To all you brave and wild NaNoWriMo people: Ever onward! I’m cheering for you!

On September 16, 2017, Melissa Mead wrote, What does everybody think of changing viewpoints? If there’s more than one POV character in a book, do they need to take turns in a predictable pattern, or does that not matter as long as the author makes it clear whose head we’re in at the start of each scene?

I asked for more info, and Melissa Mead added, The first book starts out with chapters from several viewpoints, then settles into the MC’s viewpoint for the last 2/3 of the book or so. I did it because:

Prologue- the MC’s only a few weeks old, so the POV is more “camera eye.”(MC’s POV for a bit.)

Then the MC is blind and in a cage, so he’s limited in what he can take in. Also, I want the reader to feel sorry for him, but not for him to feel sorry for himself. So I switch to the POV of a demon-hunter-in-training who sympathizes with him and has more freedom to act.

Then we see him from his uncle’s POV, so we can get a feel for both of the cultures the MC’s struggling to live in.

Then we see him from the POV of an innocent child.

It’s pretty much the MC’s POV from then on.

It works logically in my head,, and agents haven’t complained about it, but I worry that it could be jarring for the casual reader. (Especially since the demon-hunter-in-training doesn’t turn up again right away.)

(And the agents may not have complained, but they haven’t offered to represent it, either.)

These ideas followed.

Christie V Powell: ‘Bella at Midnight’ by Diane Stanley does this. I actually really liked seeing the story from different perspectives, but I know some reviewers were critical. It added more depth to the story. I think it would be far worse to throw in a new POV at the end than to start out with multiples and then settle into one. ‘Bella’ also works because the storyline is the same even though the POV is different. I think several people have commented before that we had some trouble with ‘Lord of the Rings’ because of the jumps between two plotlines.

So far I’ve stuck with one POV, but I’m planning on jumping between several for my next NaNoWriMo novel. I’m not planning on sticking to a predictable pattern, although I did appreciate it when Brandon Sanderson’s ‘Elantris’ did that.

Melissa Mead: I’m having trouble with the plotline thing in the second book. For the first, I’m hoping it’ll work as long as I keep things really, really clear.

Song4myKing: I don’t think it matters if there’s a pattern or not. Patterns are nice, but I would think they would be more difficult to write, depending on the story, of course. Without a pattern, you can choose which character would show this particular scene best.

I think if part of the story seems to call for single POV and part seems to call for multiple, it would work best if there is some kind of clear division. I don’t know how a typical “Part One, Part Two” division works for submitting a story, whether that’s cumbersome to do, or if there are any reasons to not do it. There could also be ways of making a division clear without the use of a hard and fast “part” break. You’ve mentioned having a twenty-year gap somewhere in the story. If that corresponds to where you go from multiple to single POV, I’d say you’ve got a natural break. Another possibility is to title the chapters with one theme for one section, and switch it up for another section. Basically, I think acknowledging that there’s been a change of some kind is better than breezing on through.

Does your MC have any POV scenes between the Prologue and where he takes the single POV? If not, the very fact that you’re now switching to him would be a clear enough change.

Melissa Mead: You remembered the twenty-year gap!    Nope, that’s after it’s all him.

Yes, it’s his POV until he gets imprisoned, and mostly afterward, except for the bit from the child’s POV. In the cases where it’s someone else’s POV, he’s generally too physically incapacitated to do much more than be really miserable. Plus, it gives us a look at both how others see him, and how he sees himself. And in the beginning, there’s a big gap there.

Whenever the subject comes up, I say how much I love this blog, and one reason is wrapped up in Song4myKing’s recollection of the twenty-year gap. Here on the blog, we pay attention!

I agree with Melissa Mead’s pledge to be really, really clear. If the reader is invested in a story and knows–effortlessly–what’s going on, he won’t mind plunging into other POVs. If he’s confused, he’s likely to be annoyed and we may lose him.

