“I almost always urge people to write in the first person. . .Writing is an act of ego and you might as well admit it.”
Point of view is crucial in a novel. One of the quickest ways to turn me from a book is immature point of view. I often experiment with point of view. In my current work, I started out all first person, with one character telling the story. I’ve decided two other characters deserve to be heard in Trails in the Sand so I’m experimenting. After reading A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, I decided to change point of view after each chapter. I highly recommend this Pulitzer Prize novel as a primer on point of view. Not only does it change after every chapter, the author experiments with all of the type of POV, even using second person successfully.
Here’s my four samples of POV from Trails in the Sand.
Caroline – First Person
I savored that first sip of coffee every morning. The whir of the coffee grinder woke me as regularly as any alarm clock when my husband churned beans into grounds for our daily ritual. Simon used only the darkest roast with an oily sheen. Every morning he brought me a steaming mug of the brew along with the morning papers. If my eyes weren’t open when he came into the room, he bent down and gently kissed me on the forehead.
“Good morning, baby,” he’d say, and I’d look up into his smiling face, his blue eyes twinkling a greeting. His eyes mirrored my own blue eyes. At one time we both had blonde hair, but now with age, Simon’s had turned white while mine remained the same color of our youth, thanks to L’Oreal.
As I sipped the aromatic brew, I glanced at the morning’s headlines before my attention was diverted to the television and George Stephanopoulos.
It was only a blip on the charts of the day’s news stories. I would have missed mention of it if I’d gone to the bathroom when George said an oil rig had caught on fire in the Gulf of Mexico the night before. On the morning of April 21, 2010, other news took precedence over this minor incident occurring miles off the coast of Louisiana.
Simon – First Person
I liked things simple. When I first met Caroline, I was fourteen and she was nine, and my feelings for her were anything but simple for three decades. Now watching her sip her morning coffee, her forehead crinkled into a frown as she considered how to find out more about the oil rig fire in the Gulf of Mexico, I marveled at the simplicity of our life. I reveled in it.
“I’m going to check on the garden while you do your Lois Lane thing,” I said when I finished my first cup. “We should have tomatoes within the month. You ready to start putting up salsa?”
“You bring me tomatoes, and I’ll dance the salsa,” Caroline said. “You know you grow the best in the world.”
Narrative – Third Person Omniscient
Details about the oil rig explosion and fire slowly leaked into the news as it became more than a blip in the media. Often the early reports contradicted each other, confused the public, and spread distrust between all parties involved.
Within days, the name BP – British Petroleum – became synonymous with “oil spill.” The rig, Deepwater Horizon, was owned by Transocean, but leased by BP for drilling its Macondo well, forty-miles southeast of Venice, Louisiana, 5,000 feet below sea level, 13,000 feet under the seabed.
Jodi – Third Person Limited
The shock of her mother dying came to Jodi slowly despite all the false alarms over the years. All those hospitalizations, each time never knowing if Amy would come home or not, still didn’t prepare the daughter for the loss of her mother.
“Somehow you’ve got to make her eat,” Jodi heard the doctor tell her father more than once. “Or you need to admit her to the psych ward at Shands in Gainesville.”
Jodi’s dad said he knew the doctor was right, but then GG interjected.
“There’s not a thing wrong with my daughter, Greg Simpson,” GG said. “I’ve known you since before you were born, and you’ve always been a trouble maker.”
“Gladdy, Greg is only trying to help,” Jodi’s grandfather said. “Maybe we should think about what he’s saying.”
“I hope you all do think about it,” Dr. Greg Simpson said. “Otherwise, Amy is going to die.”
Jodi slumped in her chair when she heard the pronouncement from Dr. Simpson. No one noticed her sitting there. She was eight years old that time. As an only child, she learned one thing very well. She retreated into a hole of her own making while the grownups ignored her silence as they retreated into their own lies.
I’m still plodding and plotting my way through the second draft. Then when I leave on vacation next week, I’m going to let the whole thing sit in a notebook waiting for my return. Hopefully, the break will allow me to come back to the novel with fresh eyes. Then I’ll decide if this experiment in point of view works.
What do you think?