Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Apparently point of view does matter to me

I have met a few people who have told me flat out that they dislike any book written in first person. I've also met a few who only like first person. This has always seemed strange to me. Both first and third person POV have their uses, their pluses and minuses. I like writing in both (but always in different projects) and I like reading both.

But apparently I really dislike omniscient point of view.

I'm reading two books right now. Sister by Rosamund Lupton and The Little Book by Selden Edwards.I am loving Sister. It's the of a woman figuring out what happened to her sister. It moves from the present as the heroine prepares for the murderer's trial and deal with her grief to the past as she unravels the mystery and solves the case. We are always in Beatrice's point of view, but we always know when we are because she cleverly uses present tense for the present narrative and past for the past. I know that sounds really elementary, but it's a great reading experience and feels very subtle as you read. I am so deeply into this character's POV (although she's very different from me in temperament) that the scenes where she recounts finding out that her sister was dead made me weep. And we already knew she was dead in the book! We'd known for pages and pages and pages!

I wish I could say that I hated The Little Book, but it's too boring to even incite that much emotion. It's an incredibly intricate story with time travel and cultural references and historical figures and it's all told from the point of view of the hero's dead father. I guess he might not really be dead, but he's supposed to be dead.

Because it's always him telling the story, we're never deeply in anyone's POV. We're floating above it all and watching. To me, this has about as much life as the flattened snake I saw in the road last week. Everyone's voice is the same. Everything's a little removed. I hit a "love" scene and it was so clinical and detached and weird that it actually kind of grossed me out.

I keep wondering what that book would be like if Edwards had gone ahead and written it deep third person POV. Would those scenes in nineteenth century Vienna have come alive? What about the tension of the baseball game at the prep school? Would the love scene have seemed tender and sweet instead of icky?

So . . . third person omniscient is a deal breaker for me. Do any of you have POV deal breakers?

13 comments:

Kathy Holmes said...

I really dislike third person, although Jennifer Crusie can pull that off so well, I forget it's in third... the best deep third I've ever read. But I much prefer to read/write in first person.

Eileen said...

For me, there is something about writing in first person that's very comfortable and cozy, but it does have its limitations.

Reading, though? I'm pretty happy as long as I know whose head I'm in. Actually, that's not precisely true. I don't want to get confused about whose head I'm in. If there's no confusion, I don't notice it.

And for deep third? I think you can't beat Virginia Kantra. Love love love her writing.

Maureen McGowan said...

I don't think I have a deal breaker.

I've read books in omniscient that didn't work for me and a few that have, although of course right now I can't think of one... I think poorly executed omniscient, or a head-hopping 3rd POV has bothered me more since I became a writer and started learning about the craft, but I can't be certain about that.

I've also read a book in 2nd and one partially in 2nd and those worked too, although the one entirely in 2nd was hard to get into at the start or each time I put it down... Wish I could think of the title right now... It's was an erotica of sorts set in Victorian England. The narrator refers to herself in the 2nd person as if she doesn't really believe that it's her doing these things. I thought it worked.

Stephanie Doyle said...

Oooh Maureen - that sounds like a cool idea.

I'm okay with either if done well... but I will say I can go through a stage and be done with 1st person.

It's one of those things I need to be in the mood for.

Eileen said...

I can see that. I love that immediate connection, though. As a writer and a reader.

The Little Book, though? The omniscient thing is just making it a snore. Although, technically, I guess you could say it was 1st person. The narrator who is not in the story at all is referring to everyone as he and she, but I'm pretty sure he refers to himself as I.

Which makes that sex scene even ickier since it's between his mother and his father.

Sinead M said...

I think there's a reason why so few books are written in omniscient POV, because when it fails, it's bad.... and it takes a ridiculous amount of skill to create an emotional attachment in that POV.

I'll read anything, in any POV, as long as the work engages me, but right now I too can't think of a book in omniscient that interested me.

Eileen said...

It's definitely leaving me pretty cold. I'm reading it for book group so I'll see what the rest of the gang has to say.

Kathy Holmes said...

Funny you should mention omniscient - I've been rereading the Wagons West series (recently rereleased) and when I first read it in the 80s, I had no clue about writing - just reading. And so I never noticed the omniscient POV - now it really bugs me! lol! I wish they had written it in several POVs instead.

Kristina Mathews said...

Eileen,
I have to say I hesitated in reading DON'T KILL THE MESSENGER because it was written in 1st person (and I'm not a huge paranormal fan), but then I got an Amazon gift card and figured I had nothing to lose.

I have to say I enjoyed the book. I was able to really connect with Melina. Something that is harder for me in 1st person than Deep 3rd.

So, despite reader preference, a strong voice and well written book can transcend any preconceived notions.

Eileen said...

Kristina, that totally made my day! I'm so flattered. That's the kind of comment that can keep a girl going through a lot of tough days.

Maureen McGowan said...

I finally remembered the name of the book in 2nd person. The Bride Stripped Bare.

The one that's partially in 2nd is Danielle Younge-Ullman's fabulous book Falling Under, which will be re-released as an e-book soon! She did flashback scenes in 2nd person from when the character was about 5 years old. It totally worked.

Eileen said...

That sounds clever. You say it's being rereleased as an ebook? Cool! I'll see if I can get on my Nook!

Maureen McGowan said...

I just checked Amazon and the kindle version of Danielle's book is out!

I'll have to ask her about Nook. I know from other Canadian authors that you can't use Pub-it unless you have a US address, which really sucks... So she might not be set up there, yet. I'll find out.

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