Multiple POVs can be fun to write and to read. Obviously, the POV of a character is determined by the character’s personality. For example, say the demon-hunter-in-training is hyper-alert. The tiniest sound or smallest movement captures his attention. When we write from his POV, we reflect that attentiveness. We should also think about how each POV character thinks so we can make each voice a little different. A book that’s a masterpiece of this (though I read only a little of it) is The Poisonwood Diary by Barbara Kingsolver (high school and up).

I agree with Christie V Powell that it’s best to introduce POV switching early, when the reader is still discovering the world of our book and will more likely be open to anything.

And I’m with Song4myKing that clear divisions can help. We can separate voices by chapter, even if we create irregular-length chapters thereby–another element that we can bring in early. We can even name the POV under the chapter heading. Doing something obvious like that can support the change in voice, too. The voice differences may be subtle. If the reader is told whose POV the chapter is in, he’ll be looking for the change and will notice it more.

We can use other POVs to inform the reader’s sense of our MC, a neat trick that Melissa Mead suggests she’s doing in the demon-hunter-in-training’s POV. The demon-hunter-in-training seems to like her MC. If the demon-hunter-in-training is likable, too, the reader will be swayed in the MC’s favor.

Another plus of multiple POVs is that more than one perspective can be lived by the reader. In Melissa Mead’s book, the uncle may accomplish this. He’s so embedded in his culture that he can’t help but reflect it.

So I’m fine and happy with multiple POVs if there’s clarity. As a reader I don’t think I’d care if the POV switch was regular or not..

In Stolen Magic and Ever I switched POVs. In Stolen Magic, since the three MCs are separated and can’t communicate, and what they’re each doing is crucial to the plot, I thought I needed three POVs. In Stolen Magic, the three POVs are written in third person.

In Ever, Kezi has no idea of the civilization Olus is part of and thus can’t experience it for the reader. Also, the two POVs allowed me to develop a love story from two perspectives, which was fun. In Ever, the two POVs are written in first person.

However, in both books I probably could have made other choices. I could certainly have told the stories in third-person omniscient, an option that’s always available. There would have been a single voice within chapters that jumped in and out of the thoughts and feelings of the MCs.

I could have told Ever entirely from Kezi’s POV. The reader would have made discoveries about Olus as Kezi made them. I can’t say if the result would have been better or worse.

There isn’t any right or wrong choice on POV–or, uncomfortably, any certainty, even after a book is finished and out in the world, that we couldn’t have done better. Oy, the writer’s life! But on the other hand, the more books we write, the better we get in whatever POV we choose.

Melissa Mead mentions that her demon-hunter-in-training isn’t active in the story for a while and then pops up again as a POV character. We can keep a character in the reader’s mind, however, even when she’s absent from the action, by having our MC think about her and have other characters talk about her.

Now let’s imagine we don’t want to shift POV. What can we do? In Ella Enchanted, I used Ella’s magic book to reveal events she couldn’t experience directly. In addition, Char’s letters tell her about Ayortha and also open up Char’s character in a kind of interior way.

We can use hearsay. A secondary character can tell our MC what went down, whatever it was when he wasn’t there. We can use newspaper reports, letters, diaries to convey information our POV character can’t know directly. Very judiciously, we can give him magical aids, like a crystal ball or a cloak of invisibility. We don’t want to get him out of jams with these, but we can use them to give him knowledge he wouldn’t have any other way. And we can use the magical props to get him into trouble, too.

If he happens to lose one sense as Melissa Mead’s MC does, we can sharpen the others.

Ella, Fairest, and The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre all begin before my first-person MC is old enough to remember, but the events are necessary for the plot. Ella in Ella and Aza in Fairest are able to relate the history because others have told them what happened. In Lost Kingdom, Perry finds out via a fantasy version of a movie.

In Melissa Mead’s book, I’m not sure what to do about the uncle or the innocent child, but I suspect there are options–not that Melissa Mead needs to change her course.

