Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Point of View: Finding Your Voice


I often see the comment from agents that they are looking for writers who have a “unique voice”. Therefore, simply develop an original voice. Right? But what exactly does that entail? First, we must decide who is telling the story. The point of view of the main character or characters has everything to do with voice. It’s not your personal voice but that of the character in your story.

For instance, this is one of the most important things in writing a successful young adult novel. It does not mean that you must write only from a first person point of view. However, teenage readers often respond well to a first person narrative. But voice has to do with choice of vocabulary and style as well. For instance, my YA novels, STACY’S SONG and THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER, are written in the first person from the main character’s point of view. Stacy has a sense of humor while Danna is sensitive and artistic. These things influence how they tell their stories. It often helps to read your writing out loud.

With traditional romance, there are generally two viewpoints that move from female to male, usually written in the third person. They need to be distinctive from each other even in third person POV.

 Mystery varies more. Often these days, the first person viewpoint is either the unreliable narrator who may not be telling the truth for a variety of reasons. Most common is the third person narration. This has the advantage of varying point of view with ease. But multiple viewpoints have one important disadvantage: they may cause the story to lose focus if mishandled.

Sometimes authors have multiple first person POV while others will use multiple third person. But changing viewpoints too often can confuse readers causing them to reject the book. Readers need to respond with a sense of connection to at least one character. So that character must seem real and matter to the reader on some level. When the POV of a key character resonates with the reader, what happens to that character is something the reader wants and needs to know.

In the 19th century, omniscient narration was popular. The all-knowing third person narrator informed the reader. Occasionally, writers will still use second person narration as well, addressing the reader directly using “you” and “your”. We don’t see much of either one of these in modern writing.

Cross genre novels can be tricky. My latest, DEATH PROMISE, is a romantic suspense mystery thriller. The novel is mainly presented from the POV of the two main characters who balance each other. Did I manage it effectively? If you read the novel, let me know what you think. I’d love your input and feedback.


                    https://www.amazon.com/dp/B079VWPTVF

In regard to short story fiction, editors tend to prefer one POV. Multiple viewpoints don’t work well because of limited length. The short story works best with a single focus.

To sum up, POV has the reader see and hear things from the unique perspective of the characters in a story. That is why you always have to consider the style and vocabulary each narrator presents if you want to create the semblance of reality, verisimilitude, in your work.

Your thoughts and comments, as always, welcome here.



20 comments:

  1. Following a recent rejection, the editor pointed out [helpfully] how my POV bled from one character into another character. Now I'm eagle-eyed following the blood trail ...

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  2. Maddy,

    That is a problem for readers. One way to solve this is by doing short chapters and changing point of view via alternating characters. Less confusion for readers.

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  3. It took me a while to figure out what editors were saying when they said a book was "head-hopping." Nowadays, I tell the authors whose books I edit to think of their POV character as having microphones for ears, cameras for eyes, and the POV character can't report on anything s/he can't see or hear. Lately I've been writing in the first person. Makes things easier :-)

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    1. Alice,

      You are the best editor I've worked with. I hope writers reading your advice take it to heart--I know I do.

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  4. I once heard an editor say, you can teach everything except voice. Editors are always looking for a voice that captures the reader, something with a distinct personality. Good discussion, Jacquie.

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    1. Creating a unique voice for characters isn't easy, but it makes for a memorable book or story.

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  5. Good overview. One notion writers learning the craft of fiction must absorb is that the reader's response to head-hopping is escape. Getting the reader to connect to your important character is crucial, and that is facilitated by a POV that reveals the emotions and thinking of said character. Otherwise, the telling is clinical and without impact. Call me Ishmael.

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  6. Robert,

    You've explained it beautifully. As writers, we must avoid the head-hopping syndrome. Mysteries tend to be guilty of this. The attempt to portray numerous suspects sometimes leads to a shallow presentation.

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  7. Many successful authors write as if they are spectators at a sporting event, narrating activity on a field. I don't read those much. I prefer an author who reports action as a participant, experiencing the successes and head thumps personally. To change POV, a writer has to shift into another "participant's" head. Thinking of POV like that helps me remember not to head hop willy-nilly.

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  8. Sharon,

    I like your approach to POV. You invest in your characters.

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  9. Good stuff, Jacqueline. And I find it interesting that omniscient pov is looked down on today. I'm not sure why it fell out of favor, but it has.

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    1. Preferences may change again. The 18th century early novel forms were highly experimental. We may see such times again.

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  10. My P.J. Benson Mysteries are written in first person which, of course, limits what the protagonist (narrator) knows. I liked using first person because I felt it allowed the reader to understand P.J. and feel her confusion and fear, but it definitely limited the information I could convey to the reader. A Killer Past and Echoes of Terror use third person pov, which allowed me to create scenes (and present information) away from my protagonists. That allowed me to develop a "bigger" story. As you said, the choice depends on the needs of the story.

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    1. I like your reasoning. POV does vary with the type of story presented and should do so.

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  11. POV and Voice are sometimes hard to explain and define...Great info, Jacquie!

    Sorry I'm late commenting but wishing you the best of luck and God's blessings
    PamT

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    1. A unique character voice goes far in creating reader connection.

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  12. Writing in first person was hard for me at first, because of information I wanted to provide the reader without the primary p.o.v. character knowing. Then I looked closely at how James Patterson did that. He writes in first person in scenes where the p.o.v. character is present. Then he writes in third person in scenes away from the p.o.v. character. Check it out in ALONG CAME A SPIDER and KISS THE GIRLS, etc.

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    1. Sharon,

      We writers can learn a lot from reading and analyzing the writing of other published successful authors.
      I used that technique in THE THIRD EYE: A PINE BARRENS MYSTERY. The main POV is a teenage boy, 1st person POV alternating chapters with his mother, 3rd person POV.
      The book was written in partnership with my older son.
      It worked well.

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  13. Voice is one of those things that can be hard. Like someone said above, it can't really be taught the way other things can.

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    1. Shannon,

      I think you have to live with your characters in your head for a while before you start to write anything. Then their voices naturally come to you.

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