Happy January, SEers! Mae here, with my first post of the New Year, and I’m glad to have you with me. To kick off 2019, I’d like to pose a question.
Are you a POV Snob?
I was (please note the past tense before you round up pitchforks and torches).
Shameful, I know. It’s hard to admit, but there was a time I steered clear of anything written in first person POV or present tense. And God forbid an author wrote in first person and present. Horrors!
Back in the day before ebooks, I loved visiting my local brick-and-mortar bookstore. First, I’d seek out the section for my preferred genre, then look for anything new from my favorite authors. After that, I browsed by book cover and title. I’m one of those readers who does judge a book by its cover, which is why first impressions are important.
If the cover snagged me, it was on to the blurb. The final test was to scope out the first chapter. If I discovered it was written in first person, the book went back on the shelf. According to my old critique partner, I missed out on a lot of good books because of my snobbery. At the time, I couldn’t see it, but Karen was right. I’ve been hearing the echo of “I told you so!”
First person has a close intimacy, limiting what a reader sees and learns. We’re restricted to the impressions of the MC. I found that confining, wanting a bigger scope—perhaps even a margin of distance from the character. I’m all about forming emotional bonds when I read, but used to think the first person bond was too intimate.
It took a while for the light to dawn. It started with Bag of Bones by Stephen King. He rarely, if ever does first person POV. As a result, I never bothered to look inside when I purchased a paperback copy. Later, when I sat down to read and discovered I‘d bought a book written in first, I threw a hissy fit. I still remember yelling at the literary powers-that-be in my family room. When Karen found out, she laughed her head off.
The book almost went in the trash, but somehow I toughed it out, kicking and screaming along the way. Stupid, because it turned out to be one of my favorite King books. I consider Bag of Bones the turning point for me.
Then the trend of present tense came along. I responded with grumbling and tantrums. Fortunately, some very good authors have led me to change my attitude. Several are now on my auto buy list.
The ultimate test, however, still waited—first person, present tense. I approached the concept with trepidation. I’d been wading farther into the POV pool, but this was equivalent to plunging into the deepest end. I took a chance on a book called Our Little Lies and am pleased to say, I enjoyed it. End of Snobbery. I declare myself cured.
That’s not to say I don’t have a preference. Third person allows an author to shift between different character POVs, excellent for building conflict. It can also make a reader garner sympathy for more than one character, sometimes even the villain. Instead of only seeing the mindset of the MC, we’re treated to several character impressions. Add deep third and you can still create intimacy when needed.
Close third person will always be my favorite, but when done well, I also enjoy distant third. I also think certain POVs work better for certain genres. I like historical novels to be in third, which seems to lend better to period details. The same with a dense mystery novel (I’m a fan of dense prose). Psychological thrillers can go either way, and I’m finding present tense works well for them. You may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned second person POV (“you” instead of “I” or “he/she”).
Don’t go there. Just. Don’t.
So what is your favorite POV for writing? What about reading? Do you think certain POVs work better based on genre? Now that you realize I am no longer a POV snob (well, except for second), and have ditched your pitchforks and torches, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Ready, set, go!