Are You a POV Snob?

Happy January, SEers! Mae here, with my first post of the New Year, and I’m glad to have you with me. To kick off 2019, I’d like to pose a question.

Bald man with snobbish expressionAre you a POV Snob?

I was (please note the past tense before you round up pitchforks and torches).

Shameful, I know. It’s hard to admit, but there was a time I steered clear of anything written in first person POV or present tense. And God forbid an author wrote in first person and present. Horrors!

Back in the day before ebooks, I loved visiting my local brick-and-mortar bookstore. First, I’d seek out the section for my preferred genre, then look for anything new from my favorite authors. After that, I browsed by book cover and title. I’m one of those readers who does judge a book by its cover, which is why first impressions are important.

If the cover snagged me, it was on to the blurb. The final test was to scope out the first chapter. If I discovered it was written in first person, the book went back on the shelf. According to my old critique partner, I missed out on a lot of good books because of my snobbery. At the time, I couldn’t see it, but Karen was right. I’ve been hearing the echo of “I told you so!”

Young woman holding magnifying glass like detectiveFirst person has a close intimacy, limiting what a reader sees and learns. We’re restricted to the impressions of the MC. I found that confining, wanting a  bigger scope—perhaps even a margin of distance from the character. I’m all about forming emotional bonds when I read, but used to think the first person bond was too intimate.

It took a while for the light to dawn. It started with Bag of Bones by Stephen King. He rarely, if ever does first person POV. As a result, I never bothered to look inside when I purchased a paperback copy. Later, when I sat down to read and discovered I‘d bought a book written in first, I threw a hissy fit. I still remember yelling at the literary powers-that-be in my family room. When Karen found out, she laughed her head off.

The book almost went in the trash, but somehow I toughed it out, kicking and screaming along the way. Stupid, because it turned out to be one of my favorite King books. I consider Bag of Bones the turning point for me.

After that, I tried The Alienist and Angel of Darkness by Caleb Carr and devoured both. The rest came gradually—a book here and there—until before I knew it, I was reading first person regularly.

Then the trend of present tense came along. I responded with grumbling and tantrums. Fortunately, some very good authors have led me to change my attitude. Several are now on my auto buy list.

The ultimate test, however, still waited—first person, present tense. I approached the concept with trepidation. I’d been wading farther into the POV pool, but this was equivalent to plunging into the deepest end. I took a chance on a book called Our Little Lies and am pleased to say, I enjoyed it. End of Snobbery. I declare myself cured.

couple with misunderstanding at restaurantThat’s not to say I don’t have a preference. Third person allows an author to shift between different character POVs,  excellent for building conflict. It can also make a reader garner sympathy for more than one character, sometimes even the villain. Instead of only seeing the mindset of the MC, we’re treated to several character impressions. Add deep third and you can still create intimacy when needed.

Close third person will always be my favorite, but when done well, I also enjoy distant third. I also think certain POVs work better for certain genres. I like historical novels to be in third, which seems to lend better to period details. The same with a dense mystery novel (I’m a fan of dense prose). Psychological thrillers can go either way, and I’m finding present tense works well for them. You may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned second person POV (“you” instead of “I” or “he/she”).

Don’t go there. Just. Don’t.

So what is your favorite POV for writing? What about reading? Do you think certain POVs work better based on genre? Now that you realize I am no longer a POV snob (well, except for second), and have ditched your pitchforks and torches, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Ready, set, go!

bio box for author Mae Clair

100 thoughts on “Are You a POV Snob?

  1. When I started writing, I wrote in third past. After drifting to YA, my crit partners said to use first. I became quite good at it and earned their hearty-no’s when I returned to third again. I like first but I like the advantages of third too much.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sorry, I’m going to be ‘difficult’ again, because I enjoy writing first person – The POV is so much more challenging, and it breaks down so many barriers between the reader and the MC. I loved writing ‘I am Cara’ because it presented me with the proposition of first person for both the main characters, Car and ‘The Man’ who is never named. No intentional parallel, but I always felt Daphne DuMaurier’s ‘Rebecca’ was a worthy example of first person unnamed. Present tense? Sometimes. In first person you can tootle about quite happily between present and past, and I’ve never found depth of scene a problem.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your comment is so interesting, Frederick, because I’ve read a ton of your stuff in third and it’s off the charts! To think you don’t favor third as much as first person is mind-boggling given the depth of story you relay. I’m used to wallowing around in your luscious scenes, throughly engaged with the characters and action. This is so enlightening. As a writer, my take has always been that first person is less challenging than third, but perhaps I need to reevaluate. It’s been years since I’ve written first person, so admittedly, those thoughts are antiquated and dusty. Perhaps it’s time I apply practical application and reconsider again,

