Sunday, March 22, 2009

Writer Talk: Point of View

This is my first effort at the "nonpromotional" blog post. The idea is just to share my experiences actually writing fiction and hear any ideas or comments you might have. But there's no obligation because this is more of a "morning pages" type meditation to try to figure out my own writing process.

It is so wonderful to be writing fiction again. It's like a tall glass of ice water on a hot day. I just want to keep drinking and drinking. Mmmm......

So, I finished one new story in the past two weeks and had another on my list, but a completely different one brazenly pushed itself forward and I couldn't resist the little hussy. What I found interesting (to me, anyway) is that the first story was a sort of mystery tale and I instinctively chose the third person. The main character is in a very protective place in her life and the POV seems to add to that intriguing distance, that question of why this woman is engaging in these edgy sex acts. This new one, however, just screamed for my first-person wry observer, very much like my protagonist, Lydia, in Amorous Woman. This approach to a story feels more comfortable for me, certainly for a long-term project like a novel.

I've read in writing/publishing how-to books that third-person is preferred by many editors. Some literary magazine editors will actually send rejections saying "we have too many first-person narratives." And of course third-person allows you to hop around to different characters more easily among other advantages. Most blockbuster novels are sagas which follow the fates of many different characters in that way. Yet for me, erotic writing is more intimate as a confession. I'm going to start writing my second novel with "I's" but I'm also wondering if I should try a page or two in third-person, just to see how it feels. Any thoughts on the advantages of one or the other are most welcome here or "in private."

This brings up the question of second-person, which I actually enjoy writing, but seems to drive many editors and readers INSANE for some reason. More on that later. Hope you're having a good weekend!


Emerald said...

Wow, I just rambled on such a response here that I decided to just put it in an email to you instead, lol. It should be coming along later. Thanks for the question!

Isabel Kerr said...

Hi Donna,

This is such an excellent topic for discussion! I look forward to hearing what others think, and I'll put some thoughts on this down as soon as I can.

Craig Sorensen said...

I'm sorry I didn't get to read your reply, Emerald!

I believe the nature of the story dictates the voice. It's determined by what best fits the story. If there are 100 first person and ten third person, and one of the first person stories is the best, the voice point becomes moot.

I started out writing exclusively in third person, because I didn't like being bound to a single character's POV. My first handful of erotic efforts were third person. But a story I was working on didn't "feel" right in third person, so I went to first. Now I'd say about half of what I write first person because it strengthens the voice in the given setting.

I've only done a few second person, one of which (I'm pretty sure it's only one) has been published. I awoke with the story playing in my head. My first pass at it, I tried to "translate" to first person. But it kept coming at me in second person, so I just followed it.

Second person can be tough to sell because of its dictatorial tone. You're essentially telling someone what they are doing, not inviting them into a setting. But I think it can be very sexy because it is perhaps more "shared." And that dictatorial tone can be sexy too.

It has to be handled carefully!

Thanks for posing a great question.

Donna said...

Yeah, Emerald, I didn't get that email yet and I'm really curious to know your thoughts! Isabel, please do weigh in--looking forward to that.

And thank you, Craig--it's interesting and helpful to hear about your experiences. There is that "feels right" quality to it, although sometimes it feels like the story takes over and tells me what to do. I always give in but my editorial voices always screech a little, lol.

I'm going to do more on second person, but I agree it feels shared, more intimate. I think erotica has special requirements and second-person is more suitable than most genres (including the literary genre, lol).

Isabel Kerr said...

Hi Donna and Craig, you’ve echoed a lot of my thoughts on this too. And Emerald, I hope we can read what you have to say here as well.

For my part it depends on how I feel about the character and the situation, which may be very limiting, but he or she tells me what to do too.

I write probably 50-50, first and third, and like Craig, it took me a little bit to get to the first person because it can be intimate and personal. Is this really me talking? The character in this case has to be believable to me, in that I can put myself in his or her shoes. You probably won’t read anything by me as a young, gorgeous protagonist. I do not have any problem being a young hot guy though... ; )

Sometimes the detachment of third person is too much for hot sex. I do like the immediacy of first.

As you have mentioned, there is an intimacy to 2nd person and it is a very special circumstance that makes it work. To me it’s a very emotionally expressive mode. Somehow it seems to come off sounding accusatory. I do have one piece, unpublished, but it is very intense emotionally and visually and works better that way.

Thanks Donna for opening the subject, I look forward to hearing more from you all.

Donna said...

Isabel, you tease! First there's your novella and now this emotionally intense piece. Hmmm, maybe we should do a second-person share here--just a paragraph or two?

I'm such an exhibitionist and voyeur.

But, more seriously (I was serious, btw) this is so fascinating to hear about other writers' processes. Plus it makes me feel less alone with my issues :-).

Jeremy Edwards said...

Great topic, Donna!

I've noticed that I often (though not always) write from a first-person POV when my primary protagonist is a charming, handsome man (lol).

And I frequently situate a woman as the primary protagonist and narrate her story from a third-person POV that resides strictly within her perspective (i.e., though it's a "she ..." rather than an "I ..." narrative, the reader only knows what she knows). On one or two occasions, though, I've done first-person POV with a female protag; on the one occasion I specifically remember, the story just flowed that way from the start, without my even thinking about what POV to use.

I can think of two pieces I've written with a second-person POV. In one of them, "You in Your Apricot Panties," the mechanism is not that of telling the "you" what's happening to her, but rather a sort of homage to her, by which the narrator reverently describes her behavior. In the other, "Vacation Plans," the narrator is telling his girlfriend what he's up to while she's away, sort of as if he's speaking to her in his head: "You and I both know that instead of house-sitting for you, I should really have left with you this morning on vacation ..."

