April 10, 2013

Writing Club Wednesday: Picking Perspectives

It's been well established that I'm not a genre chameleon. While I do write in multiple categories - YA, NA, and Adult - genre-wise, for me, it's all contemp, all the time. Where I do mix it up, however, is in the POV department.

There are so many ways to mix and match when you're talking tense and perspective, and every one of those puzzle pieces brings something different to the table. Are you aiming to make the narrator someone the reader can get close to? Do you want the reader to feel like she's in your MC's head? Then you might choose first person, the most common for YA, a category in which relatability to characters is highly prized.

Or would you rather maintain some distance, give more of an outsider's point of view, make your character more of a character and less of a storyteller? Third person may be the right choice for you if you're placing strong focus on plot and pacing over characters.

 And then there are the numbers - whether you go with first or third, how many of those perspectives will we be seeing? Say you choose first - is one character going to be narrating the whole thing, or will you have a dual-POV? If you choose third, the possibilities seem endless!

To illustrate just what I mean, here's a look at a few of my manuscripts and how I chose what to do with each:

BEHIND THE SCENES - This manuscript is narrated in first-person past, which, for me, is the most comfortable. I wanted comfortable. I also wanted to be inside the narrator's head. The story follows eighteen-year-old Ally through her best friendship with a TV star, her rapidly developing feelings for a guy she deems out of her league, and her father's recently diagnosed terminal illness and what it means for her future and her family's. Notice a central theme? It's about how Ally deals with all those things. It was so important to be in her brain for this one, to feel with her the things she couldn't show to others. Especially in a manuscript where public vs. private life is such a factor, getting as close to the main character as possible was a no-brainer.

Could it have been in present tense? Sure. But it wasn't writing itself that way, and it wasn't my inclination. There was so much tension through plot that I didn't feel I needed to add more with language. Plus, I just happen to prefer the way past tense reads!

THE BOOK OF ESTHER - Remember that whole thing about how I wanted comfortable? Well, not so much this time around. TBoE is a contemporary YA retelling of the biblical book of Esther, and as such, its characters have already been laid out and created by someone else. Now it might seem like it's obviously a book about a woman named Esther, and so Esther should be the protagonist, and do it in first person, et voila.

Not so much. Instead, my book's in close third.

With five POVs.

Why did I choose those things? A few reasons:

1. Here's the thing about the book of Esther: it takes a little while before Esther's even in it. And when I say I wrote a retelling, I mean I wrote a retelling, right down to the fact that the character of 17-year-old Esther in my book doesn't appear in chapter 1 either. Which means someone else has to open. Yes, I could've just written a prologue.

2. Yes, I wanted the reader to be in the characters' heads, but not too close. While it's a common goal in YA to make characters really relatable, people you feel you can actually be friends with, for once, that's not what I was going for. Biblical Esther is a badass, and my Esther is too. I don't want you to feel like you can chill with her; I want you to be in awe of her. Similarly, with my villain, Hammer, he's not going to be as rational as most contemp villains. You're not going to empathize with his motivations. Guess what? You're not really supposed to. He's Susa Prep's Obligatory Psychotic Jackass, and you can't get fully in his head.

3. The plot is so twisted, putting it all on one narrator would've only told a part of the story. I don't want the reader to see it only the way Esther sees it; she lacks the villain's view. I don't want you to see only the extreme characters, because the story has no structure and grounding with the loved ones caught in the crossfire. It's more than just a battle of wills between enemies; it's also a story about love and loyalty.

My inspiration for multi-POV done in third person? Sweet Valley, obviously!

JUST VISITING  - This is probably the one I struggled with the most when it came to this particular decision, but in the end, my newest manuscript is first person, present tense, dual POV. This was my first dual POV, and let me tell you, it is hard, especially when the characters are the same gender. The challenge to make them sound different is one I can only pray I achieved. So why'd I do it?

