I Said, She Said, They Said. What is Your Point of View?

Story Point of View

In the moment, Rosa tells her story.

“Bronco Bill died today. The service is next Saturday. Do you think you can come?” Cha-cha asks.

“Ah honey, I’m so sorry. It took too long. Did he pass in peace?” I ask.

“Rosa, in the end he went peacefully. And yes, it took him a long time to die. “

We both laugh. It’s bad taste to laugh on the heels of death but God will forgive us both. Bronco lost his fight with Cancer.

“If it had been up to Bronco, he would have preferred dying last year, but he and God were negotiating. My name isn’t Cha-cha. Why do you insist on calling me by that name?”

“Sister that is the name Mother gave you. It’s the name on your birth certificate and what I’ve been calling your for the last fifty or so years.”

“But I changed my name and I am not that old.”

Cha-cha suffers illusions not to mention she was never one to embrace her heritage. “Come on Sis, is this really the time to argue with me about your identity neurosis?”

 

After the moment, Rosa tells her story.

Cha-Cha called to tell me, her husband of twenty years, had died. He had being fighting cancer for a while and had finally given in. She and I hadn’t been in regular communication so it wasn’t a surprise when she asked me if I would attend his service the following week. Of course, I would go. Bronco was good people. She made me crazy with all her uppity ways.  She had slipped her Latina persona the second she left our childhood home and ever since, refused to acknowledge her birth name.

Sometime after the event, a distant third person tells the story

Rosa was standing in the kitchen watching the fog roll out across the Bay when her phone rang. She looked down to see who was calling. She rolled her eyes to the heavens and made the sign of the cross for her bad thoughts. Her sister Cha-Cha had that effect on her. She wasn’t keen to take the call, but if she didn’t, the phone wouldn’t stop ringing. Cha-Cha was relentless.

At the fifth ring, Cha-Cha considered hanging up but she wasn’t going to let Rosa beat her again. She had dreaded calling her sister, but she had to tell her Bronco Bill had died. Rosa was always fond of her husband.

……

How do you know which POV is for your story, for you? For some writers, it’s a matter of preference and comfort. Me, I am more comfortable in first person, present. I like being inside of my character’s mind (or them in mine) and living the story as it creates itself on the page. For reasons beyond my consciousness, dissecting the heart of an emotion, analyzing it with detachment, and then channeling through a character’s voice is as easy as drinking a glass or two of La Creama Chardonnay, it flows freely.

As easy as the ‘I’ voice is for me, I struggle, and painfully so, in third person (all varieties). Even if I try writing poetry from the third, I wallow. I am klutzy and butterfingered. The words on the page feel as if they’ve gone through the meat grinder and plop onto the page in a congealed blob, requiring an egg and oatmeal for cohesion.

In the land of third I ask myself how I’ll know what my character feels if I am writing her story outside of her head? And when I write from the past, I wonder how much my character is projecting what she thinks happened when it happened, and not really what did. At best, in the she voice the most I can determine is what she might or might not have felt given the circumstances I painted her into.

To me, it’s a lot like remote dial in.    Do your remember the sounds of Internet dial in? The notes of the numbers sounding off—digital signals from the computer turning into frequencies traveling down the telephone lines—the high-pitched ping on connection (if you were lucky), followed by the long hiss before reaching nirvana. This is how writing in third person feels to me. I sit on the other size of the creative wall dialing into my character hoping for an intimate connection.

I don’t give up trying. When I start a new story, I type the opening line in different points of view.  The POV that finds it’s way to the page without my involvement is the winner.

How about you, what POV are you most comfortable in? How do you decide which POV to write in?

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by

I’m a writer and hoarder of one-size-fits-all panty hose. Until the hose fits over my bum, I write to provide an alternative view on writing and perfection.

35 thoughts on “I Said, She Said, They Said. What is Your Point of View?

  1. I usually know what POV I’m going to use when the story idea comes to me. Although, when I came up with the idea for Touch of Death, I immediately thought I’d write it in 3rd person. I don’t know why. That’s just what popped into my head. But as soon as I started it, I knew it needed 1st person. I changed it to 1st and am so glad I did. It needed that closeness.

    I think you did a great job with the 3rd person here, Brenda. You’re better at it than you think. 😉
    Kelly Hashway recently posted….Monday Mishmash 6/4/12My Profile

    • Kelly, I suppose the story and write know which POV before words ever hit the page. At least so far this has been my experience (bar the horrible mishap of my first experience when I listed to the instruction and not my heart). I’m sure a he or she or they will come to me one day when I least expect it.