      Like

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  4. I have yet to venture into first person POV…I enjoy the scope and flexibility of being able to get into several of my characters’ heads–there are just so many things I couldn’t communicate properly to my readers otherwise…but that makes me wonder if that is a writing flaw/weakness of mine that needs work…? Thanks for this!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Deana, I don’t think it’s a writing flaw/weakness at all. Every novel I’ve written is in third person. Like you, I enjoy the ability to delve into several characters’ mindset, instead of just one (with first person). I think it comes down to what you’re most comfortable with and what you excel at. I’d say you found the sweet spot for you!

      Thanks for dropping in to read the post and share your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I love reading and writing POV. I like the clumsiness, the unreliable narrator and the selfishness. The reader is invited into the characters close circle. I feel special knowing that I was allowed in.

    As for the writing end of things. I get to display my own faults within the character. So much of me comes out. Although I can deny all this by simply saying it’s fiction.

    Excellent post. Thanks!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh my God, I’m a snob! Ha! Well, semi-snob. Can one be a semi-snob? Let me explain. I PREFER books written in 3rd person POV but WILL read first person if I must. Same goes for present tense. The snobbery comes in when talking about WRITING. I will not ever, ever, ever write in first person. Or present tense. And before you brandish me a snob, let me explain why. I don’t like giving away ME in my writing. And I feel if I’m to write in first person, I will inevitably give away something of myself in this POV. I can’t distance myself from my characters like I can in 3rd person, so they will consequently have something of me in them… and that’s not good. I’m a very atypical human and certainly someone whom I would NOT want my characters to share traits with. Does this make sense?
    As for present tense, the reason I won’t write that is because… well, I’m just not good at it. I keep sliding back to past tense.
    So I don’t know if this makes me a snob or maybe just weird… either way, it doesn’t sound good for me!

    Liked by 2 people

    • LOL! Okay, that’s a good explanation, Jess, and I completely understand. That intimacy of first person POV is why I resisted reading it for decades (let alone writing it!). I like to form a bond with the characters when I read (and, of course, write) but I don’t like to BE them. I think your explanation is spot on.

      Present tense is a strange bird. I love it when its done well, but it doesn’t work for everyone as reader or writer. Great to have you drop by with your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I wouldn’t call myself a POV snob, but I do prefer third person, past tense. I have, however, read several books written in first person. I’m considering writing a short story in first person. Not sure I would do an entire book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • No snobbery there, Joan. You just have preferences. I’m the same way. Even as I’ve branched out in reading other POVs, third person past will always be my favorite. It’s like a comfortable sweater or an old pair of shoes 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Great post, Mae. I too was a pov snob when it came to First Person. Author John Howell’s marvelous John Cannon trilogy cured me of that. I loved them. My characters totally control my writing. I find most of my fictional works are written in Omni Pov, and I have to watch for head hopping very carefully. I love experimenting with POV and will utilize some different options with all the shorts I’m crafting for the next anthology. A busy year underway, my friend. I love this quote “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” – Albert Einstein . This will be the year of exploring.

    Liked by 1 person

    • John Howell’s Cannon trilogy was my introduction to present tense. The fact that he combined it with a first person POV was one of the first series I read that way, and I thought it was excellent. I love omniscient POV. It used to be the standard. It’s true you do have to watch about head-hopping, but that aside, I wish more books were written in omni.

      I sounds like you have a lot lined up for the new year, Soooz. Good for you! I’m cheering you on and wishing you much success. I love the quote from Einstein!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. The title of your blog made me laugh out loud, Mae. Then as I started reading, I gasped. The awesome writer, Mae Clair that I know hating 1st person POV! Wow!! Your path of conversion was an interesting one and I found it intriguing that Stephen King took you on your maiden voyage into the 1st person world. I’ve read books written in all sorts of POV. I like them all but prefer close third person. I think it gives the author more stretching room. I do, however, have a gripe. If I pick up a book that gets into every character’s point of view through the story, I roll my eyes. I read a book by an Indie author where he even got into the ghost’s POV. That’s a little too much for me. Thanks for bringing up this subject, Mae. I enjoyed the post.