Because I loved the things you saw about each when observed through the other's eyes. Because they were both characters whose stories I wanted to tell. Because they each represented kinds of characters I wanted to see more of. Because it's about best friends who are complete opposites, and I love the way that they balance each other out in the book is how I imagine they balance each other out in life.

As for present tense, there were a couple of elements at work there too. For one thing, I'd been doing a lot more YA reading around this time than I had been when I wrote BEHIND THE SCENES, and present tense is considerably more popular in YA than Adult, and so it was hard to get the tense out of my head. The manuscript just started to write itself that way.

For another thing, and this I think was a big difference between JV and BtS, I ultimately pantsed JV. I wrote an outline for a lot of it, and then scrapped it. So the book really was in present tense for me; so many scenes were written without my knowing what would happen until the words actually showed up on the screen. For BtS, which was a NaNo book, I had an 11-page single-spaced outline. As far as I was concerned, the story was complete. I deviated a bit, sure, but it wasn't unfolding in front of me; I was simply expanding it.

For a great example of same-gender dual-POV in first person done beautifully, I highly recommend HOW TO SAVE A LIFE by Sara Zarr!

So, there you have it - three manuscripts by the same writer, three completely different POV choices, and a whole bunch of reasons behind them. What's your favorite POV to write, and do you mix them up? How do you choose the one that's right for your story?


Suzi said...

1st person is my preferred POV. I've got a few dual also, but usually it's a boy and girl.

I'm really interested in reading TBoE. I wrote one story with multiple POVs like that. It's been shelved just cause other projects came alone, but I will go back to it sometime. It'll need a lot of work, plus the multiple POV thing can be difficult too, so I'm sure it'll take a lot of editing. And when I go back to it, I'll have to find other books with multiple POVs like that for examples.

AngiNicole said...

Great insight. The seeing each other from another perspective is why I write in dual POV. Awesome post, as always.

Rachel said...

Great insight. I am really looking forward to TBoE now, and JV! (whenever that sells ;)) I do have to say I wrote a WIP once (like 13k and then trashed it lol) of 2 sisters, one older and one younger, both POV present tense and it was HARD to make them not the same voice. I had to play with it a lot. :)

callmebecks said...

Close third is definitely my favorite, and I almost always end up writing from that POV. I very rarely go with first person because I don't really like writing it, but one of these days I'll have to experiment...

I actually also have an affinity for the much-maligned second person. I'd love to see more experimentation with it.

Great post, Dahl!

Maggie Hall said...

Great insights! I especially like the line about making the character more of a character and less of a storyteller. That's a really good way to look at it. (And I can definitely tell you you did manage to hit the two voices really well in JV!!)

Dahlia Adler said...

Thanks, guys! (Major <333, Mags #CPlove)

Suzi - the multi-POV thing is definitely a challenge, but I find it much easier to differentiate characters that way, too. I think it makes me write in my own voice less, now that I think about it.

Becks - I can't even remember the last 2nd person I read! I think STOLEN by Lucy Christopher is supposedly 2nd person? I bought it months ago and I must read it, finally!

Anonymous said...

I know I should put more thought into what POV choice I make, but really... I just let the story choose. Which works for me. :D

Adrianne Russell said...

I'm pretty faithful to first person. The last story I tried in third person felt really uncomfortable and I kept sliding out of it, although I really enjoy reading it. I've tried alternating POV and that is complicated for me, so kudos to anyone who can master it. STOLEN is amazing, BTW.

erica m. chapman said...

Excellent post!!! Oh, POV's. Well I always write in 1st person (so far) and I love it. It makes it a lot easier for me to really get into the character. I just finished writing my first MS in present tense, which was weird, but it HAD to be. I prefer to write 1st person, past, but I can read just about anything EXCEPT 2nd person. It's just too weird. I tried to read YOU and it just didn't work for me.

Also, you did pull of dual POV just fine ;o)

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