Here are three prompts:

∙ Your villain has a cloak of invisibility. Whatever your MC does keeps getting foiled because the villain is always one step ahead of her. Write as many scenes as you need to to have her figure out what’s going on. If you like, keep going with her attempts to capture the cloak–which is invisible, too.

∙ Write a scene in “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” from the first-person POV view of one of the enchanted princes. Write a scene, the same scene or a different one, from the first-person POV of the soldier. Then from the POV of one of the princesses. If you want to keep going, write one from the POV of the king. Make their voices different. Then, if you like, try a scene in which all of them are present in an omniscient voice.

∙ To get a little topical, write the saga of an election. Could be a race for class president or mayor or judge or best pie baker. Your MC is one of the candidates or her daughter. The other POV characters are the opponent’s campaign manager and someone hired to dig up dirt on one of the candidates. (Just saying, because I’m so tickled by this, in a local election here in upstate New York, the absentee ballots haven’t been counted yet, but one candidate is up by a single vote, absolutely giving the lie to the notion that the vote doesn’t count!)

Have fun, and save what you write!

P. U. S.

On February 15, 2015, Melissa Mead (formerly carpelibris on the old blog) wrote, I’m having trouble figuring out who the story I’m telling is really about. (Gail, it’s the version of “Sleeping Beauty” that I told you about at the book festival.) It’s not the title character. I thought it was the Eldest Fairy’s story, but then the Youngest Fairy started to come to the forefront. The usual “Who has the most to lose?” trick isn’t working, because there are different ways to “lose.”

Any suggestions for figuring out whose story this is?

Michelle Dyck responded with this: Whose story is the most interesting/exciting? (I guess that’s pretty similar to the “Who has the most to lose?” question.) Whose personality or voice grabs you the most?

Just a random thought: could you compromise and pick a few POV characters? Or do something like the movie HOODWINKED, in which the same story was told multiple times from multiple points of view, and each one fleshed out the tale a little more. That might be cumbersome in book form (or might be better suited to a series rather than a single book). But maybe that idea could be modified.

Melissa came back with: That’s the problem. It’s a tie!

This is just a short story, so I don’t think there’s room for the Hoodwinked treatment. (I did have fun trying to pick that movie apart, though!)

I had trouble choosing the POV in Fairest, and I tried out three–zhamM, Ijori, and an omniscient narrator–and wrote hundreds of pages I couldn’t use. Finally I figured out how I could write from the first-person POV of Aza, my Snow White character, even while she was out cold from the poisoned apple. The problem with zhamM and Ijori as narrators was that they weren’t present for a lot the story. The trouble I had with the omniscient voice was that I couldn’t resist dipping into the minds and hearts of everybody, and the story slowed to a slug’s pace.

But for those of us suffering from POV Uncertainty Syndrome (PUS!), an omniscient narrator may be the way to go. If we do, we can delve into the thoughts and feelings of those characters who particularly fascinate us, in Melissa’s case, the youngest and oldest fairies. Of course, we have to avoid my failing of getting too interested in everybody and losing control of our story.

Another advantage of trying an omniscient narrator is that it can be diagnostic; we may naturally find ourselves dwelling more on one character than the others, and, voila!, without tearing out a single strand of hair, we’ve discovered our POV character. We can switch then and there to that POV and clean up the omniscient voice when we revise. In Fairest, the omniscient narrator came right before I figured out that Aza should be my POV character, so it worked for me.

Similar to an omniscient POV is the POV of a character who is not our MC. We could choose the median fairy, for example, the one halfway between youngest and oldest, to tell the story. She wouldn’t be as impartial as an out-of-the-tale narrator or as partial as the oldest or youngest, because she’d be on the periphery of the action. A magnificent example of this kind of narrator is Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby (high school and up). And if you want to read prose that’s marvelous enough to cause heart palpitations, this is the book for you.

My idea with zhamM as narrator was to have him be in love with Aza and have it be a doomed love, because he’s a gnome and she’s human. But I didn’t know how to work him into all the scenes I needed. If I had decided to keep him as my POV character, I would have had to make the story belong to him, with many of the “Snow White” events happening in the background.