    Liked by 2 people

    • LOL, Jan! First, thanks for the use of that word “awesome”. You have me blushing, my friend. 🙂

      And yes, I was a dyed-in-the-wool POV snob. Confessing that snobbery isn’t easy. I’m able to admit it now, only because it’s behind me. Deep third is a great POV. It took me a while to warm up to the deep part, but it’s basically how I write. And I do hear you about being in too many heads in a book. That can be overdone. I’ve also read novels where there is way too much italicized internal thought going on. A little of that goes a long way.

      I’m glad you enjoyed this post, Jan. I am a snob, no more! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Late to the party, but I didn’t want you to think I wasn’t interested in this topic. I write in either first or third person, and often use both in the same book, though not with the same characters. For instance, both Sarah (from Wake-Robin Ridge) and Maggie (from Swamp Ghosts) are written in first person. They were the main characters in the books, and I liked that intimacy. All other characters are written in third person. And I always write in past tense, because I don’t generally care for present tense either in my own books or others. (This doesn’t mean I haven’t enjoyed books written entirely in present tense. Just that it’s not my favorite and tends to distract me a bit from what’s happening. I know it’s supposed to increase immediacy, but for me, that usually isn’t the case.) So, bottom line is, I’ll use 1st or 3rd person (NEVER 2nd!) and might even do so in the same book. But I always write in past tense. It’s simply more comfortable for me, and feels more natural. Good topic to start the new year! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • I know a few authors who combine first and third in the same book, Marcia. I think the characters must insist it be handled that way 🙂

      I always write in past tense too—except for the flashback scenes I did in all three Hode’s Hill books. Those I wrote in present tense (which sounds weird since they’re set int he past, but I absolutely love the effect. And I had a great time doing it, LOL).

      Glad you dropped by to share your thoughts. I always love hearing from you.
      And yeah, I have to agree on NEVER for 2nd, LOL!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hahaha. Yeah, 2nd person POV always sounds like instructions from a mad scientist to me, with the “will” understood. “You (will) walk into the room. You (will) turn on the light. You (will) run shrieking from that room.” Somehow, that just doesn’t pull me in as much as “He walked into the room, turned on the light, and ran back out the door.” (With or without shrieking. 😀 😀 😀

        I had forgotten about your present tense flashback scenes, but that just means they worked for me, or I would have remembered them, specifically. And I have the 3rd book downloaded. Can’t wait to read it! 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  11. I was exactly the same as you and added YA into the mix of books to avoid… until I heard of Emma Scott. I kept seeing stunning reviews for her book, Bring Down the Stars, and the cover interested me as well. I hummed and hawed, but it wouldn’t leave me alone (darn book!) so I ended up buying it and Oh. .My. Gosh! She blew all my preconceived notions out of the water- including ending on a humdinger of a cliffhanger.
    She wrote it in first person present, but switched character POV by titling the chapter in their names. This book is truly amazing!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve noticed a lot of her work popping up in reviews on your blog, Jacquie. Isn’t it great when you discover a new author? Especially in a genre or style you never thought you’d like?

      Shari Lapena was one of those authors whose work gobsmacked me. I approached her novel The Couple Next Door (third person present) with trepidation and now she’s an auto-buy for me!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I think you make a lot of good points about first person… I don’t personally mind, I think it comes down to how well the author used it – as with most things, good writing always shines through

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I guess the back-channel question from a few weeks ago struck a chord. Good to know you changed your tune about first person. Like anything, it works when done well. BTW, Katniss Everdeen was such a strong voice in first person POV that I immediately thought of Mattie’s third person POV in True Grit.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Glad you’ve seen the error of your POV snobbery! As you know, I use 1st and deep 3rd in my books, alternating between dueling protagonists. Patterson turned me on to this, and I’ve never looked back. At first, it wasn’t easy to learn how to use both POVs effectively within the same book, but now, it’s become my signature style. A lot of YA is written in present tense. I can see how it could be an effective POV for psychological thrillers.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. Ha ha ha! I’ve done all of it. There are second person POV snippets in Enhanced League, but they’re only one page each. Wisp was first person, and the exercise opened my eyes. The POV is a tool to be used to relate the story. Manipulate those readers.

    Liked by 3 people

    • You have experimented with all of them! I didn’t realize you used second in Enhanced League.
      I’ve used present tense for flashbacks in all three of my Hode’s Hill novels and admit I loved writing those passage.
      I’m thinking about trying first. It’s been decades since I used it. Waaay back in the day I wrote an entire novel in first, and I’ve also done a short story in first.
      It’s amazing how choosing POV changes the story!

