Monday, March 28, 2011

Diana Wynne Jones / Point of View and Narrators

I'll apologize in advance, because I'm kicking off this post on a sad note.

Diana Wynne Jones, renowned British author of sci-fi and fantasy, passed away on March 26th. While I haven't read all of her books, she is the author of my favorite book that many of you have seen me reference multiple times: HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE.

(Howl and Sophie are characters I hoped to see her bring back time and again, as she did with their appearances in CASTLE IN THE AIR and, as recently as 2008, HOUSE OF MANY WAYS.)

Since the 1970's, Diana has written over 40 books, not to mention the number of collections she's contributed to and the short stories.

My heart and prayers go out to her family. She and her amazing stories will be missed.

For today's post, I also wanted to present a question to all our fantastic readers and my fellow YAtopians. This weekend I finished a book that has been fairly widely talked about. It's told from two first person POVs, male and female.

This isn't the first time I've seen alternating 1st person POVs like this. Maggie Stiefvater did it in SHIVER, and I loved it. But this book jumped back and forth even within a chapter, sometimes as often as every few paragraphs, and the transition felt so awkward and jerky to me. (Not to mention while the male narrator was the main love interest, there was another love interest who didn't get his own POV, and I feel there was never any real question about who the girl would end up with. It left the love triangle lacking a bit for me.)

I will say, though: I love multiple points of view in books. So long as the character's POV is necessary, of course. I love seeing everything through multiple sets of eyes, getting into more than one person's head. SHIVER allowed me to do this, and so did this other book I finished (jarring transitions aside).

I've heard from a small handful of agents who don't like more than one POV in a book. And a couple of others who think it's too difficult of a sell. I'll admit, I'm still getting the hang of reading first person. If I'm presented with two books on a shelf I think are interesting and the only difference is what POV they're written from, I'll grab the one in 3rd person without a second thought. On the writing side of it, I love the look of 3rd person, but I've discovered I'm a lot better at 1st.

So while I prefer to read and write in 3rd, it seems I end up reading and writing primarily in 1st.

My question(s) to all of you: do you have a preference in point of view and whether you get one narrator? Two? Ten? And if you're a writer, do you prefer to read one way, but write in another?

(As a side-note... Made it past the halfway mark of my current WIP! 40k!)


  1. First of all, my prayers and thoughts go up to Diana's family. I'm not familiar with her work,although I believe I've seen a movie called HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE pretty recently and loved it! Am I dreaming this? Or did her book get made into a movie? Either way, she sounds like she was an amazing writer, and now I'm going to make it a point to read her work.

    Secondly, Kelley, congrats on making it past the halfway point!! WOOT! I'm just now starting my WIP, so you're way ahead of me. ;-)

    As for which POV I like to write? I seem to favor first person, and love reading it, too. I also love third person. I guess it depends on the story. The story always tells me what way it needs to be written, if that makes any sense at all. LOL.

  2. Even Diana Wynne Jones has a book with alternating first person male and female POV. The Merlin Conspiracy. That is one of my favourite books by her. Some people find it confusing, but I've read it about ten times, so ah well. When I heard about what happened, I actually broke down a bit. She's the first author I've ever had die. All of the dead authors I've read were dead when I began reading their work.

    When I'm writing, I automatically go to third-person. That's my comfort zone for writing. However, I do occasionally like to go into first person, usually for short stories. No matter what point of view, I don't mind having a few narrators. I'm sure ten is unmanageable, but maybe three or four would work. It would be difficult to write though. Two is the normal number for multiple first person narrators.

    I'll read either one. If a book is well written, I couldn't care less what person it's written in. Although most of my books are third person, some of my favourites are written from first, such as The Goose Girl, The Merlin Conspiracy and Beka Cooper: Terrier.

  3. I don't have much of a preference between 1st and 3rd actually, but I usually don't like more than one POV. I can't explain why, but I just know I get frustrated with them easily.

  4. I prefer to read and write in 1st person. I just feel like I get to know the character so much better, especially when they have a really distinct narrative voice.

    As for how many narrators, it depends on the book. I wrote on WIP with two, and it worked fabulously (if I may say so myself). The one I'm writing now only has one. Some books need it in order to tell the full story. Some books don't.

  5. Howl's Moving Castle has been my favorite book since the fourth grade. I was so devestated the other day when I found out that Diana Wynne Jones was gone. I still can't believe it.

    To answer your question; I don't really prefer first or third, but I do think that every story has a point a view that it SHOULD be told in and it is the author's job to figure out what works best with their story. As far as my own writing goes, I haven't figured out how to get into the male mindset yet, so when my MC is a guy (like in my WIP) I write in limited third but when my MC is a girl I like to write in first.

  6. I'm great w/ first or third, as long as the POV is NOT told from an animal! <----Gah ... Drives me nuts. Even in a well written book like Edgar Sawtell! Haha!

