I belong to some writing-oriented social media groups. And there are a lot of fledgling authors on there, asking for advice. Technically, I’m still a fledgling as well, but I’ve learned a few things that apparently aren’t universal knowledge (which is totally possible, just as it’s possible they know stuff I don’t), and that’s what I want to talk about today.
One of the questions that comes up a lot is about point of view. Specifically, asking what point of view writers tend to write in and what the asker should write in. Which blows my mind, because popularity has NOTHING to do with whether or not you should write in a particular point of view.
I’ll repeat that, because it’s very important: popularity of writing in a particular point of view should have ABSOLUTELY NO BEARING on your choice of point of view.
Different points of view are simply tools to help you tell your story. If you need to bring the reader in for more empathy, use first person or maybe a deep, limited third. If you need to withhold internal information from the reader without the reader feeling you are manipulating them, use a bird’s-eye third person or the POV of a character who is not privy to the information you are trying to be careful about revealing too soon. If you want to use an unreliable narrator, you need to make sure that you can do it in such a way that the reader doesn’t get confused or feel snookered. Most writers are more comfortable writing in one POV more than others, so if you really need to get a story out quickly, writing in your go-to POV is a good bet because you will be better and faster and more experienced at it. If you have time, though, playing with different points of view will not only give you practice, it will help you realize aspects of the story you didn’t see before and open new possibilities to you and your writing.
In other words, you don’t choose a POV because of popularity or for a gimmick. You choose it because it’s the best way to tell your story in the most powerful way possible.
I don’t want people to get discouraged or defensive about this. This is not something that people inherently know. Even if we read a lot, and can identify stories we love, we rarely analyze to the point of asking ourselves, “hmm, I just love the way this book drew me in. I wonder how it would have been different if they had used 3rd person past tense instead of 1st person present.” But, as writers, those are the types of questions we NEED to ask ourselves. Because we need to understand how to use that extremely powerful tool of POV to our advantage.
This brings me to the next point: process. As I’ve talked about elsewhere, process is super important and very individual. So many times we are so INTENT on getting the book written that our process is ONLY geared towards that end. Now, if you are an established writer with contracts and deadlines, that’s fine, especially because you likely already have your process nailed down. But even then, and especially with writers still putting together their first stories, we need to work so at least PART of our process is geared towards making sure our story is told as well as possible. We should always be learning and growing and improving, otherwise we stagnate. There should never be a point where can just say, “I’ve made it,” and we proceed to sit back and write books on autopilot. Challenge yourself. Learn. Grow. Make that part of your process.
Which brings me to the final, most important point: Practice. You know how doctors are always ‘practicing’ medicine? That’s because good doctors know that they are ALWAYS learning as they help people. Yes, many patients will have common ailments that respond well to the common treatments, and an established doctor can treat these easily, just like an established author can write certain types of scenes or dialogue or plot twists easily, because of tons of practice. But a good writer, like a good doctor, should always be aware of the little things that make a scene or interaction or character a little different, and be willing and able to put forth the extra effort to figure out the best way to deal with that. Doctors are required by licensing boards to continue to receive medical education every year they are licensed. Writers have to be more self-motivated to continue to find the twists and variations, practice and hone new and better ways to tell your stories. Classes and conferences can help teach you some different things, but it is only through practice that you develop and perfect new skills so you can add them to your toolbox.
Good writing isn’t one single skill. It’s a combination of dozens of smaller skills that each need to be learned and practiced as part of your process. Take the time to learn and practice to do it well. It’s not a race. Don’t feel pressure to publish your first book, and certainly don’t feel like a failure if you don’t hit the New York Times bestseller list by your second. No word you write is ever wasted. That practice, those books that never see the light of day, are what are going to make you into an amazing writer.