Mostly, I’ve gone with the obvious choice of MC: Cinderella; Snow White; in my Princess Tales with Sleeping Beauty, the “Princess on the Pea” princess, the “Golden Goose” lad, and so on. But I didn’t in A Tale of Two Castles, which is sort of a retelling of “Puss In Boots.” The miller’s son is a character, and there are many cats, but Elodie, my MC, and the dragon detective Meenore don’t exist in the original fairy tale. Since Aza, Meenore, and the ogre are at the center of my plot, I had to invent a new story arc and many scenes.

As I think about “Sleeping Beauty,” I notice how full of feeling the story is. Sleeping Beauty is an infant, but her parents experience horror when they first hear she’s going to die young. After the terrible gift is ameliorated, they still have to wrap their minds around the hundred-year sleep.

The oldest fairy is mired in rage. She may have other emotions as well, like loneliness, jealousy, and hurt for being left out. The youngest fairy may be frightened, because she’s going against an elder. She may be worried, too, that she’s going to mess up the spell. She could be ambitious, a meddler, a very kind soul.

When we choose our POV character, we can decide which feelings we want to explore from the inside out. This is like Michelle Dyck’s wondering about which character is the most interesting, in this case most interesting from an emotional standpoint.

We can ask which character is most like us and which is most different. Then we can decide if we want the security of the familiar or the risk of the unknown. (Both choices are fine.)

Here’s another metric we can use: Which character is most likely to be talky inside her head? A character who isn’t introspective may be more challenging than one who is. Do we want that challenge?

Also, one of them, may lie to herself about herself. If we’re in her mind, we have to see past her self-deception. Do we want to always be on our guard?

We can try one way and then another. As I’ve said many times, writing isn’t efficient. Wasted pages are a small price to pay for the right POV.

I’ve never written from the POV of a non-human. Regardless of which POV is chosen, it’s fun to consider how a fairy might think. She has to think in words or we can’t write her, but can we introduce an element or two into her thought process that will reflect her alien-ness?

When Melissa Mead first posted her question, I wrote a note to myself that I still think is worth thinking about, and it was that maybe this should be a novel as Michelle Dyck suggested and not a short story. It’s possible that the idea is too complex for short story treatment. Or not.

Here are four prompts:

∙ Write a scene from “Sleeping Beauty” in the voice of an omniscient narrator. Delve into the thoughts and feelings of everybody, even the baby.

∙ Write the story of “Aladdin” from the POV of the genie of the lamp.

∙ Using “Aladdin” as backdrop, tell the story of the genie and his imprisonment in the lamp. This means moving away from the original fairy tale and creating something new.

∙ Write the thoughts of any one of the “Sleeping Beauty” fairies when she first sees the baby princess. Give the thoughts an inhuman quality. Do this one way, then another, and another.

∙ Try “Sleeping Beauty” from the POV of a minor fairy, who has opinions but is more observer than actor in the story. You can make her a busybody, so she insinuates herself into all the major moments.

Have fun, and save what you write!

Mind Reading

To all you laboring on your NaNoWriMo novel: Happy writing! May words pour out of you like water over Niagara Falls! May ideas crop up like dandelions in July! And if you have questions, think of this blog.

This question came into the website in September from Rebekah: I recently reread Writing Magic and the section on POV to see how I could make it work with my own story, but I didn’t find anything. 
My story is in 3rd person, but I wanted to try it in 1st person. I really love being in my MC’s head, but it’s also hard because then I can’t let the reader know what some of the other characters are thinking as well, and that makes it really hard on me. Do you have any suggestions for me on a way to compromise?

Athira Abraham responded with this: If your story is fantasy, maybe she has magical powers of reading people’s mind. Or she might have an object that helps her, like Gail’s magic book or spyglass.

