So, your foundation and story map are well underway, and you’re probably coming up with all kinds of questions, including one of the most fundamental, “Who’s voice should I use to tell my story?” This question is so important, so defining for your project, that I will actually break this tip into three parts and post each one separately, one per week, so as not to overwhelm you or take too much time from your busy schedule.
When we read a story, the main tone, voice, and perspective of everything we learn comes directly from the point of view of the storyteller, whomever that may be. I’m only going to discuss the three primary points of view (POV) used historically and currently by renown authors around the world, because there are countless other websites that go into painstaking detail about the variations and details of how to employ each POV. Here, I will explain the most popular options used in books, poetry, and music, and explain how I use POV in the Storm Series to enhance my reader’s experience.
Each POV method comes with its own set of problems and benefits, and you’ll find that what works for one story idea, may not work as easily for another. Different writing projects have different intentions, from fantastic fictional entertainment, to instructional DIY and self-help, to thought provoking, sometimes autobiographical, sometimes collaborative non-fiction.
1st person POV (pronouns: I, me, we, us) has been used across the ages by many of the great writers: classics like Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë (one of my all-time favorite books), Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. This immersive style, whether written as fiction or non-fiction, gives the story an autobiographical air, providing deeply personal perspective and insight into the unique character(s) who share their story. The power and magic of using 1st person POV, is its ability to give the reader direct access to the thoughts, feelings, and actions of the person telling the story. This allows the reader to peer into the mind of the protagonist/hero/antihero, and often to commiserate with them along their journey, forming a stronger bond than might otherwise form. If the character is undergoing a great deal of personal evolution and change as a result of their experiences, or might easily be misunderstood in actions and deeds, or judged harshly for being so unlike your reader, this is an excellent way to help your reader not only understand the character, in a way that surrounding characters cannot, but ultimately to win favor with the reader, who might otherwise lose patience or deem your character lacking and unworthy of time and compassion. By the same token, this POV can be used to reveal just how despicable and irredeemable an antagonist really is, who might otherwise be considered trustworthy and honorable by surrounding characters who do not have access to the inner machinations of your villain.
In non-fiction autobiography, the 1st person POV is usually that of the author, who can bestow or withhold their unique knowledge and emotions, history, and perspective to exciting effect, but who lacks the knowledge of other characters’ emotions and motivations. In fiction, the 1st person POV is most often that of the main protagonist, or occasionally the antagonist, or other crucial characters with essential information and motivations that contribute to the overall direction and energy of the story. In both fiction and non-fiction, the person telling the story may have a skewed perspective, which is untrue or incomplete, whether they know it or not. As the author, you may choose to withhold private or crucial information (writers can be wily that way), only revealing certain actions, truths, or aspects of the character at key turning points in the story, but you can still dig deep into the meat of the character, revealing the good, the bad, and the ugly to the reader, without informing the surrounding characters. In any case, using the 1st person POV can be a significant benefit or detriment, because the reader only has indirect access to the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of surrounding characters through dialogue with them (subject to deception and omission), or observation of them (which can be misleading or biased), which results in interpretation or speculation (both highly fallible) by the main character. The reader only knows what the main character knows, because the character is usually not omniscient. A good writer can have some serious fun misdirecting readers with this technique but risks losing the reader’s connection to the story and characters.
One way to solve this problem, is to occasionally switch to the 1st person POV of a different character. And this is where I stress that, whether you are writing a single book, or a series, best practice is to choose your POV method wisely, and stick with it! If you start a book or series in 1st person POV, you must be prepared to write every chapter and every book using the same method, for consistency. Your readers will settle in to your chosen mode of storytelling, and will balk if you suddenly change the dynamic. It is acceptable to write an entire book from the POV of only one character, or to occasionally switch to the POV of a different important character, but transitions must be very clear and few. Some writers make this switch by inserting a chapter entirely in the perspective of another character (usually indicated at the very beginning of the chapter by some consistently used signal to the reader that the POV has changed), in order to reveal important information to the reader that they do not want the main character to know. Other writers may dedicate an entire book to one character’s POV and then write a mirror image of the story from a different character’s POV. The challenge here, is in repetition that may bore the reader, so this should only be done when the telling and retelling offers such diametrically opposed views of events, and so much new information, that the reader gains valuable insight only by knowing both perspectives, and can then judge for themselves what was true, what stemmed from misunderstanding, and what was born of calculated misdeed. Both techniques are used brilliantly by one of my favorite contemporary writers, Karen Marie Moning in the Fever Series. Countless other contemporary writers use this style too, but if you are not used to writing in 1st person, it can be quite challenging to do consistently, so writer beware.
For additional insights on 1st person POV, I recommend you start looking for it in the books, magazine articles, and poetry that you read. It lends itself well to poetry and song lyrics, and was used characteristically by both Emily Dickenson and Edgar Allan Poe.
To see 1st person POV in action, watch Poe’s The Raven, Narrated by Christopher Lee on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BefliMlEzZ8
To hear 1st person POV in action, try listening to almost any song by Johnny Cash or Ellie Goulding. In musical storytelling, 1st person POV has an enchanting way of pulling the listener into a song by tapping into themes that are so universal, archetypal, and emotional, that the listener connects much more deeply than they would in a complex book, allowing the listener to either empathize with the storyteller, or to become the storyteller, by superimposing their own story onto the lyrics of the song, reliving their own tale through the strength of the connection that is forged in the song.
While increased empathy and connection with the personal story of the character may be the greatest benefit of writing in 1st person POV, perhaps the greatest limitation is that the reader may not always be able to make that connection. The speaker, in any given scene, is telling their story from their unique POV. If their story is universal and archetypal, this may not be an issue, but when the story or character is completely foreign to the reader, 1st person storytelling can create a barrier that prevents the reader from inserting themselves into the story in a lasting way. Unexpected events can have the jarring effect of actually bumping the reader out of the flow, every time they dislike or disagree with the perspective of the character that is speaking. Keeping the reader immersed in the story can be easier with 2nd and 3rd person POV. If you’re looking for more reader involvement in your story, you’ll want to read about and consider using 2nd person POV, explained in WriteIT! TIP #5 PART 2 – VOICE. To keep your readers immersed for the long-haul, come back and read my explanation of the most commonly used perspective, 3rd person POV, in WriteIT! TIP #5 PART 3 – VOICE.
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Until next time, happy writing!