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Tuesday, November 03, 2009



Hello, friends! Today I come to you LITERALLY from the middle of the move (on a STOLEN SIGNAL). I am sitting on the floor, in the corner, with my computer on my lap as men come in and out and take my things away. At some point, they may just pick me up and take ME away, so if I cut off abruptly, that is what happened. So forgive if today is a little short. But there is a fine, fine question to be answered:

April asks: How do I decide what point of view to write from?

I’m assuming you all know what POV is, right? A quick explanation if you don’t:

First person: the narrator speaks to you directly. This is the “I” perspective.

Second person:
the main character is filtered through you. “You go to the store, but they have no hamster pellets in stock. You return home and do some dancing.” It’s not very common, and I have personally never used it.

Third person:
this is the “he/she/it” perspective. Third comes in various forms—you may only tell what the characters do and say, but never go into their minds (third person objective). You may follow the story from just one character’s viewpoint (third person limited), or from a handful of selected characters (third person multiple). Or you may be the all-knowing voice that can get into anyone’s head or any scene (third person omniscient).

Okay, so, there’s that. Now, how do you CHOOSE? This is a question I have been asking myself recently, as I am starting an entirely new book series, and I was playing with both first and third person. And I’ve written five books in third and one (Devilish) in first.

Usually, I ask myself two questions, and not necessarily in this order:

1. How much do I want the main character and the reader to know?

When you write in third, you can be the big, strong, smart narrator who knows it all, and you gain the ability to develop the narrative voice separately from the character’s voice. You can do your descriptions and evaluate the situation from higher perspective. You also gain the ability to move places and to gain information that the main character might not be privy to.

2. How will my main character impact the telling of the story?

When you write as the main character, you have the advantage of just talking like them . . . which means you get their speech patterns, their way of describing and looking at any situation they encounter. If your character has a very strong personality, a clear way of looking at the world, you can really use first with great impact. Also, first person narration can get away with more tangential stuff, as the character can start talking about whatever he/she/it feels like, when it wouldn’t be terribly relevant from a third person point of view.

For example, say you have to describe the main character’s room. Now, the way you do that in first and in third is very different. In first, you have to kind of give the character a reason for describing something they probably know very well, then you have to think about how that room appears to them. What is their attitude toward it? What matters to them? Maybe when they go into their room it makes them think about some time that they went to the circus, or the time they accidentally started a fire, or a philosophical concept he/she/it is obsessed with. Whatever you want, you can do it.

In third, you need less justification for descriptions, and you can filter the room in any way you like. You don’t have to assume familiarity. You can also use BIG WORDS that your character might not really use. Authorspeak is handy like that.

So, I kind of weigh the checks and balances . . . do I need unlimited access and FANCY VOICE, or do I want to tell this story in the voice of the person living it. (Because in first, that voice and view is an essential part of the shape of the story. See Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, Paper Towns, Liar, or a million other awesome books to see the power of first.)

I COULD say more on this topic and I am writing this very quickly but the room is now EMPTY. But . . . I totally made it! I did it! I blogged on moving day! And since there is much more to say on this topic, WHY NOT DO IT IN THE COMMENTS? Okay, I’ve got to . . .

. . . oh, I’m being put in a box . . .

*sound of stuffing, tape dispensing*

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Anonymous nerdgurl said...

Yay, you blogged. Congraulation to me! (and also kind of you I guess)

7:45 PM  
Blogger Kristi said...

Wow! Thank you, mine is in first, it makes me feel comfortable with my character and my story.
but again, thank you. :)

7:47 PM  
Blogger April said...

Thanks for answering my question. I have been writing in first, but I have three main characters and can't decide who should be telling the story. After reading your post I think I am going to try third person multiple and see how that goes. Thanks again!

8:59 PM  
Blogger Hollishillis said...

Great blog and very helpful! thank you!!! Make sure to try and poke hole in that box so you can breathe.

11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

first comment! :)

11:30 PM  
Blogger Victoria said...

Yay, thanks for blogging even though it's such a busy day for you1 You give awesome advice. :]
Oh, and I loved the Suckmonster thing so much yesterday, that I drew my Suckmonster in some Paint application thing. It's so cute. I tweeted it to you, lol.
Thanks again! =)

11:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh no! Don't leave! Where else am I supposed to read helpful tips from an author using stolen internet?

11:44 PM  
Blogger barefootfiona said...

I don't know if this is an answerable question, but o you have any tips on how to make a romance seem slow and believable?

12:00 AM  
Blogger Allison said...

I'm partial to writing in first person. It seems like the words just kind of... flow better that way. Don't get me wrong, third person is excellent, too (see: Harry Potter), but there's something about first that's more personal. I feel a lot more connected to the character and the character's story because THEY are telling it to me.
Also, I think it's easier to get inside the main character's head when you're writing the story from their POV.

PS: Why does it say that this was posted at 7:19 PM? I know I'm in a different time zone, but it's only 2:30 here and I'm SURE we're not FIVE HOURS ahead of you. I'm pretty sure it's more like two hours. Hmm.
Also, why hasn't anybody commented on this yet???

1:12 AM  
Blogger EmilyAtCoe said...

FIRST!? really, that's never happened
I'm doing NaNo and I love having your tips because when I get stuck I just hop on over to blogspot and read your hilarious words :)

1:14 AM  
Blogger RKCharron said...