And Eliza added:
1. Have more than one protagonist.
2. Don’t let the other characters take over as protagonists, but let them speak for little snippets. I’ve read some books that switch over to other characters at the beginning of chapters, usually in italics.

These are great ideas. I invented the magic book in Ella Enchanted so that Ella, who’s the first-person POV MC, can have an idea of what’s going on with other characters when she isn’t present. She can’t hear thoughts, but she gets a hint of the action. But you could invent a device that can receive thoughts, or you can make your MC telepathic, as Athira Abraham suggests. Or you can alternate among a few first person POV characters, changing perspective from chapter to chapter or between  sections within chapters, which should be clearly marked because we want the reader to always know whose head he’s in.

Along the lines of Eliza’s second suggestion, I’ve seen bits (clearly marked) of diabolical narration from the POV of the villain in a Terry Pratchett novel or two, and, in my opinion, whatever Pratchett does is worth imitating.

When we write in first person, we lose direct access to the feelings of other characters, in addition to their thoughts, so whatever we come up with to bridge the gap can include feelings (the racing heart, the churning stomach, the tension headache).

Telepathy, magic spyglasses, and magic books are possibilities. What else is there?

Let’s imagine that Julie, the best friend of our MC Marcy, has been unusually quiet lately, hasn’t wanted to hang out. She’s dropped out of the chorus at school. A planned sleepover happens, but Julie is too uncommunicative for it to be fun. Marcy is worried about her friend and also about their friendship. What can she do?

Of course what she does depends on her personality, but let’s think about what she might do:

• She can ask Julie and may find out what her friend is thinking and feeling through dialogue.

• She can get angry and possibly learn the information through an argument, again dialogue. Or she may not succeed, but she’ll know her friend is mad at her, at least for that moment.

• She can ask other people what’s going on and possibly find out that way.

• She can think about Julie, remember when the strange behavior started, consider everything she knows about her friend, and maybe arrive at the answer.

• She can snoop,  read Julie’s journal. If she has real snooping skills, she can bug Julie’s phone and conceal a camera in Julie’s room. Or, if she’s wealthy, she can hire a detective.

• With our authorial power, we can show the reader Julie’s journal so that he knows but Marcy doesn’t.

You may think of other ways. You’ll find a masterful example of one character discovering what’s going on with another in the young adult novel The View from Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg.

We’re all the first-person MC of the story of our lives, and we’re probably not mind-readers, but in order to get along with other people, to have friends, to be decent students and family members – to do many things – we have to make assumptions, and sometimes we know with a high degree of certainty what other people are thinking and feeling. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to make others feel good or to push their buttons not in a good way. We do it by some of the methods I suggested above, by knowing our friends and family over time, by understanding ourselves and figuring that others are at least somewhat like us.

When I wrote the beginning of this post I was on the train on my way to New York City. A man across the aisle behind me talked loudly on his cell phone in a thick voice. I looked back, nosy writer that I am, to get a fix on him, and, instantly, he snapped, “Mind your own business.”

It didn’t take mind reading to know he felt angry. My guess is that this guy is always on the edge of anger and almost anything can push him over. It’s also possible that he felt guilty for being so loud – although that didn’t stop him from taking three more calls and it didn’t make him lower his voice. Guilt can make people angry; you may have noticed this.

As for me, I was a little scared, which he probably knew, because I’d imagine he wanted to intimidate me. Total strangers and we knew each other’s feelings! And only one sentence passed between us. Fortunately, he got off the train soon – which I knew he would, because he announced his stop on the phone.

In the example above, Marcy knows Julie isn’t happy, because people signal their feelings, smile, frown, stamp, cross their arms. The clues are legion. What we lose by writing in first person is the texture of others’ thoughts and feelings, the insider perspective, and I sympathize, because I love that, too. If a first person single POV best suits our story, that’s what we should use, but there’s nothing to stop us from writing a scene in third person in our notes, or from a different first-person POV, also in notes. We’ll have the pleasure of doing it, and we may learn something that we can work into our first-person narrative. Nobody ever called writing efficient!