      Liked by 2 people

      • I’ve covered a lot of territory, particularly in short form. Present tense, first person, all kids of things. Wisp was enlightening, because I could only share what Patty saw, read, learned, etc. I really enjoyed the challenge.

        Liked by 2 people

  16. Love this post, Mae. It made me stop and think.

    I’m not a POV snob. I have my preferences for reading and writing, but I won’t avoid something if it isn’t my favorite way. Maybe editing for clients who write in various POVs and tenses has made it easier for me, as a reader, to make the switch. As a writer, I’ll try anything in short form (yes, even second person). But I tend to stick to my comfort zone in novels.

    Liked by 5 people

    • I read a book recently that used second in the prologue and epilogue. I struggled with both. I couldn’t imagine reading an entire novel that way. Maybe a short, depending on how short. That’s one avenue of snobbery I have yet to overcome, LOL.

      As an editor, I’m sure you’re exposed to all manner of POV, so I can understand how you’re comfortable reading most. I think third will always be my favorite, but I’m surprised by how much I’m enjoying first and present tense. Just a few months ago, I balked at purchasing a book in present. Now I’m devouring them!

      Liked by 3 people

      • The second person story I wrote was rather short. I don’t think I could handle a novel-length work like that. But it was so much fun writing it. Honestly, it’s one of my favorite stories to date. And to think I wrote it just to test myself!

        Liked by 3 people

  17. I enjoy both 1st and 3rd POV. It doesn’t really matter to me as long as the story is written well. What does bother me is when the author chooses to write in first person but switches POVs by putting the character’s name at the top of the chapter. My brain gets confused as to whose voice I’m supposed to connect with. It’s too much switching.To me, those books would have been better in either all 3rd person, or with just one character in first person and the others in third person. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • YES!! Yvette, a group of us were recently discussing this. I’ve read a few of those books and didn’t care for any of them. In one case, the author didn’t provide distinctive voices for her POV character,s so they all ended up sounding the same. In the others, it was just too hard (as a reader) to be so buried in someone’s thoughts and then switch to another. I agree books like that should be written in third.

      I think my (old) aversion to first began when I read a book by a NYT best-selling author. It was written in third, but in the middle of the book he switched to first for his female lead. Boy, was I ticked. Anyway, he did a dreadful job writing from a female perspective. I never picked up another book of his after that. I must have been traumatized by that example of first person POV to have developed such a long-standing resistance too it, LOL.

      Glad it’s behind me now!

      Liked by 2 people

  18. Either first or third person POV works for me. I especially like first person POV when the narrator is insane and/or unreliable, like Michael Barsa’s The Garden of Blue Roses. (It’s dense, beautiful prose and good suspense. You’d probably like it, Mae.) But I have yet to enjoy present tense . . . maybe some day. Congrats on your upcoming (tomorrow!) new release. It’s on my TBR list!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oooh, The Garden of Blue Roses? I’m going to have to look that up on Amazon. The combination of beautiful prose and suspense speaks to me 🙂 Thank for the recommendation.

      And I’m glad you’re looking forward to End of Day’s release and have it on your TBR. I’m a doing a Snoopy Dance!

      Liked by 1 person

  19. I’ve been writing in third person present tense since high school, so I’ve got that locked in as my style. I’ve tried first person a few times, but I’ll admit it doesn’t feel natural. Not that it was terrible. Just that it took a lot more effort and focus. Never understood the POV, tense, or anything snob when it came to books. Very few works are actually bad. Most that a person doesn’t like will simply be ‘not for them’.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think that’s what it comes down to, Charles—reading preferences. What someone likes may not necessarily be what another likes.

      Karen was just so adamant that I was missing out on good books by not trying first person, and having read many of them now, I realize she was right.
      I also feel that way about present tense. That trend is also really taking off right now. It appears to be more third person present than first, but both are making a huge splash in the psychological thriller genre.

      I know you’re writing in a different genre, but it sounds like you were ahead of your time 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve heard that present tense is gaining ground. I haven’t seen it affect my books though. Although, I don’t get that many complaints about it. Maybe it stems from people being more into present tense mediums like tv and movies. It’s not as jarring as it was when we had more past tense stuff like books and magazines.

