Tag Archives: third person

A Quick Word About Point of View, Characters, and Voice (Plus Tense)

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You know how bad things come in threes? They say they do anyway. It’s a superstition, but it persists. Interesting and good things can come in threes too, at least we notice them that way. In this case, the triple whammy I’m referring to is about Chrysanthemum.

First, I have books out there but people persist in not leaving a review. It’s partially my fault, I beg for a review after the ‘See Also’ page at the end of the book, and most people tune out right about there. Sigh. I wasn’t thinking. Anyway, I submitted the book to a review site to at least get something, although it didn’t make it all the way to Amazon. I’ll get back to that.

While I was waiting for that review, I went searching for some files I knew I had from back in 2010 and stumbled across the original rough draft for Chrysanthemum. I mean the really original manuscript, when that wasn’t even her name, and it wasn’t written from her point of view, and boy is it rough.

I went tripping down memory lane. I had completely forgotten about this. It was mostly from Marcus’s point of view – wow. Okay, now there’s nothing wrong with writing from the viewpoint of a hunky master vampire, but I’m glad I changed it.

Quick lesson about writing: in books where you have multiple viewpoints as an option: write the scene from the viewpoint of the character with the most at stake. In a book with one point of view, such as Chrysanthemum, pick the character with the most to lose or gain. That’s the character the reader will become invested in and you want to take the reader on an emotional journey.

There’s no doubt Marcus has a lot at stake. I mean this is his soul mate someone’s trying to kidnap, and it’s probably because of him (not much of a spoiler there, don’t worry). But Chrys still has a lot more going on. Besides, being inside her head is fun. Marcus is all-powerful and hunky and all that, but face it, there are enough vampire books out there to wallpaper the White House ten times over. Being in his head makes this just another vamp book. It’s Chrys’s viewpoint on the situation that makes it unique. And because I wrote it from her point of view and, more importantly, first person, ‘her voice’ comes through which really made her character shine.

And that’s pretty much what the review said. You can read it here. What it also pointed out is that I really need to define my blurb better, and that I don’t like my cover. No, she didn’t say anything about my cover. I decided that on my own. Again. Oddly, this book was pushed back from publication several times and delayed months because I kept not liking the cover. I finally caved and said, “yeah, sure, fine, that’ll work,” and released it. Now I changed my mind again. I’m not sure how this is going to work because I’m not working with that designer anymore. Sigh. Enough about that.

Not sure about point of view, perspective, and voice? Yeah, it can be a mess sometimes. Point of view I sort of covered – write from the point of view aka the eyes of the character who has the most to gain or lose. Unless you have a narrator or other really compelling reason.

Perspective – that’s first person or third person. Second isn’t really used. First person is: “I went to the sink to get a glass of water.” Second person is: “You go to the sink to get a glass of water.” Think of the ‘choose your own adventure’ books, they use this. Third person is: “She went to the sink to get a glass of water.”

Why use one over another? Preference. Some writers can’t write first or third so they really only write one way. That neatly solves that problem. If you’re not trapped in that mindset, look at your book. First person perspective doesn’t completely trap you in the mind of one character like I did in Chrysanthemum. Yes, you’re in her mind the entire book. It’s common. It’s not a requirement. Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater is also written in first person perspective, but it switches between two characters – each chapter is from their eyes.

First person means the reader only knows what that character knows, what they see, hear, feel, and think, and they can feel a deeper connection with the character. It means they miss things, and they can be surprised. It also allows you to play with a technique called ‘stream of consciousness’ which is fun. I use it in Chrysanthemum, and Robin McKinley does it beautifully in Sunshine (another vampire book, one of my favorites). Basically, this is where you write as people actually think – not linear and organized as we might talk, but a little more erratic. Our thoughts wander slightly, and it shows. And it’s fun. Don’t get out of hand, obviously.

With third person, you have the option of easily handling point of views of multiple characters. I used this for the Lexi Frost series for this reason. In one scene, you’re in Teri’s head, then Dev’s, then Flynn’s, then back to Teri’s, then jump to Kenny’s viewpoint to see that everyone involved is missing something important, and so on. It lets the reader know things the key characters don’t. The reader knows there’s trouble coming and they’re on the edge of their seat waiting for the shoe to drop.

Past tense vs present tense is a debate I’m probably better not entering. I’m old school. Unless it’s a middle grade book – use past tense. There, I said it. For adult books, when I see present tense, I think “this person reads to their kids a lot, that’s nice,” and then I tend to put it down. It’s really hard to get continuity right with present tense. So many paragraphs tend to read literally impossible. But that’s me. And I’m recovering, my daughter makes me read to her, so yes, I’ve read a lot of the hot YA books that are present tense. I even ground my teeth, shredded my stress ball, and made my way through the 50 Shades of hell and didn’t pick it apart too much. The books, not the ball – it didn’t make it. On the plus side: I enjoyed the sex scenes and learned I will not be writing BDSM.

And lastly, voice. This is a vague concept. The voice is the personality of your book, your writing, showing through. If you’re naturally snarky, your writing might reflect that even if you didn’t design any of your characters to be snarky. Personally, I think voice shows through a lot more when you’re either in first person point of view, or third person limited – meaning you’re not hopping around between eight different characters. The fewer the characters the reader has to get to know, the more they can get to know them, and you – and your voice. If you have a good voice, this is a good strategy. A good story helps, obviously, but readers like writers who draw them in and showing a good voice is a way to do it.

 

 

 

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