Voice Friday: Point of View

by Darcy Pattison

Does point of view affect voice? Yes. The current trend is to encourage first person point of view for young adult novels, and sometimes, I think this adversely affects the voice. The default for many years for novels was third-person point of view; you only when to first person when the attitude/personality of the narrator was so distinctive that it added something to the story.

Point of View

First person point of view: The person telling the story tells it from his/her point of view, that is, the camera is in their head and you can’t experience anything they haven?t experienced. The pronouns are I, me, my, etc.

Third person point of view: The camera is now above the person’s head and the pronouns are s/he, their, etc. This point of view can focus into a deep third person point of view, where the writing is assumed to be the main character’s thoughts, feelings, actions, so that in effect, it functions similar to a first person point of view. Or, it can draw back and be a more remote telling in which you must say, “he thought.” This focus can vary throughout the story. Third person is the workhorse of novels and tells most stories well. First person, it seems to me, should be reserved for those times when the narrator is distinctive in some way–their voice stands out.

Point of View and Voice

First person voices can emphasize attitude, emotions, voice, dialects, naivety, over-confidence, etc. Unfortunately, many drafts I see in first person are bland. The author has made the “safe” choices in attitude and tone, failed to emphasize the depth of emotions, failed to color the narrative with the character’s perspective.

If you’re writing a novel in first person, try taking an important scene and see how far you can push it towards the narrator’s perspective. Do it as different and wild and different as possible. Then test it: have a trusted critiquer read both and see what they say. Probably the new version will stand out the best.

But even third person needs to worry about voice. In my middle-grade fantasy novel,The Wayfinder, I have two sisters vying for control of the Wolf Clan. When I re-read an early draft, I realized the sisters sounded the same, even though they were clearly on opposite sides of a philosophical and political debate. Yes, as sisters, there should be some similarities, but not as much as there was.

A revision strategy I used was to cut and paste each sister’s dialogue into a separate file and then compare the files. Too similar. I worked on each file, working to give them distinctive tics, distinctive vocabulary and sentence structures. Then, I worked the dialogue back into the text. I’m not sure I was totally successful, but at least the sisters didn?t sound like clones.

As you make choices about point of view, also consider what that means for voice. How will this choice affect the diction (the vocabulary choices) that you will allow into the book? How will it affect sentence structures, rhythm patterns, etc? I’d like some suggestions on good MG and YA books in first person that have distinctive voices. Any one read a new book that does this well?

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