What a great anniversary blog we had on Monday & Tuesday (we thank you!), so it's a bit of a challenge following that one … so I thought I'd simply bring up an interesting and perpetual topic in historical fiction — that of POV or point of view — and I'd love to know what you all think about the many variations in historical fiction.
Limited third person: In my historical romances (here's a closeup of the gorgeous cover for my Sarah Gabriel, THE HIGHLAND GROOM), generally I avoid head hopping within one scene (mostly because I am the one who gets easily confused, haha) — I find it's too easy as the writer to lose control of the scene and dilute its potential. And I like to keep things simple: I write His and Hers POVs, one per scene, sometimes one per chapter. It helps to focus a story that has two main protagonists, and it helps
intensify character definition and development. A limited third person, with an intimate sort of spin, can add immediacy to the story. And we get to see each of the two main characters from two distinct angles — either in their head or from the other's perspective.
I'll rarely add even a third POV for a villain, as I like concentrating the story energy on the H & H — the essence of romance being two!
Choosing who owns that scene, or that emotion, or that incident, is the challenge with any POV, even first — generally the scene should be owned by the character who stands the most to gain or lose at that moment in the story (or the one who's most engaged at the time in moving the plot forward). Sometimes we writers don't know who that is until we're in the thick of writing — many times I've entirely revised a scene from the other character's perspective, and found it works way better. I don't always know until I get there — no matter how much planning I do beforehand (hence, at times, not a lot!).
For LADY MACBETH, I ventured into first person territory and in the early writing stages, I was a little nervous, having never taken on that sort of thing — but I quickly found that I love it. Having written third/hero and heroine, for so long, here was a character who could let it all hang out, and at times she did. The character can jump off the page and become real … but the writer has to make
judicious choices about how far to take that "I, I, I" that can move or dominate every page. Sometimes we don't WANT to know every single thing this person is thinking and doing. As readers, we don't want the character to nag or drone or bore us. We want that character to be continually unfolding before our eyes.
First person is a great tool for getting into character as well as story — and the reader has to do some of the work in figuring out who this person is, which can invest a reader more deeply in a story. The writer shouldn't have to tell the reader what this person is about. Sometimes the thoughts and actions presented are actually indicating the opposite of what is happening — a first person character is not always omniscient, and the role of the reader then adds the depth. That, along with the refreshing voice of a character who can truly speak up, is one reason I love writing first person. AND I love the way first person neatly limits a story and keeps it from spreading out all over the place. This is so handy in books that are limited in word count by the publishers' decision. In the case of LADY MACBETH, the story could have been huge–but seen from her perspective and experience only, there were natural boundaries that helped to focus the plot and story.
I also bracketed the story, prologue and later, with present tense first person, which I found very liberating to write, and really barreled the story along when needed — though I haven't tried it for an entire book, I'd love to sometime. It's challenging and very interesting, though sometimes seems to defy its own logic.
For QUEEN HEREAFTER (coming in December 2010!) I used a mix of first and third. The book features three main characters: Queen Margaret of Scotland, a Celtic harper named Eva, and Eva's kinswoman, Lady Gruadh, aka Lady Macbeth (it's partly a sequel!). Each one is initially seen in first person POV – so they get their direct say and establish their personalities and dilemmas right up front — and the story resumes in a close or limited third person, so that we know only what they're thinking, observing, doing. I wanted to capture the intimacy of first person, while keeping most of the story in third person perspective to keep the tone at an intimate level, while panning out the camera into longer shots as needed. Queen Margaret was a very complex lady, with idiosyncracies and layers of piety and fiestiness. If she were to be seen in first person POV entirely, we would never get past her own subjectivity (and constant prayer), so her story really needed the perspective of another character such as Eva or Lady Macbeth, who have sometimes very different points of view on things than saintly Queen Margaret.
So there you go, in a nutshell, the primary points of view that I've tried. What I'd love to know from you all — what do you enjoy most in POV — the third, the first, the present, the past tense … the omniscient overview, the zoomed-in close-up?
Do you sometimes not notice POV at all? Do you like the comfort and wider perspective of third, or does first person attract you, intrigue you … or simply drive you bats?