Choosing a point of view for a novel is a lot like choosing a mate for life. Once you commit, there’s no turning back—at least not without great difficulty.
So the choosing is a delicate matter not to be undertaken lightly. I found that out some years ago when I was fortunate enough to have a conversation on this very subject with the late Leslie Waller. His published works include, perhaps most famously, Dog Day Afternoon and Strange Encounters of the Third Kind.
I remember how generous he was, sharing his time and expertise with me, a fledgling writer. During our talk, I asked him which point of view he preferred. Not surprisingly he replied they all had their place and all functioned somewhat differently. Okay, understood. But his eyes twinkled when he confessed he did have a favorite. First person POV.
First person, he said, was the most dynamic, the most intimate. It allows the writer and, of course, the reader to become one with the hero/heroine. No other POV creates that closeness. So what the character thinks, says, sees and does comes onto the page (or Kindle, Nook or iPad!) unfiltered and as direct as language permits. The narrator virtually disappears.
So in The Monet Murders—out June 11, thank you very much!—when heroine Deva Dunne flees from a killer and fights for her life—in first person--you’re right there with her:
I squelched the rising fear and told myself to think. The Gulf lay to the west. The direction that led out of the woods. But where was west? I should have listened to my father years ago and joined the Girl Scouts. Too late for that, but like every school kid, I knew the sun set in the west. So . . . I’d step out from this undergrowth, look at the sky, and follow the direction of the sun.
I peered at my watch. Three more minutes.
The rain began as quiet as a whisper. If every pore in my body hadn’t been on sonar alert, I wouldn’t have heard a thing. Then the whispering picked up. Plink. Plink.
Boom! A streak of lightning flashed across the sky followed by a clap of thunder that practically split my ear drums. A second later the sky pulled out all its stops, unleashing everything it had.
I crouched in a tight ball, sheltered from the worst of the deluge but still, in no time, rain soaked my hair to the scalp and my wet clothes clung like a Hooters’ outfit.
I didn’t even care. Where the hell was west, anyway?
From this intimate glimpse into Deva’s mind the reader learns she’s lost, she’s scared, she’s resilient, and best of all, she’s retained her sense of humor. And the reader knows all this because the action as Deva experienced it unfolded in front of his eyes.
Leslie Waller also said the POV character shouldn’t be the smartest person in the book. Now that did surprise me. You’d think that he/she should be. Nope, let the most intelligent observations and insights come from another character. Why? I asked. Because that keeps the POV character sympathetic. We usually prefer people who don’t threaten us. Girls who aren’t gorgeous, drop-dead tens. Guys who aren’t smart enough to invent Facebook. So. . . . why should that change when we read a book? Although I’ll admit I did mull this point over for a while after Mr. Waller’s pronouncement.
On the other hand, when he said that above all the first person POV character must be charming, I believed him without a moment’s hesitation. We’re all drawn to charm. It sucks us in. Who was the poet who claimed, “If you have charm it doesn’t matter what you don’t have. And if you don’t have charm, it doesn’t matter what you do have.”
As you can see, I’ve never forgotten Leslie Waller’s advice and hope that Deva Dunne, as she relates the story of The Monet Murders without any middleman to interpret for her, remembers his every word as well.