Writing from a different viewpoint and other POV issues

Nashville Book CoverNow that I have finished Camp NaNoWriMo, I have had to get back to editing ‘From Here to Nashville’ with a vengeance. My aim is to go through my three beta readers’ comments and do a final edit of the story before the end of May, at which point I will send my manuscript off to be assessed by the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association). I’m now on my fourth draft of the story and I’m finding it so difficult to apply some of the points that have been raised. The proofreading type edits are easy but it’s the more meaty comments that would involve a lot of rewriting that are so hard to deal with. So I thought it would be useful in my blog post today to raise two of the more difficult issues I’ve been trying to handle, for you to consider.

Writing in a different gender My story divides quite easily into three parts. Part one is set in Dorset and is written from Rachel’s point of view. The second part sees the story move to Nashville and is from Jackson’s viewpoint. The final part moves between both settings and so I alternate between the two main characters’ points of view. I’ll come back to point of view in a moment but I’d like to look at this problem of writing in a different gender. Obviously, it was always going to be much easier for me to write Rachel’s point of view because she is a woman, like me, and I can understand what’s going on inside her head that much more easily for that. When it came to Jackson, I didn’t really ever think consciously, now I need to write more like a man. I had the character in my mind and just wrote his part the way I saw it. However, the feedback I’ve received from two of my beta readers is that he’s not enough like a man, in fact, he’s too much like a woman. The problem with this is that I have created a character in my mind and tried to put him on the page the way I imagined him to be. I can accept that maybe he’s a bit too feminine and work on some of what he says and does but I worry that if I try to make him more ‘manly’, I may stray into male stereotype territory and I don’t want to do that either. As always, I did some research on the internet and came across this useful article from Janice Hardy’s ‘Fiction University’ blog: http://blog.janicehardy.com/2011/02/gender-bending-writing-different-gender.html

If you’re interested in this issue, you really must read the full article but I would like to pick out the main points that I found useful for me in my current dilemma. Firstly, she says that ‘A well-rounded character is just the same, no matter what the sex.’ She says that we’re often tempted to write gender stereotypes when writing about the opposite sex to our own but this will only lead to us writing flat, two-dimensional characters and our reader won’t believe in them. What we need to do is to look at people we know who are of the opposite sex and ask them what they would do or say in the situations our character finds themselves in. For example, I asked my husband what he would say in answer to a question about whether a wedding had gone well. Jackson says ‘It was really lovely’ in my story but my husband said he would never say that. He thought he would probably say ‘it was really nice.’ Well, that’s a bit bland for my character but it made me think about my choice of language for a man. I don’t think my husband is a typical man’s man but his language is definitely not as flowery as mine. Another tip Janice gives is to focus on the character, not the gender, seeing them as a person first and foremost. I liked this point a lot. Everyone is different and should be treated as such and for the reader, that’s what makes a character interesting. My question for myself needs to be not whether Jackson ‘needs to grow a pair’, as one reader advised (!) but whether his character is genuinely more in touch with his emotions and whether that reads right in my story. Her final point is to get a beta reader of the opposite sex to read the story and to see what their take on it is. I am going to take that advice and see what happens.

Point of View I want to come back to the question of which point of view you write in. As I’ve said, my story is told in the first person, either by Rachel or by Jackson. I have had some surprising reactions to this. One reader a while back told me that she had only ever read one book written in first person point of view! I was shocked by that statement. I’ve lost count of the number of stories I have read in the first person and it doesn’t bother me at all. It did knock my confidence at the time she said that though because when I did some more research, I found that some critics believe that only inexperienced, first-time writers (like me) would make the mistake of writing in the first person. I blogged about it here. Anyway, I got over it and decided that, whilst I respected that view, it was not something to focus on. However, I’ve had this comment again recently, thus stirring up the same storm for me all over again. This reader has carried on and adjusted to that point of view and she is no longer bothered by it but it is still a worry for me, now that a few people have mentioned it. To change it now would be really hard but I am wondering whether to change the third part of the story to third person instead. I have heard from other writers that Carole Matthews, a very successful romance novelist, writes in first person from different characters’ points of view, concluding with a change to third person and so I feel heartened by that. I need to get round to reading one of her novels very quickly to see how she does it!