  7. I definitely prefer first person, because it feels so much more engaging to me. My first finished manuscript alternates between two girls in first person POV- so you say there are agents looking for this?? Can you drop some names?? :)

  8. I used to hate third person, but lately I've read some great third person books, so that's changing my mind.

    And I just finished Bruiser by Neal Shusterman yesterday and that was in four points of view. The book itself was just okay with me, but I liked the multiple points of view. He also did it with his other book, Unwind, but with that, he kept it in third, and I liked that better.

    Personally, I'd rather read first person or third person limited, though. Some books are good with multiple points of view, but I think it depends on the story. Sometimes, a single point of view would be best, in my opinion.

    And when I used to write, I wrote a book with two points of view because it fit with the story, I thought. It was between the two leads, but they weren't love interests. But I preferred writing in first person with one point of view.

  9. Anita, HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE was turned into an anime movie a few years back. It didn't follow the book exactly and kind of did some weird stuff, but it captured the essence of the main characters rather well. :) That might have been what you saw.

    And I agree with you that the POV really depends on the story. There are admittedly some 1st person books I just CANNOT imagine in 3rd person.

    Lydia, the Merlin Conspiracy was actually one I really wanted to read! I'm interested in how she does the alternating POVs. Thanks for pointing that out!

    Sarah, how interesting! The SONG OF ICE AND FIRE books would probably drive you nuts, LOL. They have like eight+ POVS per book! That's the only series I've read where I've seen so many that managed to pull it off, though.

    Becca, that's part of why I write better in 1st, I think. I get into the character's head better, and their voice just flows.

    Kathleen, ditto. So in love with that book. I'm making it a point now to go out and collect all her other ones because I'm certain they're just as amazing. She had the most amazing world-building skills in her fantasy lands.

    I LOVE writing from the male POV. In fact, my current WIP is from a female WIP and it felt so strange to get into for some reason, LOL.

    Morgan, haha! I'm not sure if I've read any told from an animal's POV in 1st person. I never read a lot of animal books in general, I think, save for THE SECRET OF NIMH.

    Gina, I'm not sure of any off the top of my head who look for it, but since I'm seeing more and more multiple narrator books on the shelves, I'm thinking it's starting to become more accepted. The general rule of thumb seems to be to make sure each narrator is clearly defined. Like the character's name at the beginning of the passage to ensure the reader knows which narrator they're dealing with now. :)

  10. Evie, I agree with all of that. Some books really just don't NEED more than one POV and try to force it just because they wanted another character's voice in there. My first book had three POVs in 3rd, my second was one narrator in 3rd, and my current is 1st person, one narrator because I felt it was what the story needed most.

  11. I enjoy reading both points of view, but 1st person pov is my favorite because I can really feel it and get lost in that character's mind (as long as the MC is relatable).
    I only write in 1st person pov, because I have to envision myself in that role. When I try to write 3rd person it sounds choppy and distant.
    Good post, Kel - thanks for honoring DWJ.

  12. I used to only read and write third person, but that's when mostly I was reading adult. I shifted to YA and loved reading first, but it wasn't until I wrote WHAT A BOY WANTS that I told a book in first. Now, I love writing it!!

    I'm a huge fan of books written with multiple POVs. Actually, until WABW I always wrote multiple POV as well. My biggest peeves are.
    1. When I can't tell the difference in the voices. They both MUST be distinct.

    2. When a boy doesn't sound like a boy. GAH. KILLS me. I'm not talking a sterotype of a boy, he doesn't have to be that at all, but he MUST sound like a boy. Their voice is different from girls. I have a huge love for writing male POV so maybe that's why I'm so picky about it (not that I think I do it "right"). LOL.

    Awesome post and thanks for honoring Diana Wynne Jones.

  13. Oh and yay on halfway point. Can't wait to read more of it!!

  14. Like mentioned above, I think the story chooses the POV. I usually write in 3rd, but my current WIP came out in 1st (quite unexpectedly), and it seems to work. Books with more than one point of view are usually not my favorites, but it depends on the story/writing.

    Congrats on hitting 40K!

  15. Love multiple POV's, but it needs to work. Give me a chapter with the person's name as a title, don't make me think hard to know whose head I'm in, that makes me crazy.
    Also, I agree, in a love triangle you need to stick to one person, or rotate through all three.
    I have yet to read Shiver and I always get this collective gasp and then everyone proceeds to tell me that I HAVE to read it. I think I'll wait until they're all on the shelf...
    I don't love third person, I don't like reading it and I can't imagine writing it. Funny.

  16. I know I'm coming in late on this thread but ...

    Lydia, I have to agree with you. The Merlin Conspiracy is awesome. I'm on my second read.

    The three YA fantasy novels I'm writing now are written in 3rd person with three POVs. While I try to devote chapters to each POV change, sometimes there is a shift between POVs; however, this usually happens at the end of the chapter.

    I read somewhere from an agent once that multiple POVs are fine, so long as the new POV references the main character. This is so that the reader never loses sight of who the story is about. I try to remember this as I write from other POVs than my MC.

    My short stories are usually written in 1st person. They just seem to flow better.