Wordy Wednesday (“Types of First Person POV”)

Look who’s back! I’m currently sitting all nice and snuggly at my desk in my dorm room, heater turned all the way up with a mountain of snow out my window and not a soul in sight. (Because Michigan right now = really freaking cold.)

Today was my first day of class, but I’m magically done already (I’m supposed to have a discussion section Wednesdays, but since we obviously don’t have anything to discuss yet, it’s not meeting until next week). While it’s not as nice as having NO classes on Wednesdays like last semester, only having two still bodes well for not stabbing myself over the stress of finding the time to post each week. So that’s good.

During my social media hiatus, my family escaped the cold by going down to Florida (primarily the Everglades and Keys), which was super nice and warm and wonderful for ruining me for the negative five billion degree temps we’ve got going here in the midwest now. But seriously: The Florida Keys are gorgeous. I’ll do more of a trip recap post sometime later this week, but for now, behold the beauty of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where we stopped on our way home.

Another post that should be coming sometime later this week: NEWS. I’ve got so much news to share with you. A lot’s been happening the past few weeks, to the point that I just haven’t had a chance to post about any of it individually, so  I figure I’ll do a nice big collective post for it all, and I am SO EXCITED to tell you about stuff! (So. Excited.)

And now, without further ado, this week’s Wordy Wednesday! The winning category was Writing Process, so I figured I’d talk about a stylistic choice I discovered recently in first person narratives.

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Everyone’s heard of the POVs: third person, second person, first person. Most stories are written in either third or first, and they allow varying degrees of connectivity to the reader. Third person narratives are generally the more storyteller-y ones (think Harry Potter) whereas first person is more likely to have a lot of focus on the voice and central viewpoint of your MC (think Hunger Games).

I nearly always write in first person, and I’ve never completed a novel in third. I naturally fall into writing in first person, present tense, and have for as long as I can remember, even back before it was popular to do so. Third person I can generally manage for a short story, then my brain just sort of shuts down and goes, “Nope. Sorry. Back to first.”

But within first person, there are sort of “sub” ways of writing. And today I’m going to discuss those.

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Telling the Story

This, I feel, is the most common type of first person narrative. In this type, the narrator speaks directly to the reader. It’s like the voice-over in a movie. The narrator might refer to “you” every once in a while in an ambiguous nod to the audience she knows is there, or say something like, “But that’s a story for another time,” etc. This is the narrator who has chosen to tell her story to the reader; she invites the reader into her thoughts and life.

However, that doesn’t mean the narrator necessarily is aware of the fact that her story is written. A lot of the time it really is just like a movie voice-over. Then, sometimes the character is writing her story in a diary, or telling it out loud to a friend, at which point the “you” type things stop being a nod to the audience as much as just a stylistic device in which the narrator refers to whoever or whatever, within her life, she is telling the story to.

Unreliable, Cognizant Narrator

This is sort of the frenemy narrator: the one who’s so aware of the reader–fourth wall completely smashed to pieces–that she picks and chooses what information to give, sometimes outright lying within her narrative. The term “unreliable narrator” itself generally refers to more just a narrator who has a very skewed viewpoint of a situation, but make that narrator cognizant of both their situation and audience, and suddenly you’ve got someone who knows she can lie through her teeth and the reader will have no choice but to believe her, up until the twist ending.

I’ve separated this one from the regular “telling the story” narration-style above, because this goes beyond that. Rather than simply getting the MC’s perspective on the events, you get the even more slanted perspective that she chooses to give you. It’s like how you might tell the story differently based on whether you were confiding in a co-conspirator vs. pleading your case before a judge. The co-conspirator would likely get a much more straightforward version of the story, whereas the judge would get information only in such a way that would bring him around to your side.

Stream-of-Conscious

In this case, the narrator isn’t narrating the events of the story, per say, as much as just talking to herself. What you’re reading is explicitly that character’s thoughts and observations, with the intended audience simply being herself–like how you talk to yourself in your own mind. So instead writing, I wonder if he’s the killer, she’d simply say, He might be the killer. Because of course, you’re not going to say “I wonder” when you’re in the middle of thinking, now are you?

I’ve found that you actually allow the reader to connect with your character and story more by placing them directly in your narrator’s shoes, rather than having the narrator tell the story to them. This was a bit of a recent epiphany, as I’ve been working to find ways to make my narrators easier to connect to, and it’s because you take down that glass barrier: instead of making your reader a second-hand observer of the situation, you bring them directly into the fold. They’re no longer reading the character’s account of the events, but rather watching the events happen through the character’s eyes.

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So, those are the different types of first person narrations that I’ve noticed. Do you know any others? Let me know in the comments.

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Be on the lookout for more posts coming soon!

 

~Julia

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6 thoughts on “Wordy Wednesday (“Types of First Person POV”)

  1. I am so glad you are back i thought you would be off for another week. i am so jellious you are back at school already i don’t start for another over a week. you look so great not tan but gorgeous. it’s going to help me that i do not have wendsday classes because it’s not that easy to keep up a weekly blog i really dont know how you do it leave alone how i am going to do this. glad to have you back try not to literally freeze. 🙂

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    • I guess the grass truly is always greener on the other side, because I’d much rather still be on break. 😛 “Not tan” is probably the most accurate description of me ever written, but thanks for saying “gorgeous” too haha. Yay for having Wednesdays off! You can do it–good luck!

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    • As I was doing all this, I kept thinking, “I should probably just tell them straight up what’s going on… they’re probably all thinking that I got a six-figure book deal or something… oh goodness, everyone’s going to be so disappointed in me…” haha

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