Wednesday, January 5, 2011

With one voice

1st Person POV, continued.

The primary definition of point of view (POV) is, whose eyes we see the action through, whose head we’re in, whose emotions and reactions we’re privy to as the character experiences them. When an author chooses to write in 1st person POV, she must immerse herself in that character’s thoughts, sensory perceptions, worldview, emotions, and voice. With any character it is important to know where the character is coming from, what he believes, what he wants, why he wants it, what his education level is, what his background is, what his heroic qualities might be contrasted with his failings, how he feels about himself, and what his voice sounds like, in addition to how he looks and how old he is. When that character becomes the narrator of the story, all of these features contribute to what is called “voice.”

Voice is the way things are said in the story. It can and should include things like dialect and educational level, but it is also affected by the character’s emotional state and attitudes, the way he looks at the world and himself, even the level of deception in the narration (not all 1st person narrators are completely honest with themselves or the reader!). If you write in 1st person, you must know your character intimately and “become” the character as you write, so that you, the author, become invisible and it is as if the character is writing the story himself.

The benefits of this kind of narration are that it gives the most intimate view of the character and events in the story, and the story is tightly focused on the character’s goals, motivations, needs, and emotions. This increases the degree to which the reader will connect with the character. Adding a distinctive voice to the character means the experience is as individual as any of us is to another.

The pitfalls can be that the narration is restrictive, so key elements of the plot taking place outside the character’s perceptions can’t be explored. The narrative can feel “claustrophobic.”  Also, that voice that was interesting or charming at the beginning of the novel can become annoying or boring by the end.

Not all genres or readers are accepting of 1st person narration. Fortunately for YA writers wishing to explore this POV technique, it is quite popular with teenage girls, giving them the feeling that they’re reading a journal or sharing the confessions of a friend. 

You have a story idea about a something that happens to a teenage girl, and you decide to write in 1st person from her perspective because… well, everything happens to her. But another point to consider in making the choice to write in 1st person is why the character would want to tell the story. What is she hoping to say about herself? 1st person, being very personal, should focus on “persona and identity: What of myself do I reveal to the world?” (Rasley, page 25.)

Thus, as with any narrative type, you need to consider how the character changes from the beginning of the story to the end (called the “character arc”). As you write the story, what your character understands about herself at the beginning of the story will change by the end, and thus some aspect of her voice will change as well.

One point I can’t reiterate enough, no matter what POV you choose to write your story in… When you’re writing for young adults, the “voice” of the story should be that of a young adult, not an adult looking back on his or her teen years. Your goal is to connect with teen readers, and if your reader gets a whiff of an adult lecture in your story, you’re likely to lose her. 

While there are exceptions to the rules, and someone might bring up To Kill a Mockingbird as an exception to this one, we must keep in mind that anything can be done with the skills of a masterful storyteller. For the rest of us, these rules are means to help us enhance our skills and grow into the storytellers we hope to be.
In my next post, I’ll talk about how some authors have broken the 1st person “rules.”

This month’s giveaway will be a two companion books useful for teen ministry or exploring some of the issues teens face, Every Young Man’s Battle: Strategies for Victory in the Real World of Sexual Temptation, by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker, and Every Young Woman’s Battle: Guarding Your Mind, Heart, and Body in a Sex-Saturated World, by Shannon Ethridge and Stephen Arterburn. Everyone who posts a comment this month will be entered into a drawing to receive these books. 

Random side note: Stephen Arterburn is someone I’d love to interview for this blog. Maybe I’ll come up with some questions and see if I can contact him. Also, I’m open to suggestions for people to interview! Authors, editors, agents, and people involved in youth ministry… anything that relates to writing for teens!


Diana Sharples

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