Here are three prompts:

• From Marcy’s first-person POV, write the story of Marcy and Julie, and have Marcy try a bunch of methods to find out what’s going on with her friend. Surprise the reader with the answer.

• Marcy is the friend everyone goes to when they’re unhappy. She’s keeping more secrets than she has fingers and toes combined. But two secrets don’t add up. Someone is lying. Have Marcy delve into the thought and feeling life of her friends to find out what’s really going on.

• In the myth, “Pygmalion and Galatea,” Pygmalion is a sculptor who falls in love with a statue he creates. The goddess Venus takes pity on him and brings her to life. Write from Galatea’s POV the scene when she wakes up . She used to be marble; she has no past. What does she think and feel? What does she make of Pygmalion? How does she figure out what he’s thinking and feeling when she has no experience to guide her?

Have fun, and save what you write!

Who’s on first? Who’s on third?

Just to let you all know, I’m copying the latest comments for the blog that came in to the website here rather than with last week’s post so they’re more likely to be read. Reminder, if you can post directly to the blog, please do because it’s easier for me, but if not, I’ll keep copying your comments over.

Now here goes with two questions about point of view (POV). On June 3, 2011, Rina wrote, I have a question regarding first-person narrators. In one story I’m writing, I worry about how I can possibly get my narrator to observe everything important to the plot. She’s not the most useful or important person. Should I use another narrator, change to third person, or just try to have her hanging around whenever something important happens?
And on June 10, 2011, ToNature wrote, …I usually write from first person but I decided for a new story I’m working on… that I would try to use third person. My problem is that though I’m writing about a person, my story sounds more like a dry biography than anything. I’ve read excellent books from 3rd person and have found it just as easy to get to know a character as when an author writes from 1st person, but I’m having trouble doing this myself. Do you have any suggestions?

Choice of POV character is one of the most important story decisions we make, and I sometimes take a long time making it. When I wrote Fairest, I couldn’t get the POV right. I wrote about 300 pages from each of two wrong first-person POVs and another 300 from an omniscient third-person narrator before I found my final first-person POV character.

I wouldn’t wish this 900-page misery on anyone, but sometimes we have to fumble around for a while before we get the POV right. In Beloved Elodie, which I’m working on now, although I know that Elodie is my main first-person narrator, I’ve recently decided to add a few more first-person narrators who will chime in now and then. Part of my purpose is to solve exactly the problem Rina mentions. These other narrators will be able to report on events Elodie can’t be present for. However, until I thought of using other narrators, I didn’t plan for there to be important action at a distance from her.

Additional narrators can not only  inform the reader of what takes place elsewhere, they can also provide another perspective. In Ever, the chapters alternate between two main characters. Sometimes they’re separated, but often they’re together, and the reader (and I as I wrote) experiences what happens through two different sets of senses.

I’ve mentioned before that I love Terry Pratchett’s novels. He sometimes tells snippets of his story from his villain’s POV. These are usually teasers and don’t tell much, but the reader gets a glimpse into an evil mind, and the tension is heightened.

So using multiple first-person narrators is one way to present plot moments to your reader when your first-person narrator can’t be there. Writing in omniscient third person is another, of course. You can take a stretch of your story and try one way and then another. You need length for this, say fifty pages (maybe less), so you can narrate a few events and see how the perspectives work for you. Testing may bring clarity.

Rina writes that her POV character isn’t the most important in the story, and this is another decision to consider. A narrator who’s on the periphery can be fine. It works in The Great Gatsby and in the Sherlock Holmes tales, for example. In The Great Gatsby, Gatsby doesn’t seem reflective enough to tell his own story, and there is the matter of the ending. In the Sherlock Holmes novels and short stories, author Arthur Conan Doyle may have decided that there would have been no suspense if Holmes himself had narrated. Doyle may even have tried to make Holmes the narrator. He may have attempted third-person, too, and may have torn out chunks of his hair deciding. I’m not a Sherlock Holmes or Arthur Conan Doyle scholar. Maybe he knew what he was doing from the start, or maybe he struggled like the rest of us.

