“Two” be Avoided at All Costs

I have a policy about finishing every (fiction) book I start to read. In my life, I can only come up with a couple of instances where I just couldn’t force myself to the end.

Perhaps I should clarify, that policy only applies to books written in first and third person.

If I’m reading something written in second person, it is because some sadistic professor thought it was a good idea.

Unless it is a Pick-Your-Own-Path adventure story, I see no point in second person. Maybe that makes me a bad English major. Maybe it makes me a bad person. I don’t care. Second person aggravates me.

To me, second person is the ultimate telling versus showing. I am being told how to feel. “Your heart started to thud. You screamed.” I am not screaming. Well… only internally and only at the book.

First person is a much more subtle way to make the reader experience the characters emotions. Done well, the reader becomes the POV character. “My heart started to thud. I screamed.” The character is doing those things. If I am caught up enough in the story, I am doing those things along with the character. I am not being told to do them, or that I have done them. First person doesn’t have to be a self-insertion, but it does open the door for every reader to be that character as they turn the pages.

Even though I prefer to write in first person—not sure exactly when it happened, but I realized a few years ago that everything I’d written in a while had been in first—there are aspects of third person that I envy. For instance, do you know how hard it is to describe the POV character’s appearance? Your options are—look at a reflection (way overdone), have somebody else mention it within the character’s hearing (guaranteed to seem staged unless the character has some hideous deformity: “What happened to her face? Did she get in an acid fight?”), or have the character talk about it (POV character, thy name is Narcissus).

Half the fun of writing in first person is making sure that information isn’t revealed about events and the world before the POV character learns about it. It’s fun, but it’s also a huge pain in the ass. Especially when editing in scenes earlier on in the story. Sure the character knows that detail in chapter thirty, but now I’m in chapter twenty-four, was this introduced already or did it happen later?

So while there is no overall right POV to write from, there is most definitely a wrong one. At least, there is in my not so humble opinion.

At the age of six, Eliza was certain of two things. The first was that she had stories to tell. The second was that she had no talent for illustrating them herself. Talent or no, she still wrote and illustrated her first book, one that should be located and locked away if only to prevent her parents from embarrassing her terribly by showing it off alongside baby pictures. Now she spends her days writing stories that she isn't embarrassed to show off after a little bit of polishing.

1 Comment

  • Muriel Green says:

    “Sure the character knows that detail in chapter thirty, but now I’m in chapter twenty-four, was this introduced already or did it happen later?”

    Thanks for bringing this up. It is my bane, but I never hear writers talk about it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.