Point of View is Not Always a Good Compass For the Truth

Guest Blogger: Anne Greenwood Brown

I love writing in the first person point of view. Somehow, telling the story how one character perceives it helps me channel that character’s emotions and capture a unique voice. I think first person works particularly well with YA fiction, where the reader wants to identify so closely with the narrator. But there are some “cons” to making that point of view choice. For example, when the reader is only in one character’s head, he/she doesn’t know if that character’s view of the world is accurate. The reader also has no way of knowing what any other character is thinking, unless they say it out loud. When those other characters start to act in odd ways, not knowing their motivations can lead the reader to scratch his or her head.

One way that I have satisfied both my love of first person, as well as the reader’s need to understand the non-pov characters better, is to switch things up from one novel in the series to the next. In LIES BENEATH, a novel about murderous mermaids and their need for revenge, the story is delivered through the voice of Calder White–the only brother in the clan. As with all mermaids/men in this series, his natural mindset is one of misery and depression. He self-medicates by “feeding” off the positive energy of human beings. In short, Calder is a predatory animal. He sees the world in terms of what he can gain from it. All that changes, however, when Calder meets Lily Hancock. Through her, he evolves from a predatory animal into a man, who becomes capable of what I consider the most difficult and highest form of humanity–the ability to forgive. Still . . . there are unanswered questions. First and foremost: What the heck was Lily thinking when she hooked up with this monster?

To answer this question, the story continues with DEEP BETRAYAL, which is told from Lily’s point of view. It was difficult for me–after spending so much time in Calder’s head–to switch to the voice of a more typical teenaged character. Now we see the world through a different lens: that of an 18-year-old girl with romantic notions, but also with a healthy dose of insecurity. She doesn’t know what direction her life will take. What I found most fun about writing these two novels (and the final book in the trilogy, PROMISE BOUND) was playing with the point I made at the beginning of this post: namely, that different people view the same set of events in very different ways. They bring with them their own past experiences and their own prejudices; and these things color the way they see the world.

As I think about my favorite books, it’s these different lenses that I find most interesting. How can you trust your narrator if you don’t know if his/her lens is completely in focus? As a means of highest example, in the Harry Potter series, the reader’s impression of Severus Snape through the course of seven novels is completely misdirected simply because of Harry’s prejudice and out-of-focus lens. Similarly, in the Hunger Games, Katnis’s need to survive does not allow her to fully comprehend that–when it comes to love–Peta isn’t playing the same game she thinks they are playing. Perhaps, seeing different approaches to life play out in books can help us develop more empathy in our own every day lives. In other words, can we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and get a better understanding of the world? I’d like to think we can.

So now, let’s turn to you. Can you think of any other examples where the point of view character’s (mis)understanding of the world led you in the wrong direction? What point of view is your preference in YA novels?

Anne Greenwood Brown grew up sailing the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior, leaning over the rail and wondering, with a lake that big, that ancient, what amazing thing might flash by. Her novel, LIES BENEATH, tells the tale of Calder White, the only brother in a family of murderous mermaids living in Lake Superior. The sequel, DEEP BETRAYAL, was released on March 12, 2013, and the final book, PROMISE BOUND releases in spring 2014. In addition to her website, you can find Anne on Facebook and Twitter.

One Comment:

  1. I’ve been told that first person is a turn off to editors, but feel comfortable with it in my first and second novels (adult adventure). In hopes of getting published, I caved in and went with third person when writing my third. Your suggestions will help. Thanks.

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