Emerald said...

Jeez, I'm sorry Donna — yesterday got away from me and indeed, I did not get your email sent.

So I guess I'll just post it here now, heh. Here's what I said:

"When I was in a MFA in creative writing program, most of my colleagues in the program seemed to write in first person, and I heard similar criticism (that that was too common and that editors preferred third person). Funnily (I find it so anyway), I almost never wrote in first person until I started writing erotica. Really, almost never. It felt utterly foreign and mysterious to me. Yet when I started writing erotica, it seemed to be what came out, without my even making the decision. I'm not sure why that is, though your observation that erotica seems "intimate" resonates with me and has occurred to me before.

I have recently started writing more in the third person again in erotica, and at this point it seems to me that a pov just unfolds according to the particular story. That in itself seems interesting to me since it used to seem that third person was what I automatically wrote in, and when I started writing erotica first person seemed almost as automatically what I would use. I really appreciate the individual story determining the pov itself, so to speak.

It also seems to me that each story is unique, as is each writer, and to say that a point of view "doesn't work" in general seems denigrating to that concept. I wouldn't chastise anyone (editors, I mean) for having preferences, but I appreciate the idea of examining a story within its own context and uniqueness. For example, I did indeed hear discouragement of writing in the second person when I was in the MFA program, but look at your story "Yes." It's obviously been found fabulous by at least editors Rachel Kramer Bussel and Susie Bright. (Congratulations again. :)) That's the kind of unique, self-contained reception I appreciate (and refer to).

Whew, sorry to ramble! ;) I seem to find it an interesting subject."

Indeed, actually the idea of "rules" like that (e.g., don't write in second person, third person is best, etc.) was one of the things I resisted in the MFA program. To me it seems dissonant with the subjective nature of art and creativity and the uniqueness of each work.

Thanks for sharing all. And thanks for asking, Donna!

Donna said...

Thank YOU, Emerald. Whew, I have a lot to think about. And you know, I'm always fascinated by stories of MFA programs. In a way I envy that focus on writing, but I'm also afraid the structure and politics would stifle my creativity. But I always like to "attend" vicariously.

I think/hope when it comes down to it, the story itself trumps any rules. Besides, erotica writers especially seem to be types who are bucking rules of any kind. I'm trying my best ;-).

Thank you, thank you all. This is by no means the last word on this topic of course!

Isabel Kerr said...

; ) Thanks Donna. I didn't mean to be a tease! I'd love to read a second person paragraph or two or three of yours. I'd have to see if mine would make sense at all in an excerpt.


my primary protagonist is a charming, handsome man

and you always do find that lighting that flatters your, um, profile, don't you!

I remember, 'You in Your Apricot Panties.' How's that for making an impression in the dreaded second person. It was delightful. I can just imagine 'Vacation Plans,' and these are two excellent examples of where second person works so well.

As with each point of view, it all depends on how it's handled, and I suspect it has most to do with how we (the authors) feel and relate to it. I suppose we should be able to be more detached but I find I have to be involved in the story in some way and that is how it manifests itself.

Does this make sense...

Donna said...

Well, I'm like Jeremy, the clever, irresistible female protagonists always speak in first person, lol.

You're making sense to me, Isabel, and I'll add that I only want to read fiction where the author cares and is totally involved and passionate about his or her story. I can't be "carried away" unless the author is. I suspect I can't be turned on either unless the author is!

Neve Black said...

I'm sorry I'm coming in late to this interesting conversation. Donna, congratulations on that tall glass of water.

I don't often write in the 1st person and feel most comfortable writing 3rd POV. I like to think I'm riding along with my character, or flying just above he/she; voyueristically taking notes. It's an easier perspective for me. I dunno.

Maybe as my writing seasons, I'll spread my wings and go for that demanding, you must do as I say 2nd POV.

Nice post.

Emerald said...

"I'm also afraid the structure and politics would stifle my creativity."

Though I could babble about the nuance/complexity I experienced in regard to the MFA program, this in large part sums up why I left it (without finishing). I felt distinctly that it did not resonate with me, though that is in no way meant to invalidate MFA programs at all. It was just the way I personally experienced it. For others, it works wonderfully, which I think is great.

"I think/hope when it comes down to it, the story itself trumps any rules."

And I completely agree with that. It didn't seem to me to be a presiding philosophy in an academic program. ;) (Which, again, may be to be expected — academia must, after all, have some structure and rules simply by virtue of its context and purpose.)

Indeed, Isabel and Donna, I agree that the author feeling involved in the work and the energy with which it is created seems quite significant to me.

I guess I got over my rambling concern to some degree here, heh. ;) I hope I'm not going on too much.

Donna said...

Oh, my, no, you're not rambling on--I look forward to hearing more in August (We booked our flight for the weekend of August 8-9). Yay!

Jeremy Edwards said...

Thank you for the praise, Isabel! You treat me even better than favorable lighting. : )

I think that people who hold forth—in academic settings and elsewhere—often like to state things as absolutes (because it sounds pithier and makes the speaker appear more impressive); whereas few subjects, imo, truly justify such cut-and-dried rules and generalities. Personally, I wish people giving guidance would be less reluctant to say "sometimes" and "often" and "you may find" and "can be," instead of all that "always" and "never" and "every."

Emerald said...

Jeremy, I could not agree with you more. Nicely put!