story, they need to sound distinct and different. If you can't manage that . . . use only one head for your first POV—or pick a different POV!

Now, what do I think is actually going on here? It's very simple. Meyer wrote her novels in first. Fanfic authors enamored of her novels and wanting to pay them homage make an attempt to mimic her style . . . including her choice of voice. Problem! They want to use a different head. Or the nature of their story's plot demands it be told via several heads. So they just . . . hop around in different POVs.

NO! That's not the answer. The answer is to choose the RIGHT voice to tell the story ... and it may not be first. If authors want to write in first person, PICK A HEAD. Don't pick five, or three, or even two. PICK ONE.

If you can't tell your story only in one head, then you need to choose a different POV ... let me suggest ...

. . .

Third (Limited)
Again, this is THE most common voice used in fiction, especially genre fiction. If there's a fiction "default," this is it.

Why? Because it's a middle road. It allows some of the intimacy of first, but also some of the distance and breadth of omniscient.

Third person employs the pronouns "he" and "she" just like omniscient, but the "narrator" or "POV character" is a character in the novel, not an omniscient narrator. As a result, the reader still gets some of the emotion and feeling the POV character is experiencing, which makes it feel less distant for readers ...

E.g., The famous line from Twilight as written in first person:
"Of three things I was absolutely positive. One, Edward was a vampire. Two, there was part of him, and I don't know how dominant that part was, that thirsted for my blood. And three, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him."

Again, in third person:
"Of three things, Bella was absolutely positive. One, Edward was a vampire. Two, there was a part of him, and she didn't know how dominant that part was, that thirsted for her blood. And three, she was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him."

In BOTH cases, we're in Bella's head. The difference—returning to our "camera" analogy—is that in first person, the camera is behind Bella's eyes. In third, it's sitting on Bella's shoulder. So a little more distant, but not the "bird's eye" view of omniscient.

What does third allow that makes it so all-fired great?


Not in the same scene (PLEASE ... that's POV ping-pong and will confuse your readers) ... but you can change head-voices between scenes. So you need to show something Bella knows that Edward doesn't? Write that scene in Bella's head! You need to show something Edward knows that Bella doesn't? Write that scene in Edward's head! Etc., etc., etc. THIS is why third is so versatile. You get the thoughts of the POV character, and a certain amount of intimacy ... but you're not stuck in one head. AND you're not asked to be a linguistic genius who can write multiple head-voices with fine distinction.

Now, there are a few restrictions that distinguish third from omniscient. You ARE in the head of your narrator ... and the POV character can't see him/herself unless looking in a mirror or other reflective surface. So you cannot write a scene in Bella's head that describes Bella's "big chocolate eyes and long flowing locks." She can't see her eyes or hair! Remember that. It's the single biggest mistake beginning writers make using this POV.

Stay in the POV character's head.

Another restriction . . . please—one scene, one head. Constant head-changing within the same damn scene—and even the same paragraph! —is bloody confusing! Don't do it! Yes, I know some published fiction does this. You'll find it most often in genre Romance, fantasy, and a few other things. That doesn't make it okay. It gives the reader mental whiplash trying to keep track of who's head we're in NOW. Help out your poor reader. Keep the "One scene, one head" rule.

So that's my official attempt to get Twilight authors to reconsider the overuse of first person. As I said, first-person voice is NOT the Holy Grail. Sometimes it's exactly the wrong choice.

Third is your friend. Really. It is. First is okay, but stick to one head. Omniscient . . . go for it. Try it. Fanfic is great for experiments. But third should be the assumed default if there's not a good reason for first or omniscient.

Again, if you've previously assumed first is IT for Twific, and/or you've written multiple first POV stories in the past, don't get all defensive. Just reconsider. This long-time lover of first person with multiple novels written in first person is advising the fandom to quit using it so much!

Try third person. Just try it. Like green eggs and ham, Sam-I-Am—you might like it!

. . .

P.S. Some people have mistakenly assumed, when I link to my own fiction in these craft discussions, that I'm trying to "push" myself on readers. Er, no. The point of the link is that, if I'm going to stand up and give advice, I need to put my own material out there for assessment, if anybody cares to look. Unless I prove I can "do it" myself, why should you listen to me? ;>

The brilliant Minisinoo is known for novellas such as Cowboys and Indians and Beauty Shining in Company with the Celestial Forms. She has written for Twilight, X-Men, and Harry Potter. Be especially sure to check out her Harry x Cedric slash at her webpage The Medicine Wheel (and thank us later for pointing you in the right direction. ;->)


  1. I couldn't agree with you more on the multiple POV's in stories, and actually on the entire matter of first person in the Twi-Verse. Bella was a horrific narrator and tragically unreliable at best. Don't attempt to duplicate that when it was so badly mangled the first time around...