  2. I think you’re better at 3rd than you think, too. I usually write in 3rd; it just feels more comfortable. I imagine I am the storyteller and while I take time to get inside a character to understand how s/he feels, I don’t become them. I just show what they do–in that way, it’s also a constant reminder to me to show, not tell. If I’m not in their head, I can’t stay there too long with the telling. I also like that it’s easier because you’re not limited to what that character would know.
    Jessica Vealitzek recently posted….Meet: Jasmin, An American MuslimMy Profile

    • Thanks, Jessica, I’ll take you word for it. I labored over those sentences (more than I should have for a blog post) and in the end when I wanted to pull out my hair, I hit the publish button anyway. I understand what you are staying but it’s nothing I’ve tried much before so when I do, it feels alien to me.

  3. My first three books I wrote in first person, then I wanted to try third person, just to see if I could. While it didn’t come natural at first, I have discovered you can get just as close and intimate in third – and by using multiple or omniscient POV, you can bring in elements for the reader, that are sometimes difficult to present, in first person. Think Gone With the Wind – all the backstory about Scarlett’s parents’ courtship and marriage is a big part of understanding her, but would be horrendously clunky to reveal via dialogue, “Mother, tell me again how you and Pa met.” Or after Scarlett’s miscarriage, Rhett’s meltdown and weeping in Melanie’s lap, which Scarlett never witnessed. We, as readers, knew they both loved each other then – and we also knew why neither of THEM knew it or believed it.

    That said, the important thing is to WRITE. Write write write, until all your glorious passion is spread across the page or screen, and later, if there are missing elements, try converting a page or two to third person, or first person, or even second (though generally I find reading second person horrific for more than a short essay), and see how it works.
    Beverly Diehl recently posted….At Least I Didn’t Get Arrested#wbnamericaMy Profile

    • Of course, Bev, you are correct and I’ve read Gone With the Wind numerous times and feel every heartache, but when I try, as I said I struggle. I see it as a challenge and one I will work to overcome. Yes, write, write, write… no other answer if you want to get over the mental hurdles. I had one such brilliant thought this morning while riding the over crowded train to work.

  4. I think you are amazing regardless if you write in first or third person. I would have to say that I’m more comfortable in first person. I guess it’s just what you get used to…and what voice claws its way to the top.
    Annie recently posted….The Poor Man’s ViagraMy Profile

    • Annie, coming for you, that means a lot. I realize we are very different writers, but your way with words is a cut above.. Thanks much. Tis true about the voice that rises to the top.

  5. Brenda, that little story itself sounds too familiar to me! I think you do a great job no matter what voice you are using. I have an easier time in first person. But that’s really because it’s the only one I’ve ever used.
    Linda Medrano recently posted….SpidersMy Profile

    • Linda – is it your family’s story? It’s a new WIP (threads of the story are ripped from the page of my own life). I tend to land not an idea from my eccentric family and then create a story around it. It’s how I roll.

  6. B, I enjoy all your narrative voices but the first-p really spoke to me. I like writing in the first-p, too. But I think not all stories want that kind of intimacy. Strangely, I’m writing an MG novel which has issues that’ve bothered me for many years, yet I can’t seem to write it in the first-p. Third omniscient works better for this one. You’re right in trying out all povs, and letting the one that seeps in naturally guide us towards the rest of the story. That’s what I do, too.

    (ALso, just want to tell you how sweet your comment on my recent post was … )

    Take care!

    C

    • Claudine – I agree with you, first person was where I was connected on the page, but for fun, I tried the others to see if it was stronger. You are welcome it’s true. I forget to mention, kudos for writing in ‘omni’, takes skill. Also, I think in some cases, a writer has to step away if content is personal and too hard. The other POV’s make it easier to be objective and true to the story they are trying to tell.

    • Hola Monica, I do think 1st person works better in creative nonfiction. Although, Gertrude Stein did a great job writing her life story by talking about Alice.

  7. k~

    Very nicely done Brenda. I like the variables you shared with us.

    I used to write solely in first person, but I prefer to avoid that now. There are times when it is necessary, but it feels too much like I am living what I am writing when I do, which limits my creativity almost in reverse of what you are indicating in third person.

    My favorite is omniscient third person. It can be tricky to pull off without confusing the audience though, and as a result I will enter into dialogue often, so that the present scenario can unwrap itself from the characters themselves. Even as an omniscient third, I will usually focus on one, maybe two characters so that it does not become confusing.

    John Updikes A&P would have lost much of its flavour done in third. He had a knack for it, and I think you have a wonderful knack for writing in first with a strong voice for your characters (though I also think you are capable of writing anything you want to 😉
    k~ recently posted….Camp NaNoWriMoMy Profile

    • Thanks, K. I haven’t crossed that bridge yet (feeling as if I am living inside the character’s world) or it could be the stories I’ve chosen to write are calling to me in 1st. To write in omniscient takes skills, which you’ve noted. Stephen King does this nicely, could explain why he hear 40MM a year, huh? I’ve not read John Updike in years and years, maybe it’s time for a revisit. Although when I am working on a story in a certain point of view I try to read the same POV. It helps me stay sane.

