Musings on First Person POV

Cover of "Catching Fire (The Second Book ...
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I just finished The Hunger Games Trilogy. I’d read The Hunger Games a few months back, and between Sunday and Tuesday I read Catching Fire and Mockingjay (thanks to mom’s Kindle, which I will blog about later).

I really enjoyed both books. I think they’re well-written, have a compelling plot and characters, and make several good points. That said, they are all written in first person POV. Reading them has made me realize quite clearly why people hate first person stories so much.

1. With first person POV your character must be unaccountably dense to not get all the clues leading up to the end. Furthermore, the clues must not be as well hinted or revealed as they can be in third person POV, wherein the reader reaches the obvious conclusion before the character does. This effect makes the reader feel stupid, which is not something people like. (That said, characters in third person POV can be unaccountably dense as well — however, this does not hit you over the head as it does with first-person, where your only perspective is inside the character’s head.)

2. The big reveal at the end has a tendency to fall into monologuing. As the entire story is necessarily monologuing, it’s hard to show the reveal rather than telling it. This is most clearly seen at the end of Catching Fire [highlight for spoilers] wherein Katniss explains everything regarding the end of the Games and the rebel rescue in one short paragraph, almost monotone. It felt like one of those “The Least You Need to Know” sections at the end of a chapter in a Complete Idiot’s Guide To….

3. Your message can get anvilicious. You are no longer hiding this message within layers of interaction among characters from a third-person perspective or within setting; your main character is stating quite clearly what your message is. You are unable to let the horrifying truth of the events ring through without your main character commenting on them; otherwise your MC becomes a heartless automaton. This means walking the line between subtlety and anvil-dropping becomes more than a tightrope; it’s a veritable nightmare.

Flaws now addressed: I think Collins did a very good job with first person POV and I think she had to. I can’t imagine Katniss’ story being told in any other way. It’s a good trilogy and I do highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good dystopian story of the rise of the proletariat against tyrannical oppression. Or if you need a good cry. (Yeah, it’ll make you cry.)

Coming up: Friday Five about my trip so far and a post about ebook readers.

Writer Wednesday: 2011 Banned Books Week and full disclosure about my adolescence

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September 24th through October 1st is Banned Books Week. Over the years, many books and writers have been banned or challenged — for political reasons or just some vague feeling of “needing to protect the children”.

Until this year, I’d never sought to read a banned book. Then I decided I’d try and find one, and saw on the list of top ten challenged books for 2010 were two books I’d already read this week — The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. I’d picked these up because I’m on a bit of a YA bent right now, and because I’m a First Nations major who had the privilege of seeing Alexie speak at a conference several years ago.

What’s amazing is the amount of YA novels that get banned or challenged. We feel that we must protect children and teenagers from darkness, danger, naughty words. The fact is most kids these days already live in hell, and as Sherman Alexie says, those dark, dark books give them weapons with which to fight for their lives.

When I was 11 I was sneaking booze from my dad’s liquor cabinet. By the time I was 15 I had already tried to kill myself numerous times. When I was 18 and my mom sent me to get tested for diabetes (it runs in my family and I was showing symptoms), the doctor asked me what I would have done had I tested positive.

“I’d probably just let it kill me,” I said, completely serious.

He said he was going to recommend me to a therapist, and I said that was probably a good idea.

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