A question as been asked in my conference (Sarah’s Diner in baen’s bar at baen.com) about povs. Since I didn’t have a topic in mind for this post – yet – I decided to go with that.
First of all, let me make clear that I am quite possibly the worst with "standard terms" for anything, partly because I learned different terms (for grammar, pov, etc) in different countries and have got thoroughly confused. The terms I will use below are the ones I use for my own thoughts on the subject, and I think they’re fairly self-explanatory.
When I started writing, like almost everyone I wrote in first person. Not because the characters were a projection of me – which seems to be the common reason for this among new writers – but because most of the books I read – Simak, Heinlein, Anderson – at the time had a first person narrative. So, of course I wrote first person.
I enjoyed – and still do – writing first person. I do think though that, as I was learning to write it limited me to a great degree. You see, my weakness on starting out was plot. Characters I could do. They were not a problem and they were not me. (I used to joke that I became the character while writing.) But plots were rather more difficult, perhaps because the sense of plot seems to be slightly different for each culture. (Not sure about that, but I think so.) And of course writing first person limited how much of the plot I could show. And since I had no more clue of foreshadowing than a cat has of royalty, the end result was like a series of elephants dropping from the ceiling onto the protagonist.
So first person was a problem in terms of showing what was going on behind the scenes and giving hints at different perspectives.
I also found there was a prejudice against first person, though this seems – fortunately – to be limited and fairly isolated and perhaps declining.
Faced with these issues, I learned to do third person. Third person as is done in science fiction and fantasy or mystery is fixed and limited. You are fixed to one character per chapter (or section of a chapter, and it should be marked when you transition.) You are not omniscient and can’t jump heads at will. In romance, apparently, not only is omniscient expected but it is preferred by many readers. (I’m going on hearsay. I’ve never written romance as such though I’ve come close a few times.)
Because I like the intimate feel of first person, I often find myself "playing" third person like first. For instance instead of "Bill was angry." I’ll have, "Bill’s stomach tightened. His hands kept trying to clench into fists. *I can’t believe they did that,* he thought. *I just can’t.*
I’ve found that people reading third person done that way – third person close in as I call it – often remember it as first, but it allows you multiple povs. So if your story has various strands you have to follow, then this is a good choice.
If on the other hand the story can be told all from one perspective, I still prefer first person. I figure it gives books the advantage over movies of allowing us to BE someone else. Of course, in both recently completed books *DarkShip Thieves* and *Dipped Stripped and Dead* I got stuck to some extent with unreliable first person narrators. Can it be done and the truth still conveyed? Oh, sure. Just don’t try it in your first book out the gate.
You can have the truth conveyed in dialogue or come crashing in on your character unwonted from external stimuli. No matter how much the character tells herself it’s not raining, she still gets soaked, etc.
Exceptions to POV can be glossed over if either done at the very beginning of the book – I often do a "movie pan" of the scene before I "descend" into the head of a character. That way I make sure the reader has the whole scene before dropping him/her into it. Another commonly excused pov lapse in third person at least is to give a quick description of your character. This solves having them look in a mirror, etc. Of course, if you’re using changing POV in different sections, you can have the characters describe each other while highlighting their relationship.
That’s all I can think of to say on the subject for now. Questions? Peanut shells? Money? Throw them and I’ll respond.