If we choose a peripheral character’s point of view, however, there are challenges. This character may not be as emotionally engaged in what’s happening as the major players are, and she may have less at stake in the outcome. Then the reader will have less at stake too, and we may lose him.

It’s likely to be awkward to force our first-person POV character to be on the spot whenever plot developments happen. Luckily there are myriad other ways to keep her informed. If you’re writing a contemporary story, you have snail mail, email, texting, tweeting, cell phones, land-line phones, Facebook and the like, as well as news reports on radio and television. You can even make blogs convey information. If you’re writing a historical novel, you can use period methods: telegrams, messengers, smoke signals, whatever. If your genre is sci-fi or fantasy or the paranormal, the options are legion, and you can invent more. In Ella Enchanted I gave Ella a magic book to clue her in about events she wouldn’t know of otherwise.

A character’s absence can ratchet up the tension. Say for example that Marcus is under house arrest. His cell phone and computer have been confiscated. He found out just before his detention that his friend Michael is a spy. He needs to warn his pal and secret cellmate Millicent, who is to  meet Michael this afternoon – but he can’t. Will she reveal secrets Michael shouldn’t know? Aaa! She’ll endanger everyone and their cause. Marcus worries and the reader worries.

What’s more, in terms of tension, the main character can question the reliability of the intelligence he’s getting. Marcus sends a verbal message to Millicent through his neighbor’s young daughter. The daughter returns with a note from Millicent. Marcus is surprised that Millicent would put anything in writing. He wonders if the daughter actually delivered his message or delivered it to the right person, Millicent.

ToNature, I’m assuming you’ve chosen third person for plot reasons. You might try switching back to first person for the beginning of your story so you can get into your main character’s thoughts and emotions. Then, when you’re comfortable in her skin, translate what you’ve got back into third and keep going. If the writing gets stiff again, revert to first. If you have to, you can write a whole book in this back-and-forth way.

Or, you might pick a different first-person narrator, as I suggested before. Try choosing one who feels strongly about your main, an interesting character in his own right who can bring your story to life with his particular take on your main.

It’s also possible to shift between a first and third-person narrative. For those parts when your main can tell her own tale, let her. But when she can’t, have your third-person narrator step in – or a different first-person character.

Here are three prompts:

∙    Read or reread a Sherlock Holmes story; some are short. Tell it from Sherlock Holmes’s POV. He has a strange mind and is probably not a linear thinker. Reflect his thought process through his voice. What does he think of Dr. Watson?

∙    Continue the story of Marcus, stuck in his house while events swirl around him. Help him find out what’s going on and influence events.

∙    Tell the fairy tale Snow White from several points of view: the evil queen, the hunter, a dwarf, Snow White’s father, her pet gerbil, as reported in the castle gazette. Or pick a different fairy tale and other points of view. As I suggested before, rewrite a swath of one of your stories from several POVs.

Have fun, and save what you write!

Whose Eyes? Whose Voice?

After my last post, Kim wrote,

How do you choose the point of view for a particular story, and what, to you, are the pros and cons of 1st person versus 3rd person POV?

My last novel was in the 3rd person, but my work in progress is (currently) in 1st person. I can’t seem to get the voice right–it feels a bit pretentious, to tell the truth, because I’m trying to write a lyrical piece–and I’ve considered going back to the 3rd person. Do certain novels scream a particular POV to you as you’re working on them? I noticed in this post that you bounced around in the POV you chose until you selected the “right” one. How did you know which POV to choose?

I have a chapter about point of view (POV) in Writing Magic. I define it there, but, briefly, the two main POVs are first person and third. In first person, the narrator is a character in the story, usually but not always the main character, and tells the story as I. In third person, the narrator is outside the story and all the character pronouns are he and she. A third-person narrator can be omniscient (all knowing) and can reveal scenes in which the main character is not present; or the third-person narrator can stick to the main character and show only scenes he’s in. It’s also possible to write from a second-person POV (you) or first-person plural POV (we), but these are rare.