        Liked by 2 people

  20. I certainly would not let POV put me off reading a book. Peter Carey’s “A Long Way From Home” uses first person, switching between two different characters. Confusing at first since you have to work out at the start of each chapter who is the narrator. Worth the effort though, it is a brilliant story. I originally wrote “Strongbow’s Wife” in third person but changed to first person to reveal more of her inner feelings about the events she was recording.
    I’m not sure I understand Robbie’s comment about dialogue – the POV depends on who is narrating the story, including transcribing the dialogue.
    “I looked at her. ‘Stop staring,’ she said.” is first person. “John looked at her. ‘Stop staring,’ she said.” is third person.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m not familiar with A Long Way Home, Frank, but I will look it up on Amazon to see what it’s all about. I admit I still don’t care for first person POV with multiple narrators (see my comment to Yvette), but perhaps that’s because I haven’t found a book yet that works.

      You’re absolutely correct about dialogue, POV, etc. Perhaps Robbie misunderstood what I was referencing. Your examples are spot on!

      Liked by 2 people

  21. P.S… Often, my characters will dictate the POV right at the start of a book. I’m not a fan of alternating POVs … no probs with shifting between characters, but as long as it’s all 3rd person, or all 1st person, etc. lol

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m with you on that. I’ve read books that use third for all but the MC, which is written in first. Not my preference by far (I’d rather have them in straight POV), but I guess that was the character speaking to the author! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  22. Just like I’ve always been multi-genre, I’ve also always been mulit-POV. If it’s done well, it doesn’t matter to me what’s used. It’s when it’s done badly it annoys the life out of me, and don’t get me going about head hopping, lol, grrr 🙂 Thanks for a great post, Mae 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post! All of my books are written in third.

      For third person distant, I highly recommend the Aloysius Pendergast novels by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. Their current release, Verses For the Dead is book #18 in the series, but it’s such a change for them, it could be read without knowing anything about the lead character. Almost everyone in the book is new, with the exception of Pendergast, and the reader gets to see him through the eyes of various characters, so the reader is almost seeing him for the first time too, HIghly recommended, especially if you enjoy crime fiction.

      For third person present tense, I love An Uninvited Guest by Shari Lapena. Extraordinary!

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Great topic Mae:) I admit I was firmly a third person reader, like you Stephen King changed my mind. I enjoy a first person perspective now as a reader and writer. I feel like you can really get into their head and in a way become them. Present took me a minute to adapt to, but once I did I found myself enjoying it and how it pulled me into the moment and action. If its a good story I can appreciate how its told in most POVs as long as I know who is talking:)

    Liked by 3 people

    • We sound much alike Denise with how we have evolved. I’m really surprised by how much I enjoy present. Every now and then I get tangled up when the characters think about the past. It takes some skill as an author to sort that out, but the authors I’ve read do it really well. I’ve used third person present for flashbacks in all three of my Hode’s Hill novels. I admit I really enjoyed writing those scenes. Maybe someday I’ll try a short story!

      Liked by 1 person

      • We do sound very similar in how we have evolved:) I know I’ll be playing around more with different POV, especially in short stories. My daughter is using different POV in her book for different timelines which works so well. It’s nice how we use them is so open now to experiment.

        Liked by 1 person

  24. Hey Mae! I’ve always preferred third person, but I have read some good first person books. I’m pretty sure they were past tense. I don’t think I’ve ever read first person present tense. I find myself sometimes writing a book in third and slipping into first which is weird. I did write one novelette in first person. The genre is Women’s Fiction. When I first started writing, I wanted to write in Omnipresence until I found out that’s not accepted anymore. The book I’m writing now, the first part of the prologue has the killer’s POV in first person, but the rest of the book is in third person. It was easier to write it that way and not giveaway who the killer is.

    Liked by 3 people

      • Did you mean different types of POV tenses? I didn’t either, but I thought it would be the easiest way not to give away the killer’s identity or sex. Cause I couldn’t use pronouns he/she either. I would have to use “the person” or something I thought about putting the killer’s POV in different places throughout but didn’t. I’m editing it now so who knows, I might decide to do it.

        Liked by 4 people

      • I’ve read authors who write that way. The first one traumatized me, LOL (see my reply to Yvette). Sue Coletta writes that way and handles it well.

        Overall, I prefer a book to stick to a single POV but there are always exceptions to any rule!

        Liked by 3 people

    • Kim, waaaaay back in the day I wrote a short story and an entire novel in first person before switching to third. It’s always been my preference as both reader and write. And I love omniscient POV. So many books were written that way in the past before the trend for deep third struck. There are still good omni books out there, but it’s a balancing act, I think. Often they don’t stick to the POV and it shows in the writing.

      Interesting take on how you handled your killer in your new novel. Glad you found something that works well!

      Liked by 1 person

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