  2. I've got to agree with, well, everything here. It's one of the things that bugs me most as a beta - I once looked at a story with 8 POV changes on a single page in MS Word...

    Still, a lot of useful lessons in there. Thank you. (:

  3. Oh man, you are definitely my new hero.

    I know this is going to sound hypocritical, because my current fics are in first person (hush, I have reasons), but there's nothing I love better than a third-person-limited story that hops around to different characters throughout the chapters. They're fun to write and they're fun to read. Like you said, writing a story in first-person is pointless unless you're going to put the time into giving the main character a unique voice so that it doesn't just sound like bland narrating.

    The only thing I wish you'd mentioned is the horrible trend of writing "EPOV" and "BPOV," as though the readers are completely stupid and won't be able to pick up on the narrator. I mean, if first-person is absolutely necessary, don't treat the readers like idiots, and give clues as to who the narrator is in the story itself. Also, "BPOV" just looks ugly (and a little childish) at the top of a page, although that's just personal opinion.

    Anyway. You rock. Thanks for putting yourself out there and writing this article! :D

  4. Oh I am printing this article out and saving this for reference! Thank you for exploring this topic.

    I have one unposted fic I started in first person just "because" and if I ever go back and finish it some day, I will probably keep it in first person just because it's already started that way.

    But third-person to me, seems to create a more lyrical/magical storytelling voice which I find is refreshing (to me) to read and write. And I think maybe it just seems that way to me BECAUSE so much fanfic is first person. Since the unposted fic mentioned above I've written a couple one-shots that I just automatically voiced in third because I wanted that "storytelling" feel to them – and frankly I find I really like it. (And I'm still new at this so I'm sure I made a TON o' errors!) But I am amazed when I get the occasional comment that "I don't normally care for third person but I really liked this." I'm not sure what exactly turns people off about third person.

    I agree that so many fics use first person probably because of SM. I also think Midnight Sun is the reason so many people use multiple POV's – People loved Twilight and the character of Edward so much they were thrilled to read Twilight (though incomplete as MS is) through Edward's POV, and so they think this is okay, that this is the norm. And don't get me wrong, I enjoy sometimes reading another character's POV. But there should be a good reason for it. AND should keep the story moving not just rehashing exact dialogue and events!

    Thanks again, great article!!

    - CherBella

  5. "Try third person. Just try it. Like green eggs and ham, Sam-I-Am—you might like it!"

    I AM SAM-I-AM! And I DID recently give third person a try and I very much adored it, though it was "Limited" because, as you say, it's middle of the road and I supposed a good leaping off point from my comfortable first.

    As a reader, sometimes I'll read a story in Third Limited and it'll feel so much like first that I don't *remember* it as third. Pastiche is good with this in ILCLaC. It IS technically Third Limited, but when I think back on it, I hear Edward's voice. I really love that about it.

    I'm always afraid I make Third Om. too stiff and formal so I haven't even bothered trying that yet. Kudos to those who can accomplish it, as it is a fantastic style to experience.

    Then again, I'm also a big fan of first and being inside the character's head, hearing their voice, and the mystery of only seeing what they see. Breakfast at Tiffany's does a great multi-POV. As does The Elite!

    I have to disagree with you, though, Krum Cake.

    "The only thing I wish you'd mentioned is the horrible trend of writing "EPOV" and "BPOV," as though the readers are completely stupid and won't be able to pick up on the narrator. I mean, if first-person is absolutely necessary, don't treat the readers like idiots, and give clues as to who the narrator is in the story itself."

    I have personally used this, but it is no way related to how I view my readers' intelligence. I'm confident this can go for any author who has ever practiced the habit. I can't speak for everyone, but I personally began doing the POV heads because I'd seen it done before, and figured it couldn't necessarily *hurt*. It certainly wasn't because I thought my audience were "idiots."

    I also enjoy NOT seeing the POV heads sometimes too. In The Elite, it made every POV a little mystery, as hat was how it was intended. Unlocking who was speaking was part of the awesome experience for me.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom and contributing, Mini! We always love having you!

  6. Minisinoo's LJ account is not posting to Blogger for some reason (we're trying to figure this out.) So here's her message:

    Well, it appears to have done it again. It's simply denying my ability to post a comment. Y'all might want to run a survey of some kind and see who else is having this sort of problem, especially if trying to utilize their LJ account. I doubt I'm the only one. I noticed it starting this about a month back, btw.