Hi Maureen :)
Thank you for taking the time to post on what must be a hectic day.
You succinctly described the POVs and their pros and cons. Have you ever given a writers workshop? You seem a natural teacher. With your deft use of humor and wit, the points you make will stay with people for a very long time.
Thanks again for sharing,
Love & Best Wishes,

1:57 AM  
Blogger AdmiralJosephCappuccino said...

Wasn't your contribution to Let It Snow in first person too? or does that not count?

2:29 AM  
Blogger armstrong2700 said...

Thanks for your analysis of POVs. I found it helpful. I have chosen 1st person. However, to be reminded of the limitations of this choice, as well as the benefits is useful. I found your blog helpful insomuch as it serves as a reminder to not use language that is out-of-character in the 1st person. Thanks!

-Ryan Armstrong
Dallas, TX

2:34 AM  
Anonymous Jordyn said...

Wait, what... I'm first?


PS. I heart first person POV.

2:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! You posted on moving day! On stolen internet!

Last time I moved, I was too busy hovering worriedly around the boxes my books were in and cleaning everything in sight (both at the old house and the new house - my mother's a neat freak) to sit for 3 seconds, let alone write a blog post.

3:07 AM  
Blogger Larangutang said...

I decided to write in first person because when I tried third it really didn't work out for me too well at all.

4:44 AM  
Anonymous Impatient said...

Yes, yes, NaNoWriMo, fine. But what about Mal’akh? Look, lady. You can't leave us dangling five hundred pages in. Bin the excuses and finish the review. Please, please pretty please.

5:43 AM  
Blogger Tenley Nadine said...

Awesome, I've officially decided that first person is the way I want to go.

A follow up question, when writing in first person if your main character is kind of snarky and obnoxious, how snarky and obnoxious should you write the story?
This question isn't necessarily for MJ (although I would not object to that), but if some other NaNoWriMo-ish person wants to answer in the comments that works to.

*peaks out of box, waves at MJ in the box to my right*

5:52 AM  
Anonymous Julia said...

Thank you, Maureen!

I was wondering what POV I should use, and this helped me decide.

Yay for blogging helpful NaNo advice the DAY OF moving. =D

6:04 AM  
Blogger c said...

My NaNo is switching between Narrators, which can be kinda confusing every now & then, but its interesting to play around with the different character's voices, but its also useful for excuses to describe things. At the start of the story the two narrators haven't met, and I'm not describing how they look very much until they meet the other narrator.

...this is hard to explain, but its fun to write.

6:10 AM  
Blogger Sarrrah said...

during nanowrimo, should I write in order? because, usually, I don't, but is there a certain rule? It's easier for me to keep writing If I move around in the plot, but is it allowed?

6:33 AM  
Blogger Christopher said...

Thank you this was useful. It is always a struggle to decide 1st or 3rd for me.

8:59 AM  
Anonymous a-la-raisa said...

OMG, seriously, I got so excited when I saw that you're one of the Nano pep talker whatevers. You're hilarious and I love your books!

This was an excellent post for me to read. I have a sort of "ensemble cast" of characters in my Nano story, and I'm using first person POV with that. I did consider third person, but I have a tendency to write really dryly that way. They all have different voices and it has been a blast to write so far. I hear week three is a bitch, though.

Anyway, thank you for being awesome and your Nano blogs are definitely writing block... unblockers? Whatever, they're just fabulous.

6:53 PM  
Blogger a. said...

I'm with you, Impatient. Come on, MJ... can't you do EVERYTHING AT ONCE? Sheesh.

And also, I always forget about 2nd person, but how frikken awesome were Choose Your Own Adventure books? Maybe I will Nanowrimo one of those...

10:44 PM  
Blogger Rosa said...

Thanks for this! First person has always been easier for me but I'm interested in becoming more comfortable with third person. And I almost wrote a story in second person once. That would have been tough.

I also have a question. As long as I've been writing (aka not very long, since I am only nineteen) I've been coming up with stories centered around characters who are very much like me. These are obviously the easiest to write, since it's not as hard for me to figure out what the characters are feeling or doing. But I don't want to be stuck in this place forever. How much of you would you say that you put into your characters, and do you have any advice for moving away from characters that are disgused versions of yourself?

6:58 AM  
Blogger Tara said...

I have a question. How do you deal with writer's block while doing NaNoWriMo

1:49 AM  
Blogger kira902k said...

No! now you've convinced me to use first, but i've already started it in third! too late to go back now. ah well.
have a good move!


7:45 AM  
Anonymous Ana said...

how do i overcome procrastination? i seem to be very good at it.

9:48 PM  
Anonymous Grace said...

Rosa, I totally agree. Also, my question for Maureen is this: What if your plot line is very stereotypical? Is there a way to change it from a "two girls who are somplete opposites become best friends" type novel into something that people will think is interesting?

8:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is great advice! Thanks! :)

6:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rosa for me its the opposite it's easy for me to write when it's someone compleatly different from myself. I usually go to the extreme, and have their friends be compleatly different from them. And I know you asked Maureen, but I just thought I'd throw that out there.
I personally write in 1st person because its more natural, though i do write in 3rd ocasionally.

6:40 AM  

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