In summary then, it is a hard job editing your novel and trying to work out which comments to take on board and which to leave out. The important thing is to consider them all and then make your own decision. It is very important to have other people read your work of course but at the end of the day, it is your story and these are your characters. Only you, as the author, can decide what exactly it is they would say and do in certain situations but it helps to have other people give your their opinions to make sure that you have written the best characters you can write for your novel.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog today. As always, I would appreciate any comments you might have on these topics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Julie Stock and My Writing Life, 2013 – 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Julie Stock and My Writing Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

17 thoughts on “Writing from a different viewpoint and other POV issues

  1. This topic couldn’t have come at a better time for me, as a writer. I’m constantly going back and forth between writing in first person and “should I write in third person instead”. This constant struggle is why I haven’t completed my first draft yet. I like what you’re considering doing: writing from the POV of different characters and then in third person. That’s a great idea!
    The best piece of advice that I’m taking away from this post is when you say, “The important thing is to consider them all and then make your own decision.” LOVE IT! It’s music to the ears of any writer!
    GOOD LUCK with meeting your writing/editing/publishing goal!

    • Thank you so much for this lovely comment. I’m glad that reading my blog post has helped you decide what to do with your writing. It gives me so much pleasure to know that my struggles with writing are proving helpful to other writers. That’s the best feedback you can get :) Good luck to you too with your writing and thanks for taking the time to read and leave a comment.

  2. I think it’s always a bit tricky to work out what feedback to take on board and what to let go. But, like you say, in the end, only you can decide.
    There’s so much good first-person writing it’s hard to believe anyone would call themselves a reader and still say they would never touch it. But I did have one agent send my work straight back because she said she never read anything in first-person present-tense. At least she was honest!
    Regarding gender, depends how much you think men and women think and act in specific ways. I think our differences are more about personality than gender. That said, I’d be surprised to come across a male character calling something “lovely” unless it were to draw attention to some idiosyncrasy. I’d recommend getting feedback from a man when you’ve written from the male point of view mostly for the purpose of self-confidence than to expected he’d be an expert on your character.
    interesting article and good luck with the novel

    • Thanks for your comment, Anne. There seems to be so much prejudice against 1st person writing and yet as you say, so many stories are written from that POV and written well.
      The gender issue is interesting isn’t it? It didn’t even occur to me at the time of writing but since receiving the comments, I have thought about it a lot. Of course, my husband and I are very different personalities but there are definitely things about us that are different because of our genders. It’s this really that I need to try and capture in my writing and as you say, I will need to get feedback from a man, I think to really know if I’ve got it right. Thanks so much for reading and for taking the time to comment.

  3. Very interesting article. I never use beta readers, so I just trust my own judgement, for better or for worse; I do, however, give my finished article to my proofreading sister and my husband first, to get their opinions – my husband has many! He soon tells me if I have a bit of male dialogue wrong.

    Re the writing as a man thing, it’s something many women get wrong, I find; they portray the man how they would like men to think, not how they DO think. I first had a male main character in my 4th book on Amazon, Dream On, and I was very pleased that many of the male readers said I had it spot on. It might help to talk to men about what they really think about certain issues. I think I managed to do it convincingly because I’ve always had slightly ‘one of the lads’ traits – which actually makes it hard for me to write women characters that other women sympathise with, at times, so it’s not all good!! I thought the piece of advice about concentrating on the character rather than the gender was a very good one.

    Oh, one more point about the gender thing – men get writing as women wrong, too! One of my favourite writers, Douglas Kennedy, is pretty damn hopeless at writing women; he just gives them a female name, and writes them as a man. He seems to have no idea how women think!

    I wonder if you over-think? I remember saying to you before that when I first started to write novels there weren’t all these blog posts and websites about the whole business, and I just wrote; maybe you will learn to trust your own judgement more as time goes on. Also, do remember that one beta reader’s criticism is only one person’s opinion. if something works for you but not for her, keep it in anyway. I love writing in the 1st person; my latest novel is all 1st person, from the POV of 7 different people (they each have their own section), and I have a small piece of 3rd person, too. My last novel, What It Takes, was written from the POV of 3 main characters. Two I wrote in 1st, one in third, and I haven’t had any complaints – so just do what feels right for YOU!

    • Thanks for commenting on this post, Terry. I’m surprised on one level that you don’t use beta readers. It seems to be the advice that everyone gives but having known you for a little while now, this doesn’t surprise me at all. You are definitely in the non-conformist category :)

      You make an interesting point about female writers writing men as they’d like them to be rather than how they actually are. I’m probably guilty of that, if that’s the right word ;)

      I would agree that I’m maybe worrying about it all too much at this stage in the process but as a new writer, I think that’s only to be expected. You’ve had lots of experience and that has given you confidence. I’m still trying to work it all out and there’s no doubt that there is an abundance of advice out there and it’s no mean feat sorting the wheat from the chaff. But I feel I need to do it to know what I can accept and what I should reject. I already feel that I’m learning to trust my own judgment more and I’m only a year down the line.

