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William Lashner's PI-Writing Blog

Steak au POV

Monday, May 11, 2009

One of the biggest questions you start with at the beginning of the writing of a novel is whether to go third person or first person. Generally third person is the default mode, by which I mean if you can't decide which to use you go third person. Third person has a lot of advantages, particular the ability to hop around to the most interesting POV at each point of the story. There's a great Hemingway story called "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" where Hemingway's POV shifts are just perfect. You can go through the story and figure out at each point exactly why he shifted when he shifted. At one point he's in two POV's at once and at another point he moves into the lion's POV (it's a hunting story, of course.) He even shifts into the wife's POV at one point just so he can shift into her POV at the end, which is the crucial moment of the story. It's just easier to tell a good story in third person. First person, however, can be a really rich way to narrate a story, what with the voice, the self-delusion, and the surprise that can arise from crucial information that one character always lacks.

The story I'm working on now is pretty basic. A man commits a crime long ago, and after building a new life for himself (mostly with the proceeds) is suddenly discovered and is again on the run. A story like this could go both ways, and probably for pure story telling purposes, third person would work best, moving back and forth between the guy running and the guys chasing. But every story has conflicting ideas working one against the other through the course of the story and here the conflicting ideas aren't playing out in the external battles but are all playing out in the running guy's head. I'm most interested in the chasee, and so I'm going to try to write this one in first person. In the end, writing in first person all depends on the voice, and I don't have that yet, so it's a risk. But if it works, I think the story will be much stronger.

I'll talk about the clash of ideas next, but for now it's enough to know that it's crucial to figure out what ideas will be clashing even before you decide on the point of view you choose.

It's not just the story, but the ideas animating it, that determine the most effective Point of View.

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