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What’s Your POV Preference?

June 16, 2011

I’m currently reading a book that’s told from the point of view of the heroine. This is the third book in a row that’s written in first-person and it got me wondering if it’s a just coincidence, or if there are, in fact, more books being published that feature a first-person POV. I will admit that yesterday I tweeted that I prefer stories told in third-person, which is the standard for most fiction nowadays, but there are many books that I’ve read — and enjoyed — that are written from the main character’s viewpoint. First example that comes to mind is Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series (one of my favorite series). Like those books, there are some stories that just have to be told in first-person (Plum is a riot, and reminiscent of that clumsy, crazy friend we all have), and are delivered effectively that way. However, there are also stories where I find the main character’s personality too grating or unlikeable and I just can’t get on board with hearing them tell the story. In those instances,  I believe the narrative would have been much better off in third-person.

But, if you’re an avid reader like me, you also know that first- and third-person are not the only narrative options out there. There’s also second-person POV, alternating POV, not to mention third-person omniscient and third-person subjective… The list goes on and on. I’m not saying that stories told in third-person are better than those that feature first-person POV; there are pros and cons for both options. For instance, first-person allows you to really connect with the main character and experience their emotions right along with him/her, while third-person gives you insight into the motives and actions of all characters.

Now, before I get too third grade grammar teacher, I’ll turn the spotlight on you, dear reader — those who are still with me, that is. Today’s ROAMING QUESTION is brought to you in poll form. Aren’t you lucky!

*cartoon source

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 16, 2011 11:08 PM

    I’d say it also very much depends on genre. Serial mysteries, romances, and thrillers tend to be written in third person limited. Science Fiction and Fantasy tends to straddle the two, with the heavier, more epic books tending towards third person, and the more hero-heroine driven ones leaning towards first person. In YA, there has been a strong shift towards a lot of first person narration, especially in the last decade and a half, much like first person is used in confessional fiction (and since a lot of YA nowadays is confessional in one sense or another, it makes sense).

    I’d say the writer is strongly influenced by the type of story and style she’ll be developing. If the story leans heavily on developing setting and atmosphere through exposition, elaborating on various characters, and wants to retain the potential to shift perspectives (tell the story from more than one character’s point of view), the author tends to go with third person limited (or omniscient–though I haven’t seen much in the way of pure TPO recently).

    If the point is to slam home the personal struggles and experiences of one character, with a focus on the character muddling through the plot and action and emotions on his or her own, the author is likely to lean towards first person. First person also opens the door for a more expansive use of dialect, a more whimsical (“authentic”) approach to grammar, and the very fun potential for narrative misdirection and unreliability.

    While all of these elements can be developed just as much with third person and vice versa, the point of view used does affect how a story is told, and the kind of story told dictates point of view (same for the tense used).

    I’d be hard-pressed to pick a preferred POV. Whichever the author picks, it better work with the story, though. I will say that I avoid second person like a plague, and I’m hard pressed to think of a book told in Third Person Omnicient that I’ve enjoyed. Alternating POV, imo, is just lazy.

    • June 17, 2011 8:37 AM

      I agree that specific genres tend to lean toward a certain POV style — as you said, mysteries and romances are usually written in third-person. Ironically, each of the first-person books I’ve read were either romances or mysteries! However, I can also see the authors’ intentions of drawing the reader into the heroine’s mind, which can be effective (most of the time) in the romance/mystery genre.

      As for alternating POV, it’s not one that I come across often, and it’s my opinion that the story has to be told REALLY well in order for the POV to be effective.

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