Monday, August 10, 2009

Who's Telling Your Story?

Cricket McRae

Point of view is one of the most defining choices writers make when they decide how to tell their unique story.

My Home Crafting Mysteries are told from the first person point of view of Sophie Mae Reynolds. I use first person for a variety of reasons. The first is voice. By telling the story through the filter of Sophie Mae, her personality colors the tale. Part of that voice includes Sophie Mae's preconceived notions and areas of naivete, so sometimes she's an unreliable narrator which can add another layer to the mystery. For the most part, though, we can count on her take on things.

Related to voice is accessibility. When you read one of my mysteries, you're getting the story from the protagonist herself, not a close but disassociated observer or some omniscient overlord. This is necessarily limiting, but friendly. It also means that the reader learns what Sophie Mae learns, at the same time. This is particularly useful as the puzzle unfolds and the story marches toward resolution.

Sophie Mae likes to look at all aspects of the problems she confronts. She thinks and rethinks, considers, guesses and makes connections, and, as guests in her fictional brain, we get to go along for the ride. I am hopeful that the reader is making the same connections, wondering the same things, arm in arm with Ms. Reynolds. I find inherent satisfaction in participating in a story that way as a reader.

Lastly, the first person point of view affects my writing style. Sophie Mae's thoughts and opinions poke their way regularly into the narrative without benefit of italics or attribution in a way that -- I'm told -- feels conversational and natural. Her voice drives the story, and she's not shy about letting us know what she thinks. In some ways it also seems to lubricate the pacing.

This sounds like I am an advocate for the first person point of view exclusively. Not so. It has served me well for this series, but that doesn't mean it's right for every situation. I've written books from a close third person pov, and I wouldn't have done it any differently. At present, I'm playing around with a new project told from the point of vew of several different characters. I've considered using first person for all of them, with the subsequent reality shifts, but I'm not really going for An Instance of the Fingerpost or even something like The Poisonwood Bible (both fabulously amazing books). So I think I'll stick with third person and do a bit of head hopping on a chapter by chapter basis. Except for the diary of a dying woman, which will have to be in first person.

I don't know if this thing is a mystery (except I believe most stories, wherever they end up on the book store shelf, are mysteries), or something more literary mainstream with a pinch of magical realism. Whatever it is, it's been dancing around in the back of my mind for years now, and I'm letting it out to play while at the same time plotting and writing Home Crafting Mystery #5. That separation may be another reason I chose to change the pov for this standalone. I think Sue Ann said at one time that she is able to work on two series in part because the pov is different in each one (?), and that makes a lot of sense to me.

How does pov influence your writing? Do you think first person pov is easier? As a reader, do you have a preference for first or third person pov? Have you ever seen second person pov used successfully?


Keith Raffel said...

Cricket, I, too, write in first person, but for me the reasons are not so hi-falutin. For me it's a chance to be someone more interesting in an alternate world. As EL Doctorow said, "Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia."

Lisa Bork said...

I write in first person. It comes more easily to me that way. I also enjoy reading first person--it always seems like the story moves along more quickly and engrosses me.

Alan Orloff said...

I've written in both, but it seems the words come more easily when I'm writing in first person. Maybe it's all the practice I've been getting blogging and commenting on blogs and Twittering and Facebooking and...

Cricket McRae said...

Keith, I'd be worried about you if I didn't know exactly what you mean. Mr. Doctorow was a man of wisdom.

Lisa, moving along quickly and being engrossing are definitely good things, both from writing and reading perspectives.

Alan, perhaps you should start referring to yourself in the third person on Facebook and Twitter. Or just to shake up the first person, start using the royal "we." ; - )

Paul Lamb said...

I think the fairest (to the reader) mysteries are told in first person, with the narrator experiencing all of the "clues" and revelations. That way the reader isn't given access to anything that the protagonist doesn't have as well. It just seems like cheating to keep facts from the protagonist. An omniscient narrator who shares details with the reader that the protagonist doesn't have just seems too coy.

I think narrative voice is not so much a preference of the writer as a dictate of the story. I'm just finishing a 100,000+ novel in the first person that I realize now must be told in 3rd person for the ending to work right. I wish I had seen that when I started, but I'm glad I've seen it at all since it really is how the story has to be told.

Even so, I've made the case recently on my blog that all narrative is in 1st person, it just doesn't always seem that way.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I'm with you on the italics--as a reader, I find it a distracting way to show someone's thoughts.

As far as 2nd person goes, my kids have read the "Choose Your Own Adventure" books. That's the only time I've seen it used successfully.


Keith Raffel said...

Cricket, Maybe you should worry,

G.M. Malliet said...

No preference, I like experimenting. And all POVs present their own challenges!

G.M. Malliet said...

p.s. Hail to a fellow fan of An Instance of the Fingerpost. What an amazing book.