Saturday, March 17, 2007

First Person Singular

Since it says I'm a writer over there in my profile, thought I'd talk a bit about writing. Last couple of years I've been struggling with viewpoint, also known as pov. (point of view) There are two povs that are used for most fiction. Third person and first person. There are seemingly endless variations on these two. First person multiple, close third, omniscient third, etc, etc.
What it boils down to though, in its most basic form is that in third you speak of someone else doing something, (He ran. She said.) and in first you speak as if you did something. (I ran. I said.)
Now I have almost always preferred first person, both in reading and in writing. I blame Edgar Rice Burroughs's immortal hero, John Carter of Mars and Raymond Chandler's prototypical private eye, Philip Marlowe. Burroughs and Chandler are probably my biggest influences in terms of my early writing.
Now keep in mind, I have no real problem reading books written in third person. Some of my absolute favorite stories and novels are in third. Conan is. Fritz Lieber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories are. Most of Michael Moorcock's Elric. All 24 Tarzan novels. No problem.
BUT writing in third is just no fun for me at all. I can do it. I've taught myself to do it over the years because I needed to be able to use third for various projects. Given my druthers, though, I'd write everything in first person. So why have I been struggling?
Because there are one or two stories I wanted to write that really need a third person pov. Usually this happens when I need more than one viewpoint character. The story needs to jump around from location to location. Show the hero. Show the villains. Show the female lead or some supporting characters. Bleh. Just makes me crazy. I like to pick a viewpoint and stay with it. But still I try.
Also, having always been sort of an intuitive writer, and one who writes most comfortably in his own voice, I have trouble writing from the pov of characters who are vastly dissimilar to me. I think of writers like actors. Some actors can play almost any sort of character. I always think of David Warner. He was a chillingly convincing Jack the Ripper in Time after Time, and yet he's possibly my favorite Bob Cratchit in the George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol. That guy can act. Dustin Hoffman comes to mind too. Can play just about any kind of character and make you believe it. Some writers are like that. They can enter the pov of any character and make it work. Hero, villain, man, woman. Whatever. George R. R. Martin. Ruth Rendell. Laura Kinsale.
Other actors are like John Wayne. No matter what movie he's in, he's pretty much always John Wayne. I think that's me sometimes. When I get too far from my own thought patterns, I get lost. Now this doesn't mean I can only write from the pov of a 45 year old southern guy. It just means the pov character has to have s similar outlook to mine. I do best with positive attitude heroes. Also helps if they're thinking men of action. Whenever I try to write a rogue like Conan, I just get lost. Kind of ironic, considering how much I like that character.
However, I can easily write that sort of character from the outside. I wrote a 'hero' who makes Conan look like a proper gentleman in my stalled novel, Some Dark God. But he wasn't the pov character. There was a first person narrator who was much more my sort of guy. A barbarian with a Watson.
Finally. my biggest problem with third is I just don't 'feel' it. To get that sort of gut level, gone into hell and come back to tell about it voice I almost have to be writing it in first person. So why not just write everything that way? Because i don't give up easy. Heh.
Anyway, those are my thoughts on writing this morning. I haven't solved anything, but I've stated the issue.

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