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  1. #1

    Favorite Point of View

    1st person, 3rd person? What points of view resonate best in your works and why?

  2. #2
    Registered User JimF's Avatar
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    I prefer to read and write in 3rd person. When reading first person I always feel the text calls a little too much attention to itself. (If that makes any sense.) I just think 3rd person is a more natural way to tell a story.

    On a related side note I tried to watch an old movie last night. "Lady in the Lake" based on the chandler novel. It was shot in the Point of View of Philip Marlow. I love old movies, but I could only stand about 20 minutes of this. It was too much. 1st person novels aren't the same, but it is a similar idea.

    Jim.

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    Registered User Alan_87's Avatar
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    1st person is good for stream of consciousness narrative and can be used brilliantly (As I Lay Dying anyone?) but for sci fi and fantasy I'm not really aware of any writers who use 1st person from the top of my head.

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    benh benh's Avatar
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    As I Lay Dying is brilliant. Mmm Faulkner.

    I find Bret Easton Ellis and Chick Palahniuk to both make good use of first person narratives. Their novels would not be the same without it.

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    aurea plectro goldhawk's Avatar
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    Do both. Sherlock Holmes is written in the 1st person with Dr. Watson as the POV character but he tells of Mr. Holmes' adventure in the 3rd person. It is also the only work I know of that uses 1st person plural POV without putting a lampshade on it.

  6. #6
    I prefer to read and write in third person. It is the most natural to me.

    However, one book that used the first person extremely well was Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness because almost every chapter alternated between the two main characters' points of view (with some historical narrations thrown in).

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Alan_87 View Post
    1st person is good for stream of consciousness narrative and can be used brilliantly (As I Lay Dying anyone?) but for sci fi and fantasy I'm not really aware of any writers who use 1st person from the top of my head.
    Roger Zelazny did good work with 1st person when writing his Amber chronicles. John Steakley uses it effectively with his John Crow character in the latter half of his novel, Armor. And of course, H.G. Wells was a fan of this narrative in several of his stories.

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    I prefer writing in 3rd person, but it doesn't matter with what i am reading as long as it grips me. A really good 1st person novel is Kushiels Dart by Jacqueline Carey. The entire story is written from one character's perspective. It's extremely well done IMO.

    Jay

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    I usually write in third person, but in one book, The Speed of Dark, had to go to third person present tense--a difficult POV to sustain "pure" for technical reasons, esp. if the character thinks differently than the writer--as it was the only way to convey the quality of autistic cognition. I had started it in third person, past tense, shifted first to third/present to get the immediacy, and then realized it had to be first person/present to show what I wanted to show. The trick in that case it to be able to suppress one's own personality, way of thinking, and voice during a session...to show that Other.

    I find second-person offputting, both to read and to write, although in nonfiction (on blog entries, for instance) I am quite comfortable with "you" in both the specific and general sense. As a reader, I feel that I'm being coerced into the POV, rather than invited in--forced to become the player-character, rather than allowed to observe him/her from outside, and it's particularly annoying when the character differs from me in important ways. First person is the POV talking directly to me--I'm still me, the character's still the character, though if I want to, I can "fall into" that POV.

    In a conversation elsewhere on POV, Charlie Stross (who does second person POVs brilliantly, though I still find them unpalatable) said that he found some people really liked it and others really hated it, whereas nearly everyone will read a third person POV without a hitch.

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    Chocoholic ShellyS's Avatar
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    The Speed of Dark was a wonderful book. The pov worked very well, as did the voice. I can't imagine it written any other way. Same as I can't imagine O'Nan's A Prayer for the Dying written in anything other than second person present tense, which didn't seem offputting or forced at all. If I'd read either had they been written differently, I might not have thought plain old tight third past tense for ex was wrong for them, but as they are, they were written in just the perfect voice/tense/pov for them. Somethings just click with a reader, and with a writer.

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    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Eddie, you can't completely ignore common parlance just because it's technically inaccurate in academic theory. (In the same way that I cannot ignore the word "genre" just because it is used in the marketplace differently from its dictionary/academic definition.)

    And in the common parlance, the narrator is the point-of-view -- is the camera. So for instance your example of a person hitting himself with a hammer and another person observing it and narrating the incident, and you saying the observing person is the narrator and the person hit with the hammer is the point-of-view character -- that's not going to work for most people. For them, the observer is the point-of-view narrator -- giving them the picture of the person hitting the hammer, and the person hit with the hammer is the focal character whose feelings are guessed at, but not known for certain, not definitively given. Likewise the Middlemarch omniscient narrator is technically a first person omniscient because that's how they tended to do it back then, but gets called third person by some because it relates the characters and their pov in third person.

    It all comes down to inner thought. Whosever inner thoughts and feelings we get, they are the narrating pov character in people's conception, the camera in charge of the story for that part. All narration -- observation, description, dialogue, description of action, metaphor, etc. is considered to be coming through their psyche (their point-of-view of things,) unless we get the inner thoughts and feelings of some other character, who then is taking over for that part of narrative.

