Fear in Writing: POV

Today in Literary History

Today in Literary History...December 14, 1907: Rudyard Kipling receives the Nobel prize for literature, the first English-language writer to do so.ud

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


As a reader it never occurred to me to care - first person or third? As a writer I notice its importance, but I feel comfortable writing in both. But as an observer of human tendencies, I notice that some people have definite opinions on the subject.

Yesterday I shared with you a bit of my own work. It was a piece of lighter mystery fiction I wrote, perhaps to be completed, perhaps not. The response was phenomenal! And I don't just mean praise. I gained invaluable knowledge from just this small sampling of readership.

One particular response stuck with me. Kristi Faith of Random Acts of Writing wrote, "Usually, I prefer third person, but..."

And this this is not the first time I have read bloggers/readers write this.

Unless the writer has completely misjudged, I am comfortable reading a book from any viewpoint.

As a writer the test comes in how you want to tell the story. What is the mood you want to set? How much information do you want to unveil and are you able to do it in first person? I have actually written several chapters of my WIP in different POVs, trying to find the right one. Writing it in first POV helped me get to know the main character a little better, but it also showed me that was not the voice I wanted speaking to readers. In another book, maybe, but not in this one.

How about you? When you read, do you have a preference? When you write, do you always write in one POV, or do you let the story dictate?


  1. 3rd person omniscient is my fave when I write. I'm just more comfy with it.

    When I read? I'm not a fan of first person. I'd rather make my own observations than have to look at the world through someone else's eyes.

    Great question!

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  2. Thanks, Elizabeth. It honestly never occurred to me to have a preference in reading. It wasn't until I began writing that I noticed how hard it is to switch POVs. Some works flow better in each POV.

    I think I am just a very trusting reader. But, as a writer, I must take this 3rd person preference into account!


  3. When reading, first person has to be done really well to pull it off - too many I dids or I ams becomes monotonous.
    I've been experimenting lately using different POV when writing - I think 3rd person is my forte.
    Great post - thought provoking. :)

  4. I'd say it has a lot to do with the author's writing. It's nice to have a little insight as the first person, but it can get too repetitive and I lose interest in the story.

  5. I generally prefer third person to read. Most authors can not pull off the first person without getting boring, as others have mentioned. However, a lot of books I read will switch POV's to where I am reading a first person account, but then the next chapter is third person of another character. It has to be done right, but I loved that particular author's style.

    My nano project is in third person, but my current is in first. I'm struggling a little more with first person, but it does not sound right when I go to third person. It's like my character is begging to tell the story.

    Great Post!

  6. For me, the story dictates. For some reason, first is easier (but it's also easier to write yourself into a box). Except when I'm working on a PB. Those always end up in third.

  7. I think the type of story/genre conventions help dictate the POV. For instance, many PI stories are first person, while many thrillers are multi-POV third person. Of course, ulitimately it depends on the author--how "intimate" does he/she want to be with the readers.

    I've written in both, but I think things flow more smoothly for me in first person.

    Reading? It doesn't matter--as long as the POV "fits" the story!

  8. So far I've been letting the story dictate, but I write shorts right now, so it's not as though I'm committing myself to a certain POV for 70,000 words or anything. Did you happen to see Scott Bailey's post over at The Literary Lab yesterday? It was very good, and has something to say about using POV as part of the writer's toolkit.

  9. I've had friends who refused to read first person. I can't write in first, it has to be in third. I've tried first and it doesn't come naturally. Tenses even trip me up then and that just isn't okay.

  10. To me, this really all depends on the writing. I think the real success of it is when you can write (in either form) and the reader remains interested in the story.
    I can switch between the two, and I have.

    Oh, and my own writing is on break right now. I've put my MS on ice, so that I can come back to it with fresh eyes. Same with the query, though I am getting good feedback in the MS from some test readers.

    THanks :)

  11. Whoa! I take a few hours to run my child to preschool and this is what greets me! Gotta love it!

    Michelle & Mason- I hadn't thought of it in terms of monotonous and repetitive before, something to ponder. I would imagine it also has to be a likeable character. Or someone you love to hate!

    Kristi- I have read some books that switch as well, usually the killer speaks in first person for a few chapters, which is interesting. Even though it's a struggle, it's good that you're listening to your characters! That in itself can be a struggle.

    Karen- Definitely agree: story dictates. I feel dumb, but I've been struggling - what's a 'PB?'

    Alan- The story AND the author dictate, good points. It's important to know your own strengths! Haven't seen you in a while, Alan. Glad to have enticed a comment! Of course, I've been missing from Monkeys, too!

