POV Snobs

Ugh. Diana Peterfreund and Jenwriter both wrote very cogent blog posts about POV snobbery–specifically, first person POV snobbery, and now I’m all up in arms.* Evidently, only amateurs use first person.

Everybody knows Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, Daphne du Maurier, and Charlotte Bronte were hacks. Rank amateurs, the whole lot of ’em.

I mean, obviously.

I went off on this rant in the comments over at Jenwriter, and Diana closed her post with it, but I feel it needs to be said in as many ways and places as possible:

Do. What’s. Best. For. The. Story!

That’s what a good writer does. Think of your favorite five novels. Doesn’t matter what genre, time period, whatever. One of those must be told in first person. Now, imagine it in third.


Now do the reverse, with a third person book from your top five. Imagine it in first. Ah, there we go. It’s not the same, either, is it?

To repeat what I said over at Jenwriter, Rebecca and Huck Finn? In third person? Nobody would’ve read them. They would’ve been missing the particular qualities that make them good, that make them classics.

My point is, these books are your favorites for a reason: they tell a great story, and they tell it well. That’s why you love them. And whatever tools the writers of these books used, they used for the good of the story. That’s the only consideration one should have when chosing POV. Some stories work better from first, others from third. Some stories require multiple POVs. Some stories require local or regional dialect in dialog. Some stories require short chapters or scenes, and others long. Some require the writer to wear a purple top hat and monocle while writing.

Okay, well, that last one is probably pretty rare, but I’ll tell you what: if it helped tell the story better, I’d do it.

And that’s really all there is to it.**

*I refuse to get started on genre snobs. There are people who will always try to feel smarter or better than others by disparaging what those other people read or write. It has always been, it will always be–so I just read and write what makes me happy, and if other people look down on me for it, that’s their problem.

**Okay, so one other, small, teensy-tiny consideration might be my weak points as a writer–I might be less likely to use a tool that I’m not very skillful with. But that’s a tiny consideration that can easily be trumped by one thing: the story’s need for it.

3 thoughts on “POV Snobs

  1. “Do what’s best for the story” is good advice. I just wish that my POV decisions were that logical! I used to write in third person all the time, but my latest novel and all my recent short stories are first person. My next novel is third person, as is the short story I’m working on.

    But I really didn’t sit down and make a logical decision on how to write them. I just stuck with the voice that worked for me at the time.

    I do think every writer should write something in first person at least once. It’s a wonderful exercise for learning how to get in the reader’s head.

  2. But see, the thing is, you were using the POV that worked for you. And it worked for you because it was best for the story. There may have been no logical decision simply because it was instinctive for you–you just knew what would work for the story.

    And you’re right about needing to use first person at some point. It was an incredible shift after writing my first two novels in third!

  3. Yeah, you already know how I feel about this. I think first person is terrific for some stories while third is terrific for others. It’s all about the story and telling it the best way you know how.

Comments are closed.