    For straight first person, this is very easy to see -- one narrator, one point-of-view of the whole story, all other characters have their thoughts and feelings interpreted by the first person pov narrator. For third person tight, limited, intimate, whatever the f they call it, which is like straight first person or revolving/alternating first person, it is also very easy to see because it is one character, one point-of-view, one narrator to deal with at any one time. Even second person, which usually uses first person or third person limited as the jumping off point, can be therefore relatively easy to follow in terms of whose inner viewpoint you're getting.

    Where things get more confusing on a writing comprehension level (but not on an instinctual reading or construction level,) is the different uses of omniscience, and not the technical, full-out omniscience but the working definition of the thing. Omniscience can come in many shades, allowing an outside narrator point-of-view and the ability of that narrator to telescope in to characters' inner thoughts and feelings, in whole or in part, and shuffle them like a deck of cards during a scene or just use one at a time. It can be done in first, second or third person, and done a lot of different ways.

    And this gets harder for people to pinpoint, because they have actually no problem processing forms of omniscience at all, but have often been told that it is problematic. (Rocket Sheep speculated that this idea was actually started in Australia from a writing instructor and spread. I don't think it's been as much as an issue in the oughts as it was in the 1990's.) But if you focus them on who's thinking what when, then it tends to fall into place conceptually.

    Right now, I'm reading two well-selling fantasy novels that are both written in third person omniscient, in a similar fashion though somewhat different from each other. Before that, I read a first person historical mystery. For me, it's just like shifting from one type of lens to another, one sort of framework for narration to another. But I can understand that some people like to stick with one lens for reading or writing.

    If you take it down to the atomic level, it gets a lot more complicated than that, but most writers and most readers are not analyzing it at the atomic level, even when it's something like first person semi-omniscient or mixed first and third person with bits of second person, etc. They are looking at it as to who is telling the story, which translates into whose brain are we in at the moment.

  12. #12
    Chocoholic ShellyS's Avatar
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    Thanks, KatG. I never could have explained pov so well, though I did give it a muddled try.

    I don't recall encountering a usage such as the hammer, etc, before, so had no idea how to properly address it.

    Point of View is whose view is telling the story. A good omniscient first person narrator (I think it was omnisicent, but it's been a while since I read the book) is Arturo Perez-Riverte's The Club Dumas, which is infinitely better than the horrid movie they made of it (in which they cut out half the plot and lost the whole point of the story). The narrator, a book dealer as I recall, appears at the start and once later on, but otherwise is telling a story about other character's as he knows it to have happened. It's his pov, not the main characters driving the story, even if the "I" pronoun is rarely seen. Mostly, it's told in third person past tense, which is the style or voice or method or whatever, but not the pov. The guy narrating is the pov.

  13. #13
    Master Obfuscator Dawnstorm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    So for instance your example of a person hitting himself with a hammer and another person observing it and narrating the incident, and you saying the observing person is the narrator and the person hit with the hammer is the point-of-view character -- that's not going to work for most people. For them, the observer is the point-of-view narrator -- giving them the picture of the person hitting the hammer, and the person hit with the hammer is the focal character whose feelings are guessed at, but not known for certain, not definitively given.
    Quote Originally Posted by ShellyS
    I don't recall encountering a usage such as the hammer, etc, before, so had no idea how to properly address it.
    Ah, well. It was an analogy. I was only talking about the "Ouch," not the entire situation. It is not a narrative situation, so there is no narrator in the situation, but the relation between the origin of the utterance and origin of the feeling is roughly the same as the narrator to point-of-view character.

    Since the analogy failed to get that point across, it was a bad analogy. I've used it before. It failed, then, too. It is a bad analogy and I won't be using it again. (If I can remember that it's a bad analogy. It's hard to remember that as I happen to like it. )

    Likewise the Middlemarch omniscient narrator is technically a first person omniscient because that's how they tended to do it back then, but gets called third person by some because it relates the characters and their pov in third person.
    Okay. Why, exactly, is the Middlemarch narrator a "first person omniscient" narrator. Because she's a narrator and says "I" with respect to herself? To me, that's not enough, and if that's common parlance, than I do indeed think your better off without any terms than with that.

    Why? Because, as you say, this requires an equation of narrator and point-of-view. How, then, do we account for third limited, whose very definition is that the narrator never uses his own point of view, but hides behind a view-point character.

    Every narrator is an "I" in the context of the telling; some refer to themselves, and some are more direct in that than others. A point-of-view concept that does not allow for the question whether a narrator gives his own point of view or someone else's is no point-of-view concept at all.

    It all comes down to inner thought. Whosever inner thoughts and feelings we get, they are the narrating pov character in people's conception, the camera in charge of the story for that part.
    Okay:

    And in the common parlance, the narrator is the point-of-view -- is the camera.
    This is confusing me no end. "Narrating pov character", where "narrator is the point-of-view"? "The camera"? So a third person limited narrator is really the point of view character with the silly affectation of speaking about himself in the third person? What other interpretation does this terminology allow? There is more to third limited. That the point-of-view character is not the narrator is essential; it's not a verbal tick.