In some of my books POV was the major hurdle. I was a long time getting it right in Ever, Fairest, and the final Disney Fairies book, Fairies and the Quest for Never Land, which will be out next June.

Fairest is my best example of POV misery. It’s a retelling of Snow White. Since Snow White bites into a poison apple and is in a coma for a big chunk of the story, I thought I couldn’t tell it from her POV. Initially, I decided to tell it in first person from the POV of a gnome. (The gnomes stand in for the dwarfs in the original fairy tale.) I decided a gnome named zhamM would be madly in love with the Snow White character, Aza. His love would be doomed, however, because he’s a gnome and she’s a human. It would be a tragedy modeled on Cyrano de Bergerac. I wrote 300 pages from zhamM’s POV, while my critique buddy kept scratching her head and telling me something was wrong. Finally I had to admit my choice had been a mistake.

I started over from the POV of the prince and wrote another 300 pages, which weren’t right either. Next I tried third-person omniscient, which I loved. I loved getting into the jealous queen’s head and into the mind of the villain in the magic mirror. However, the story clunked along at the pace of an ancient turtle. It wasn’t working, but, of course, I wrote 300 pages before I faced the truth.

Some scenes remained more or less the same from version to version, so I didn’t have to rewrite every one of those 300 pages each time. But I rewrote a lot. And finally I figured out how to go into Aza’s coma and tell the story from her first-person POV, and I finished the book.

Still, sometimes I wonder: If I had hung in with third person, could I have made it work? Did I abandon it too soon? If I’d continued writing to page 400 or 500, might all have become clear?

The point is that POV can be hard to figure out and may not be possible to decide on in advance. You may have to try telling your story one way and another (and another and another) until you find out. There may be no shortcut for a particular book.

However, when you think about POV, here are a few considerations:

Whose story are you telling? In Ever and in most of my Princess Tales series the story belongs to two main characters. In Ever, I solved the problem by alternating first-person POVs between the two from chapter to chapter. In The Princess Tales, I used an omniscient third-person POV. In the first two Disney Fairies books, the story belongs to a cast of several fairies, and the only choice seemed to be third-person omniscient. Most often, though, my stories belong primarily to one main character, and I tell it in his or her voice.

What seems simplest, most direct, even easiest? I tend to complicate my stories. My Cyrano de Bergerac idea is a good example. Writing is hard enough without setting up roadblocks to make it harder. But simplicity is only one consideration. Making the best book you can is paramount. In The Book Thief, the simplest way to tell the story might have been from Liesel’s POV, but Markus Zusak chose Death. I wonder if he tried other POV characters before arriving at Death.

Are there any plot considerations that prevent the story from being told by a particular character? (Spoiler alert: if you haven’t read The Great Gatsby, I’m about to give something away. You may want to skip ahead.) Maybe F. Scott Fitzgerald didn’t tell Gatsby from Gatsby’s POV solely because Gatsby dies. Maybe he had other reasons as well. A dead main character was not a problem for Alice Sebold in The Lovely Bones, since the main character is writing from an afterlife. (By the way, Gatsby, The Book Thief, and The Lovely Bones are not to be read before high school, I’d guess. Check with a parent or librarian.)

What sort of voice are you looking for? I talk about this a little in Writing Magic. A first person voice needs to reflect the personality of the character. An omniscient narrator can have any sort of voice – old-fashioned, Gothic, Valley Girl, journalistic – and whichever you pick will infuse the entire book. Each voice feels different as you’re writing in it.

Here’s a prompt: Think about the fairy tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” one of my favorites. Look it up if you don’t remember it well. My Brothers Grimm version is told in third person, but the reader sees the story mostly through the eyes of the soldier. Try retelling it, or a piece of it, from the POV of various characters and in third person omniscient. See what happens to the story and to you when you switch. Have fun, and save what you write!