Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net

Point of View: First Person

October 1st, 2011

A couple weeks ago I blogged about a new novel in the early stages of development, and the frustration of coming up with a coherent plot. I’m happy to report I did come up with a nice plot skeleton that I can definitely work with, but there was another question I needed to answer after that: what point of view to use?

I wanted to write the story in first person. My initial conception of the novel suggested first person, so I sat down and wrote the opening chapter—and I didn’t like it at all. Partially, this was because I didn’t feel like I had the character’s voice right, but more importantly there was a structural issue of how and when to introduce information.

After experiment and consideration, I realized that if I opened in the main protagonist’s point of view/first person, he would either have to withhold key information to maintain the intrigue, or I would have to give up on intrigue and engage in lots of info-dump to get the reader up to speed. Of course neither option was acceptable.

So I re-wrote the opening from the point of view of another character, and I think it works much better. So it looks like it’s going to be third person, multiple viewpoint, which is what I’ve used for most of my novels.

In contrast to these struggles, last week I outlined a short story and then set out to write it—in first person. I was deep into the story before I realized that I hadn’t even thought about what point of view to use. The story simply demanded first person, and in this case it worked out fine.

Posted on: Saturday, October 1st, 2011 at 5:02 pm
Categories: Writing.
Tags: ,

4 Responses to “Point of View: First Person”

  1. Jeffrey Gershom Says:

    I’m getting ready for NaNoWriMo next month and starting to do preliminary research for what I’m going to write. I have tried to write a novel before, but I crashed and burned. This time, I’m making a concerted effort to start, maintain and finish this 50,000 word beast.

    I haven’t even thought about point of view. That’s probably because we aren’t allowed to start writing until Nov 1. Yet, your blog post gave me some important decisions to make. Thanks Linda! 🙂

    Cheers. 🙂

  2. Linda Says:

    You’re welcome! Good to get those decisions out of the way before November. I’ll be interested to hear how Nanowrimo goes.

  3. DDW Says:

    I am not a fan of first person. Which isn’t to say I never read it, as some of my all-time favorite authors write/wrote first person extensively or exclusively. But if your name’s not on that list first person is a always a harder sell with me. I always hear the rationale that first person is more intimate and makes the reader feel closer to the viewpoint character, but I don’t buy it. I tend to wonder if these people are familiar with the concept of “indirect discourse”.

    Third person multiple has the advantage of giving the reader a choice of characters they might connect with and who might help carry them through the story. First person gives them only one option. Perhaps relatedly, I also think writing well in first person feels easier than it actually is, and some authors don’t seem to realize that, to their work’s detriment.

    That said, I think you’re right, certain stories can demand a particular viewpoint. Change it and you’re no longer telling the same story. Viewpoint seems to me something that must necessarily be deeply intwined in the nature of the story one’s telling, and therefore a decision which must come fairly early in the development process, if there is any choice in the matter at all.

  4. Linda Says:

    I do like first person, reading it and writing it, but it definitely takes a certain character and story type to make it work. One of my books is written in third person but entirely from the viewpoint of a single character. In theory I suppose this could have been done in first person, but in reality, it would never have worked. Third person can achieve some narrative distance and make observations that just wouldn’t work coming directly from the mouth of the viewpoint character.