      I do feel happy with my choice of 1st person but I obviously need to work on my male character’s voice for the second part of the story and that’s fine. I can do that. The third part of the story may have to be rewritten into 3rd person, I’m not sure yet but all the comments I’m receiving are helping me to make that decision and I’m very grateful for that.

      Thanks again for taking the time. I really appreciate it :)

      • To be truthful, Julie, I didn’t even know beta readers existed until I published about my 3rd book! But yes, by that time I was already getting a good response so I didn’t really want someone who might have their own agenda, or a viewpoint not share by many, pulling something I’d written apart. I don’t know – I think for some odd reason I just always felt quite confident about it all, I dunno; maybe misguidedly in some cases! The other thing is that I’d already written several novels and had them read by several people, including agents, before I published anything, so I knew I could write. I think what I was trying to say to you, more succinctly, is that there will always be people who don’t like what you’ve done, so sometimes it works best just to go with what you feel is right – you will never please everyone!

      • I admire you for having the courage of your convictions and if I’d been writing for longer and had good feedback like you’ve had, I would perhaps feel the same. For now though, I need other people’s feedback to give me an idea of where I’m at and to make me think about things and though sometimes it’s hard to take, it’s useful and helping me learn and I know that I’m better now at knowing what to think about and what I can leave. You’re so kind to share your experience and it’s always good talking to you :)

      • Sure, I do understand what you’re saying – just don’t be too hard on yourself, and remember that beta readers aren’t RIGHT, it’s just an opinion. I think the 1st/3rd POV argument is a bit daft, to be honest; there are plenty of books by writers debut and massively experienced, from all POVs and all mixtures of them. You write best when you do what you really feel is right for the book, not when you’re trying to please people. I won’t try to hammer the point home any more, I promise!!!!! All the best :)

  4. Interesting post.
    It is true that some female writers do the ‘wishful thinking’ thing when writing male characters.
    It’s difficult with romance because your main readers will be women, and some Don’t like to read ‘realistic’ versions of men.
    So… by all means get a man to read your book but keep in mind your target audience.
    Also, in regards to first person in adult books, I’ve seen the same things said regarding first person.
    I think first person will work well with dual perspectives, but again you need to consider target audience, what they like. As well as going with your gut instincts.
    Good Luck

    • Thanks for reading my blog and for taking the time to comment, Cassandra. I have definitely decided to get a man to read my story so I can hear what they think about the way I have written my male character. Whilst most romance readers will probably be women, it’s important to have a male character that women can believe in.
      As for the POV, I’m thinking that I will keep female POV in the 1st part, male in the 2nd and may try 3rd person in the final section but I’m going to see how that goes. As you say, sometimes it’s best to trust your instincts.
      Thanks again. These comments are so useful for making you think a bit more deeply about your writing. Good luck with yours :)

  5. Interesting post and I see it has thrown up a lot of discussion points. I read last year that first person is the easiest to write and usually recommended to new writers. I missed a trick! I have never written an entire character in first person, but I would like to. Second person is more unusual I believe and an awful lot more difficult, and third person is pretty standard. I like the flexibility of being able to mix up the point of view. It’s just a balancing act to ensure you don’t confuse the reader. Plus many publishers don’t like switching POV. Anyway, that’s my tuppenceworth! Good luck!

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Susan. I wouldn’t say that I have found it ‘easy’ to write in first person, it just made sense to me for my story. As you say, POV is a balancing act and the writer has to feel comfortable in the one they choose or if they choose to write in more than one.

  6. I’ve read lots of novels in first person, and I think if that’s how you choose to present your story and character’s voice then that’s perfectly valid. I have just finished the Woman in Black and that’s in first person and I don’t think Susan Hill is viewed as inexperienced. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’ nest is first person and one of my favourite books. My novel is in first person but I have just written a short story in third person. It depends on the way you want to tell your story. I say stick to your guns, your author’s instinct knows best..

    • Yes, I think with a bit of experience comes the confidence to know that what you’ve written was done for a reason. My second novel is also in 1st person so I don’t know if it will just be my style longer term. I shall have to wait and see. I have read many books in 1st person though, just like you so it can’t just be me, as you say ;) Thanks for taking the time to read all those blog posts and for commenting. I appreciate it.

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