Point of View.
Every author has to figure out which character (or characters) is telling the story, and if she’s telling it alone, and if she’s telling it in first person or third (or sometimes from an omniscient perspective), and if she’s telling it in past tense or present. So many decisions! As I begin my new work-in-progress, tentatively titled The Midwife’s Confession, I’m grappling with all these decisions. That started me thinking about point of view in my recent and upcoming books.
I always–at least so far–write in past tense, so that part’s easy. In Before the Storm and Secrets She Left Behind, I told the stories from four points of view, each in first person. What a challenge that was! I needed to be so careful to differentiate between the voices. Even in third person, that’s important, but in first person it’s critical. I loved it, though, because writing in first person made me feel so close to all my characters.
In Breaking the Silence, which will be reissued in less than a month (yeah! I love that book and I’m so happy it’s coming out again), I wrote from three points of view, all third person. Laura, the woman whose father makes a deathbed plea for her to take care of a stranger, has the largest role. Dylan, the father of Laura’s little girl, has a smaller but still important role. And some may argue that the elderly stranger, Sarah, has the most critical role of all. Her story takes place in the past and everything that happens in the present hinges on the events from her life.
In Summer’s Child, which will be reissued in April, I have four points of view, again all in third person. This story of a newborn baby discovered on a beach has more twists than a roller coaster! I just finished proofing the galleys for the reissue and noticed that I did something I rarely do anymore: I changed points of view in the middle of a chapter. I didn’t remember doing that. It definitely works, thank goodness. One thing I’d never do is risk switching POVs in the middle of a scene, although I know some writers who do so successfully. I don’t like jumping around that much, either as a writer or a reader. Even though the POV shift works in Summer’s Child, I’ll probably stick with different chapters for different characters for the rest of my career. I like the neatness of that approach.
In my upcoming June 2010 book, The Lies We Told, I tried something very different. I tell the story only from two points of view, a rarity for me, and one of the POVs is first person (Maya) while the other is third person (Rebecca). Why did I do that? Because the book is primarily Maya’s story and I wanted the reader to feel closer to her. I think the first person POV accomplishes that.
The Midwife’s Confession will have four points of view, and I just realized they’re all female. I’m debating whether any of them will be first person. I think I’ll try the central character’s first few chapters both ways to see which feels right to me.
If you’re a writer, how do you make the decisions about POV? And if you’re a reader, do you even notice? I frankly hope not! A good story should be so seamless that the mechanics of writing shouldn’t even register with a reader. . . unless that reader happens to be a writer as well. Then all bets are off!