Friday, July 25, 2008

Welcome Back N.J. Lindquist -POV for you and me

Ready to get intensive about POV? In this next blog, our friend N.J. gives us a fantastic deep level view of 1st person POV. Not sure what POV is? Read N.J.'s first post, then pop up here to read the rest. Let's get right to it!

POV 1st person

by N.J. Lindquist

When you’re writing fiction, you generally have to choose a point of view and stick with it throughout your story or novel. Occasionally, someone breaks that “rule,” and I’ll talk about that later. But before you break rules, it’s a good idea to know them well.

There are basically three overall points of view.

1. 1st person – “I”
2. 2nd person – “you”
3. 3rd person – “he,” “she”

Today, I’m going to talk about 1st person. Later, I’ll talk about 2nd then 3rd.

1st person POV

Normally, this means you tell the story from a single character’s viewpoint, and the readers only know what the character knows.

The point of view character can be the main person in the story or a secondary character (e.g. Moby Dick).

Fist person POV is good for getting under the character’s skin, and good if your main character isn’t particularly likable. You can see his/her thinking and you may be more sympathetic. As a reader, you’re right there in the story and more likely to care. In some ways, it’s the easiest way to write fiction and it can be good for many first-time writers.

The main limitation of first person POV is that you can only relate what the character knows or sees, so you can feel claustrophobic. It is also dependent on your creating a character readers feel interested in or at least sympathetic toward and not irritating. One difficulty is that every scene has to involve that POV character in some way. Also, it’s also difficult to give a description of the POV character. You can only gaze into so many mirrors before it becomes trite. :)

What I have done to try to illustrate point of view is to take a small scene from my book, In Time of Trouble, and rewrite it from various points of view.

1st person – In Time of Trouble – Shane’s POV
Marietta walked around to the side of the house. She stepped carefully, keeping to the dried brown grass and avoiding the patches of snow and mud.
I figured this must really be important for her to walk on the lawn in her stiletto heels, so I followed. “So, what do you want to talk about?”

“I think it’s time,” she said.


“We’ve been going together nearly four months.”

“So you’re tired of me? And that’s it? Just like that?”

She elaborated on the subject, but I barely heard. I felt a bit like I was watching a show on TV. Like I wasn’t really part of it. All I could concentrate on was Marietta herself, and not what she was saying....I stood there, leaning against the wall, waiting for her explanation to end. I don’t know how I should have felt. Angry, sad, whatever....All I really felt was numb. Added to the rest, what difference did it make whether Marietta dumped me or not? It was just another pebble to add to the pile of things that hadn’t worked out for Shane Donahue. That pile was getting pretty high.

You could also write this scene in 1st person from Marietta’s point of view

1st person – In Time of Trouble – Marietta’s POV

I looked around. The only place we could be alone was at the side of the house. Considering the shoes I was wearing, not a great spot. But I needed to tell him and I didn’t want everyone listening. So I motioned to Shane to come with me and started across the lawn, stepping carefully, keeping to the dried brown grass and avoiding the patches of snow and mud.

After a moment, I heard sounds that meant he was following me.

I stopped on a dry spot next to the house, and turned to face him.

“So, what do you want to talk about?” he said. He looked angry.

I looked away. “I think it’s time.”


I took a deep breath. “We’ve been going together nearly four months.”

“So you’re tired of me?” He sounded as angry as he had looked. “And that’s it? Just like that?”

I didn’t know what to say, so I said too much. This long explanation of why we needed to break up because we weren’t good for each other. I knew he thought it was only because he didn’t have a car any more, but it wasn’t. I was tired of him. Tired of the way he took me for granted. Tired of him being angry all the time—angry with his parents, his brother, his teachers. Always blaming them for his problems. I wasn’t his counselor! And I had my own problems.
I knew everybody would think I got bored and needed another guy. But so what if I did? It wasn’t like we were married or even engaged. I didn’t owe him anything. And he didn’t own me.

I glanced up. Shane was just staring at me, his eyes open but not really seeing me. They looked like the eyes you might see on a dead body. In spite of my long winter coat, I shivered.
Part of me wanted to take back my words, but part of me just didn’t care. It wasn’t my fault his life was a mess. It wasn’t anything to do with me.

Can you ever use “we” as a 1st person Point of View?
I’ve seen that done in some short stories – where two or more people were actually telling the story. It’s a bit hard to do well since the people have to basically act as one. E.g. a posse could be a group that acts as if it were one individual. Usually, “we’ is used when the POV character is acting as part of a group, but then it switches to “I” when that person is alone or only speaking from his/her perspective. Usually, even when it is “we” the reader knows that one person is actually telling the story.

NOTE: A really good exercise is to take one of your own stories or chapters and either rewrite it using first person point of view or a different character’s point of view.

You could also try rewriting a scene from a favorite author from a different point of view.

It can be quite eye-opening to see how much difference point of view can make.


I LOVE 1st person POV. I read it, I write it. Last night my husband and I were talking about my published work (most of it still to be released - gee, I should do a post about all that good news, shouldn't I?) and it is ALL 1st person. I love the intimacy, the limitations (you only know what you know, you know?), and the mental gymnastics of 1st person.

Also, for what it's worth, I find it is easier to "show" and not fall into "telling" in 1st person, because, by its nature, 1st person is active (Okay, I didn't say it was impossible to be passive in first person - I just said I find it easier not to slip into passive voice when I write 1st person. Ooo, there's another topic that needs attention- Active Voice!)

What about you? Do you love reading 1st person? Do you hate it? Have you ever read a book and thought: this would be better if it were told from someone else's POV? (I can think of a couple of books...and movies too, that I thought could be improved with a switch of voice)

Let's hear from you. Come in from the sun and dog days of summer and post your thoughts, comments, questions, ideas, recipes for cheesecake and other helpful things.

I bid you good writing.

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