    All narration -- observation, description, dialogue, description of action, metaphor, etc. is considered to be coming through their psyche (their point-of-view of things,) unless we get the inner thoughts and feelings of some other character, who then is taking over for that part of narrative.
    Who is "their", and how - if point-of-view and narrator is the same thing - can some other character even take over? Are we now making the distinction instead of sweeping it under carpet, to save the "common parlance"?

    For straight first person, this is very easy to see -- one narrator, one point-of-view of the whole story, all other characters have their thoughts and feelings interpreted by the first person pov narrator. For third person tight, limited, intimate, whatever the f they call it, which is like straight first person or revolving/alternating first person, it is also very easy to see because it is one character, one point-of-view, one narrator to deal with at any one time. Even second person, which usually uses first person or third person limited as the jumping off point, can be therefore relatively easy to follow in terms of whose inner viewpoint you're getting.
    Actually, third limited is easiest, because the "hiding" of narrator's point of view is it's defining feature. The ease of first person is deceptive, because it's the same person - but at different parts in the biography. That's one of the reasons to use third limited; no (= little) difference between the telling and told.

    Where things get more confusing on a writing comprehension level (but not on an instinctual reading or construction level,) is the different uses of omniscience, and not the technical, full-out omniscience but the working definition of the thing. Omniscience can come in many shades, allowing an outside narrator point-of-view and the ability of that narrator to telescope in to characters' inner thoughts and feelings, in whole or in part, and shuffle them like a deck of cards during a scene or just use one at a time. It can be done in first, second or third person, and done a lot of different ways.
    And this the source of my contention. I don't think that things get confusing at omniscient; I think that's where the symptoms start to show, but the entire concept is corrupt from the get go. I think that the common near-equation between third limtied and first person, for example, is already part of the confusion (but an unacknowledged part). Omniscient is just where it falls apart - the scapegoat.

    If you take it down to the atomic level, it gets a lot more complicated than that, but most writers and most readers are not analyzing it at the atomic level, even when it's something like first person semi-omniscient or mixed first and third person with bits of second person, etc. They are looking at it as to who is telling the story, which translates into whose brain are we in at the moment.
    Yeah, and as long as the theory-babble doesn't trickle down into what writers actually do I don't care what they call what. Sadly, I've seen plenty of critiques that shout "headhopping" or "narrative intrusion" or "breaking the fourth wall" for no good reason I can see. I have the nagging feeling that theory-innocent readers are better critics than theory-corrupted writers.

    ***

    Finally, this post of yours helped me spot a yearlong misunderstanding: whenever you said "first person omniscient" I should have translated that for myself to "third person omniscient with an overt narrator who refers to him/herself in comments". Instead I always thought of situations like Moby Dick, where Ishmael tells us what Ahab did alone in his cabin (emphasis being on "alone").

  14. #14
    Chocoholic ShellyS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dawnstorm View Post
    Ah, well. It was an analogy. I was only talking about the "Ouch," not the entire situation. It is not a narrative situation, so there is no narrator in the situation, but the relation between the origin of the utterance and origin of the feeling is roughly the same as the narrator to point-of-view character.

    Since the analogy failed to get that point across, it was a bad analogy. I've used it before. It failed, then, too. It is a bad analogy and I won't be using it again. (If I can remember that it's a bad analogy. It's hard to remember that as I happen to like it. )
    I thought it more an example to illustrate your point rather than an analogy, but it made no sense to me re: pov, since everything I've ever read or heard re: pov in writing has to do with the view of the narrator, and there's always a narrator as the words have to come from somewhere even if the narrator isn't always obvious. In referring to your post, I used the hammer example because it was a quick and easy way to do so.

    Why? Because, as you say, this requires an equation of narrator and point-of-view. How, then, do we account for third limited, whose very definition is that the narrator never uses his own point of view, but hides behind a view-point character.
    I'm not skilled enough to explain this as KatG is and I've never read Middlemarch, but the narrator is the pov as I see it. The view is who's telling the story, whether omniscient and able to tell us what other characters are thinking/feeling without it being a supposition, or a tight third limited intimate whatever where the narrator is conveying only what he or she knows for a fact, including their own feelings and thoughts and must make guesses re: the other character's inner thoughts if they even bother to consider the other characters. It's their view of the story that's being told that is the pov.

    It seems to me that you are mixing up how pov works, but I don't think I'm the right person to explain it.

  15. #15
    A mere player txshusker's Avatar
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    I also won't go into PoV semantics, either -I ain't no smart scholar - but reply to the original question. I prefer to read 3rd person. 1st person to me inherently states that the outcome is happy, considering you can't tell a story if you're dead. (And if you do, I feel it's kind of a cop out.)

    Of course, that's not to say that I avoid 1st person... Steven Brust does it wonderfully. I just finished a novel by Dave Duncan done in the 1st person, and enjoyed every moment of it. But I prefer 3rd person for the mystery of ending.

    As far as writing, it's harder for me to write in the 1st person effectively than a 3rd person, so I don't try it often.

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