  8. Its a beautiful story.

    I’ll tell you a secret Brenda. My English is not that good yet, and you just encouraged me now to go and make some researches on Google.
    POV? I have no idea what that is. There is another word I see a lot in different posts WIP? Going to Google. be back soon :)
    nikky44 recently posted….My First Best FriendMy Profile

    • Hey Nikky – you do a fine job of writing your stories. They are coming from you heart, which is the most important part of writing. I’ve already responded to your other questions via email.. :-)

  9. I wrote my first novel without even asking myself that question – not something I recommend, but when the writing is part of/or is the learning, point of view is something that comes up and once you are made aware of it, you can never look at another piece of writing without considering it.

    So what did I write? I got to the end and said, who is actually telling this story? And I didn’t know. The omnicient third person is what I had fallen into. So then I considered who might be telling the story if I changed it to the first person? I played around with that and looked at the differences between what could be conveyed and what was sacrificed between the two.

    The second novel I deliberately chose to write it in the first person. I don’t actually mind either POV, but I am aware that first person narratives are more contemporary and ‘of the day’, encouraged in fact, but equally there are some great books in the third person and recently I’ve even read a few like ‘Sister’ and ‘Seven Days to Tell You’ which were written in the second person.

    I do like when I read to understand the mind of a character and so I guess I actually find the first person more engaging; Jeffery Eugenides was interviewed in The Guardian recently and spoke a lot about narrative perspective and how he came to use many different perspectives in ‘Middlesex’, that interview really opened up the possibilities for me, he has done it all and found out how to use narrative perspective to solve problems in portraying a story effectively, so I think it comes down to not what we personally prefer, but what the story requires.

    Here is a link to that interview, I really recommend reading it: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/nov/25/book-club-middlesex-jeffrey-eugenides?intcmp=239
    Claire recently posted….If This is a Man: The TruceMy Profile

    • Claire – I’ve noticed a few writers writing in multiple POV’s, some do it very well. I agree, it’s the story being told that ends up dictating the POV. I am only on the second book, so my history is limited, but I have written short stories in different voices. On another note I am curious about writing in the omniscient POV. Something I’ve not yet tried. As for you first novel, I suspect many writers starting out make similar mistakes ( my own novel’s tenses were all over the place, the rewrite was the harder than writing the book, but it was a good lesson). Thanks for the link, will read today as I’ve some breathing room…)

    • Me, too, Astra. That’s the working draft of my new WIP. As I am 1/2 through the book, I wondered about POV, and rewrote the first couple of pages from different perspectives to see how it felt. After editing (I mean rewriting, I had to get help on the editing piece.. Kelly Hashway, is a saint in my eyes) my first book – tenses and me became best friends, but before editing I was a mess.

  10. Brenda, like Monica, I prefer first person since the majority of my narratives are my personal stories. That said, I have to say I find it very appealing when one of the characters tells the story. Readers are able to see the development of the plot through that character’s personality. First person, in my humble opinion, is too restrictive. Readers are limited to seeing things from the writer’s perspective. For me, the greatest challenge is when multiple characters tell the story. I have yet to write a piece in this fashion and which results in a convincing story.

    • Bella, you are correct, that is the biggest draw back to writing in first person (if you are writing fiction). It is something I always ponder before starting off to write a story. And you don’t have to be humble, it’s a valid point and a personal perspective. Although, I would suggest writing a non creative piece from a character’s POV, and see the challenges you encounter along the way. It’s a hoot.

  11. Thinking about this kind of thing is crazy making for me, I simply write and don’t try to over analyze, as that’s when I get really messed up. Kudos to all those who can though!

    • Elizabeth, I never ever thought about POV until I wrote, then rewrote, and rewrote yet again, and again, my novel. The second one is going so much smoother.

  12. Brenda, I’m sorry for having offered you Merlot. Is it too late for me to run out and buy you some Chardonnay? We need to sit down for a long chat, really we do. Can you just imagine the fun we’d have?
    I’m a first person type too. My protagonist in Broken Angels almost sounded like me talking 😉 I’ve tried 3rd person omniscient too, but haven’t quite felt at home playing God. But it never hurts to pretend, does it?
    Debra recently posted….The Still PointMy Profile

    • Debra, one day we are going to share a bottle and talk until the sun comes up. I am curious to explore in small doses, but not yet ready to make the big commitment. One day .. maybe

  13. I write in first for some of the same reasons you do. I want to be in the main characters head. I want to really understand them. I get into the other characters heads by interviewing them. :)

    (Sorry I haven’t been around so much lately – too many things on my plate – but I love what you’ve done to the blog)
    Amber recently posted….You’ve Got Questions – Do Writers Need to Blog?My Profile

    • Hi Amber, How are you? I understand how life does that to a person, that was me in Nov and Dec, and May was kind of manic too ( but not in a bad way, just manic). I hope you found some higher ground and time to reflect. I spent the last couple of weeks thinking about POV because the new WIP is in first, and I wondered if it should be in third and messing with third in the story I decided it’s a first person story.

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