I’ve been giving some thought lately as to what point of view I want to use in this novel. For those of you who don’t much recall high-school English, POV refers to the perspective from which the novel is written and the type of voice that it uses. I won’t get into the specifics of all of the different types and variants here—because this isn’t a high-school English lecture and I’ve no inclination that it become one—but the consideration and choice of one or the other is something that a writer has to work through on every project.
In this case, I’ve got a choice between First Person and Third Person Limited:
First Person refers to the type of story that’s written expressly from the point of view of the protagonist. It makes use of the noun “I” in the place of “he/she” or the character’s name, and it is usually marked by an extreme closeness to the character’s knowledge base and understanding of the situation. There are some cases where the novel is written specifically from the perspective of a character reminiscing about the events of the plot, and they will inject pieces of information at key points that they, themselves, did not have when the event was actually occurring…But most of the time the reader won’t know anything that the character doesn’t know from moment to moment.
This is all well and good. I love First Person narration. It’s something that I use frequently in my own work, and—perhaps more importantly—almost all of the detective novels that I intend for A Body Up the Well to be in the tradition of use this POV. On the surface, it seems like kind of a lock. There’s an element to the First Person narrative, though…A kind of cynical self-awareness that I’m not sure that I really like for this novel. The character, by virtue of a lack of access to the other characters’ thoughts and feelings, has to constantly be observing and critically examining the faces and body language of everyone around them, and a sarcastic or ironic tone can so effectively alleviate the monotony of that examination for reader and writer that the device may very easily become a crutch. This seems somewhat fatal to me, especially given that Dow isn’t the kind of character who is given to dry witticism. Ultimately, it’s probably manageable…But do I really want to add another layer to constantly remind myself of?
The alternative is to use Third Person Limited, which is defined by a sort of spectral narrator who hovers over the scene and observes without impacting or commenting upon the action. It’s very much the “he said/she did/they walked” style, and the voice can go anywhere with any number of the characters…Only limited by its inability to read anyone’s mind. It’s me telling you a story about other people, rather than one about myself.
And really, I like this one, too. It isn’t a form that I use as often, but it’s no less effective and it certainly isn’t unheard of in this genre (The Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett, for example, or the previously referenced Motherless Brooklyn). And while it may not feel entirely genuine, it does lend more of an ensemble air to the work. If I needed to inject a little bit of action while Dow is doing some research, I can cut away to Sydney getting into trouble and finding a vital clue. It could be a nice change of pace, and the more deliberate style might encourage me to look at scenes from more angles than I might otherwise.
I don’t know. This is the kind of thing that you can deliberate for days, only to decide in an instant when you’re on the spot. Or it can hold up book indefinitely, if you let it. Me? I’ll probably write two version of the prologue come Monday and then decide which feels the more right.