    But would you please post the following for me in the comments? Many thanks ...

    re: Use of section headers (EPov, BPov, EMPov, etc.). I think the value of this can vary. I've used "section" headers before in fiction, most notably when I was moving in *time*. A story I did some years back slid back and forth between the present and the past with two different female narrators (one the great-great-granddaughter of the other). I'd write an entire section (several chapters) in one character's "world," then switch back to the other's. Having "face plates" -- set off pages to denote a shift -- was, I think, helpful to readers to prevent immediate confusion.

    I'm doing that again in the current novel I'm working on, although I'm shifting both in time and through several narrators. Again, when writing such a significant chunk of a story from a single POV (even if writing in 3rd), utilizing a page to separate sections is useful, much like using a few blank lines to indicate a POV shift within a scene instead of just SUDDENLY leaping into another head. (I hate -- with a purple passion -- mid-scene POV shifting from paragraph to paragraph.)

    Normally, however, when writing in third, I don't use such things as I think it quickly becomes evident whether the author is writing primarily in one POV or using multiple POVs and the reader adjusts expectations accordingly. I *tend* to be one of those writers who uses fewer POV characters rather than more. Something I didn't add to the above article and perhaps should have is my "rule of thumb" that if one can't use a given character for at least THREE POV scenes in a novel, then that character isn't important enough to get even one.

    I firmly, FIRMLY believe that we do NOT need to see events from oodles and oodles of heads! And dear GOD, just SPORK my eyes out when I get to a story where the author REWRITES THE SAME DAMN SCENE from multiple POVs. BORING! Yes, I said it. It's boring, unnecessary, and makes the story tedious. If it's REALLY necessary to show something in a scene from two POVs -- and occasionally it IS -- then SPLIT the scene, writing half from one POV, and half from the other ... utilizing one of those "line breaks" in between to indicate the POV shift. But dear God in heaven, don't *rewrite* scenes.

    As for using scene headers indicating POV in a first-person story? Well, I don't think a writer SHOULD be using more than one voice for first POV anyway, so I see no reason to use EPOV or BPOV to indicate different voices per section. ;> (I've not seen anyone use that in a third POV story, only when using multiple POVs in one story.)

    The Medicine Wheel: X-Men, Harry Potter and Twilight Fanfic

  7. I'm having the same problems posting from my LJ account. Some days it works, some it doesn't.

  8. *slow clap*

    Great, great, great! I can't say more; The POV shifting has got to go! Again, I think most twific writers are thinking of SMeyer's style, here with her chunk of BD from Jacob's POV. And it's come to a point where a lot of readers *expect* a POV shift.

  9. Can't get LJ to work, either...

    But I agree with the POV shifts, wholeheartedly! I have never seen the point. The rewriting of chapters from different POVs is so completely unnecessary and dull. I tend to prefer third person limited, but when I have a strong character I'll use first. My current WIP fic is in first and I don't think it could be written any other way.

  10. Very nice article! I started writing my own current fic in the first person before I realized it was the "default" amongst Twific. Honestly, I knew nothing about the fandom at the time, and before writing Twilight fanfiction I'd never written anything in the first person.

    But I did decide recently that if I write another Twific, it's definitely going to be third person.

    Very informative!


  11. You put into words what I thought of SM’s writing so perfectly. We all love Twilight because the first person style feels so intimate, but yeah, her plot sucks big time. Especially Breaking Dawn and the ultra lame ‘battle’ scene at the end.

    I don’t think I have ever read a book, or fanfic with omniscient voice. I can’t even imagine how it would be used well, because suspense is a major factor in keeping a reader interested, and if everything is revealed, how would that still be interesting?

    The POV header thing; it helps, especially since first person is so wide spread in this fandom. Yes, it's childish, yes, it's almost never used in books (I HAVE seen it before, though of course it didn't say POV). But when authors switch chapter POVs without the header, I go 'huh?' for a minute, and have to spend time trying to figure out whose head I'm in.

  12. Fantastic as usual Min...been missing you on LJ lately.

    I've got a GIANT issue commenting, and I've discovered it's Firefox that causes all my problems. Since using 2 different browsers is a giant pain in my dupa, I rarely comment. That makes me sad...but I'm hoping someone will know a solution that will allow me to comment from Firefox so I can go back to my verbose self.

  13. Reading this reminded me that I started writing fanfic in the third person, and after several failed attempts, moved to first person. Since the big switch, it's been rare that I write in the third person and I don't know why, though I've been meaning to change back for my next projects.

    The first person, 2 narrator story (BPOV/EPOV) is definitely a struggle for most writers because I believe that a lot of us *try* to write in different voices, but few of us actually succeed in doing so. Some writers accomplish a difference for a chapter or two and then lose it, some never achieve it, and some actually pull it off to some degree and may even strengthen the difference as the story goes on, but this is extremely rare. Nothing irks me more than 3+ narrators in first person narrative. The point of first person is to become intimately connected to the main character. How can you obtain that connection if the author is trying to connect you to 5 or 6 characters? It just doesn't work.

