I have seen a few posts on POV (point of view), the most detailed and helpful being a recent one by Kristin Lamb which you can find here. I’m writing about it today, not because I have anything to add to what she said, but because this is a related point and it has come up while writing my current WIP.
Deciding on what POV you are going to take for your story and working out your characters’ voices are two different things but tightly interwoven. I use both first person and third person, not usually in the same novel (and it can take me a while to decide which works best) but my current WIP does have both which is something I will need to be careful about. And yes, I am well aware that Kristen says it’s not allowed. It’s my book, so my failure if it doesn’t work out. Leave me alone while I eat my mushroom.
The point I actually want to talk about is that just deciding on a POV is not enough. Whichever way you want to tell your story, whoever’s eyes you want to tell it through, your characters need a defining voice. They are, after all, supposed to be individual people, with feelings, thoughts, pasts and futures (unless they die, which is unfortunate).
In my case, and please remember that I don’t hold myself up to be an expert – I can only comment on what I have experienced personally on my own writing journey – I have found that character voice and POV have an effect on each other. I can’t really decide on one until I have decided on the other. For example, the heroine of my WIP is a teenager, just about to turn sixteen (which is also important but for other reasons) and this was my main motivation for telling the story, or at least her parts of it, in the first person.
Because teenagers aren’t necessarily able to deal with and articulate all the emotions they have roiling around inside at that point, I decided that first person POV was required. That way my character speaks for herself and I can report her feelings in her own voice, rather than having to try and articulate them as an onlooker.
Do you think I get a little too caught up in my characters? After all, I hear you cry, THEY’RE NOT REAL PEOPLE.
Except that, as far as I am concerned, at least for the duration of the WIP, THEY ARE. I have to feel what they feel and deeply, right down in my heart. I have to know what they know and the consequences that knowledge brings, the pain of past events and the hope of dreams for the future. I have to be inside them in order to write their stories because they are the only ones who know them well enough to tell them. Just as looking at a homeless person you can imagine all sorts of scenarios about how they ended up there, but only they can tell you the truth because they are the only ones who know it.