    Simon- Aaahh, the short. Very easy to write in first as I found out yesterday. Though I wouldn't say that piece was complete. Thank you for the link. I can't click it now for fear of losing my comment, but I'll check it out!

    Stephanie- Know thyself. Don't I sound smart? Seriously, though, it's important. But it's also important to stretch every once and a while. Tense gets me, too. In broadcast journalism we write in what's called "broadcast tense." Basically, everything ends with -ing. I've gone through entire chapters only to realize I wrote in broadcast tense rather than past!

    Jm- I am soooooooo interested to read your writing! When do we get a piece of it? Good for you for taking a step back. I know that is hard. I won't push you anymore!

  12. I've never written from first person and would probably find it a challenge. I've read a couple good first person books, but I tend to like third person better.
    Maybe I just like the freedome of seeing things from more than one character's POV!

  13. When I read I tend to prefer first person. I feel more of a connection with the character for some reason.

  14. I don't know whether you are aware of it - but English is quite specific when it comes to persons in singular and plural because it has the same pronoun for the second person plural and singular - YOU. Most other languages have different pronouns for second person pl and sg. And there's the problem - when you have to translate some book from English you never know what to do, because in other languages the plural YOU is not only used for a group of people, but also when you are addressing and individual person with respect, in a polite way, with strangers ....

    That's why a translator of an English book has to distinguish when the two characters have become more closer and intimate and then the YOU becomes the singular YOU not the plural YOU so he has to use and adequate pronoun from his own language. This is sometimes so confusing and complex, that I sometimes wish you English speaking people would have two different pronouns for these two different person :)

  15. Diane- There is a freedom to third person. One can be more descriptive and have an omniscience that isn't available to first person narrative. But first person might be worth a try as an exercise...

    Desmond- I wasn't aware of English's frustrations to those to whom it is not a first language. To us, of course, other languages are frustrating. having to conjugate verbs in Spanish based on the speaker is ever-confusing to me. Alas, I can do nothing about either of our problems.

  16. How timely--I'm wrestling with questions of POV right now. I've written in 1st and close 3rd and enjoy both. I think Alan's right that it depends on the story and whether you need multiple POVs to get it across. My current wip is a dilemma. I know I want 3rd person because it's epic fantasy, but should I do close or middle distance? Can I even do middle distance very well? Am I sure I know what it is? Have you run into any good resources on the subject?

  17. Simon posted one earlier - Literary Lab. I felt it got a little preachy at time, but overall I think it is a good blog.

    Here's one I found from Annenburg Media called Learner.org.

    By middle to you mean omniscient or limited omniscient? I'm having trouble remembering all my literary terms...I'll look it up in my handbook after the kids are in bed.

    Hope these help!

  18. For me, 3rd person comes naturally both when reading & writing, but I do enjoy several authors who write in 1st. I've tried writing in 1st a few times, but I have to think about it, my brain doesn't work fast enough for my fingers to type, so I usually do 3rd :)

  19. Various POV's exist for a reason. To say one is better than another doesn't work for me. Would "To Kill a Mockingbird" be the same book if it had been written in the third person, no way Jose!

    I had an excellent teacher that had us write submit each and every short story in both first and third person, talk about difficult. But, I learned so much. I often write the first few paragraphs from differing POV's to get a feel for what I am aiming to accomplish with any particular work. I find this is an extremely helpful exercise.

  20. When I write it's third person in fiction, first person in memoirs and I write all else in as honest a voices as I can manage. I'll read anything so long as it holds my attention.
    You take care.

  21. As a writer I like to try it all. I wrote my first novel in four different first person present voices and then changed it all to third person but in the pov of each. I also had a tense breakdown with that - was I in the present or the just past. The first is impossible and bugged everyone so I gave up! I've written my most recent fiction in third person but I have one on the go that is in first. Changing midstream can be a helpful exercise though!
    When reading - I like not to be aware of what it is - in other words, if I'm captivated it doesn't matter what person it is in.
    first person - "Reader, I married him."
    third person - "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Engage me and I really don't care.

  22. Jemi- I know what you mean. But for some reason 1st has been flowing quicker lately, I can't explain it!

    Elizabeth- That is exactly my point! The writing must fit the story and the character. I suppose it should be a given, but it's not actually. That must have been an interesting class! I bet we could all learn more from your time and hard work there.

    Simone- Honesty. That's really the best answer, isn't it?

    Jill- I am in total agreemant: it should disappear in a book if written well. And tense is always difficult. Thank goodness for first readers and editors! Glad to have you. :)

  23. Thanks for the links Michele! The book I read called it 3rd person middle distance, where you can go from close in the character's thoughts out to a more distant overview, almost omniscient, as required. It must be the same as limited omniscient.