    One thing I think that you might have mentioned about third person is consistency of pov. There are several stories that have had 10+ chapters in third person, BPOV, and then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, Edward's head shows up. It's jarring and, for me at least, irritating. There had been plenty of opportunities for him to show up previously in the story, so why change it then? It makes it seem like the author was not able to effectively convey their thoughts in the one POV and had to switch suddenly to allow for that. It makes it seem lazy, to be brutally honest. I know that this isn't the case, but I really don't think a lot of authors think about consistency.

  14. I love this article! You hit on several key points that bother me when reading. The biggest problem I have is 1st person POV from multiple characters. Even James Patterson doesn't do that... he writes from many different characters, but he is good about keeping only one in 1st person while putting any others in 3rd.

    It's just rarely done well. The inner workings of Edward's mind sound like a girl, it's as plain and simple as that. However, when an author isn't jumping between 2+ character's heads, she can bring out his voice more effectively.

    That being said, there are couple of fanfics where I think that the author has done an excellent job of pulling off those two distinct voices and I follow them avidly.

    I have no problem with multiple POVs in a story written in 3rd person, as long as they're in a separate scene and there is a clear break. My biggest pet peeve is just the rehashing of the same scene 30 times over so we can see how each one of them reacted or thought or felt.

    We see that more often in 1st person POV, however. I become annoyed with seeing the same scene play out in all of those different characters' heads. If a writer has done their job of telling the story and teaching us about their characters, then we should already know by the way they write the scene how everyone truly felt about what occurred. And if something truly needs to be shown to the reader, then there are other ways to show us.

    In the 20+ fics I wrote in HP fandom, only one was written in 1st person--and that one I wrote a portion in 3rd person as well, it was an experiment. Since writing in Twilight, I can honestly say that I have a difficult time writing in 3rd person. There are definite benefits to 1st person narrative. I find 1st person to be more personal and I believe that it conveys emotions more effectively. However, it's also very limiting. I have to remember to only include what the characters thinks, feels, knows. She can be perceptive, but that doesn't mean that she's always right. I think that the most difficult part about that is the readers think that the main character IS right. In my multi-chaptered fic, I responded to many, many different reviewers simply to tell them to remember that the POV is skewed, Bella is biased, and this is only her interpretation of things. People had a difficult time with that. However, it gave the emotional impact that I wanted in the story and I wouldn't trade one for the other.

    This is a very well-done article and I thank you so much for posting this. :)


  15. There are two novels I can think of that are written in the 1st person and where there are changes in PoV: Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury (where you actually feel the changes in the actual writing, considering one of the characters is crazy and don't speak) and Stocker's Dracula (in which you have extracts of diaries from several characters).

  16. Great article!

    I just found the link to this in the Twilighted forum, and I agree with pretty much everything you've said in it.

    I've been writing Roswell fic (mostly AU) for almost 5 years now and I write in both first person and third (limited) - of the 21 stories I've written, 9 have been in first person, 11 in third person and 1 in second person (a one-shot). My choice of 'voice' really depends on the particular story I'm writing... I usually go with the voice that fits best. Usually I choose to use first person for high school/college-set fics where the main character is growing up and falling in love. The most recent first person story I wrote was deliberately written that way because the plot was based around the main character's misunderstanding of their love interest's behaviour and character... I didn't want to go into the love interest's head and I didn't want the readers to find out the truth about him until the main character did.

    I don't usually switch first person POVs in stories (except for one fic, but the two main characters were living in different states and experiencing different things and as it was a sequel to a first-person story, I chose to write in that voice for both), so if I want to include more than one POV, I write in third person.

    I've only just started reading Twilight fics in the last 6 months and haven't written any yet, so my reasons for using first person in stories have nothing to do with the way the books are written - I just go with what feels right for the characters and the plot (the 1st fic I wrote was third person, the 2nd was first person and the 3rd was third person etc.). I'm finding the abundance of switching POVs in first person in Twific quite frustrating, more so than when it's done in other fandoms... especially when whole scenes are rewritten, from a different POV - it just doesn't add anything to the story and it's easy to get bored when reading.

    Other than the one fic I wrote with 2 first person POVs, I have only ever written one other story with multiple POVs... for a story-writing assignment at school when I was 11 years old (the teacher actually commented that she liked the switching POVs)! The next story I wrote after that was a detective story when I was 14 (another school assignment) written in third-person and after that I didn't write fiction again until I was 22 (I spent the years in between studying to become a scientist!).


Spread The Word