Thinking first person POV is lazy writing isn’t wrong – it’s stupid.

Thinking first person POV is lazy writing isn’t wrong – it’s stupid.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

The Choice of Point of View

When I tormented myself with Facebook fiction writing groups, POV consistently formed contentious conversations. Assuming preference and need drove the POV choice proved wrong when reading the ludicrous social media opinions, specifically about first-person, which the most brilliant critics referred to as "lazy writing." Such stupidity compels questioning of the accuser's writing skill.

If any writing perspective deserves the "lazy" indictment, third-person POV should bear the guilt. The accusation of first-person allowing an easy lens into the protagonist's mind is laughable compared to third-person POV's theater of character actions and thoughts. Oh, the difficulty describing a secondary character’s emotional state or building suspense around the protagonist in the third person's free reign over time, thoughts, and plot. Most critics would not accuse Stephen King of lazy writing, yet hopping from character to character is exactly what he does. There goes that lazy King, chapter after chapter, bouncing between character actions in Salem’s Lot, using the omnipotent narrator to build suspense around a mystery (vampire) plaguing the town. More puzzling are the writers, many King fans, who arbitrarily declared first-person "lazy" despite the third-person POV providing instant access to all character and story elements.

Beyond lazy, the third person lacks realness, begging the question of how anyone could become emotionally invested reading this POV. Consider how often people converse in third-person POV. How often do you tell a story using the third person? Never, especially when discussing yourself for fear of sounding pretentious or insane. Coupled with this lack of natural voice, the narrative distance widens from reading an objective point of view. Third-person, especially omniscient, is artificial and should make you question the story, but you don’t.

People who qualify POV exercise a shallow writing perception or don’t understand the topic. Most of these critics developed a limited comprehension of POV from reading genre fiction exclusively, which is written often in the third person. (This should tell you a great deal about genre fiction.) These amateur writers base ideas on limited knowledge and often just a few famous writers’ opinions. Their arguments are patently stupid and lack a critical understanding of POV’s complex need for appropriate conveyance, easily seen in their qualifying POV without knowing the author or story's purpose. More importantly, the POV-opinionated lack an understanding of the most crucial aspect of POV: the reader.

Fiction enjoyment stems from an ability to suspend disbelief. All stories are fiction, even nonfiction. If you ask a right-wing conservative about the Capital Attack of January 6th, he'll likely describe a protest or civil disobedience while liberals describe an insurrection or coup. Interpreting reality clearly shows fiction holds only the credibility assigned by the reader. That favorite fantasy or horror book entertains you because you allow your mind to believe; therefore, any POV works if the reader is willing or doesn't hold irrational biases against POVs. Many horror and sci-fi writers use the third person, not because they are lazy, but because they prefer to tell stories this way, or the POV works for what they are trying to accomplish. King isn't writing lazy using the third person; he uses a writing method that works the same way Lovecraft uses the first person. POV is a choice based on the need of the story or the author's desire, and though seeming fantastical, multiple POV use sometimes occurs.

Perhaps the internet combined with genre fiction’s popularity made POV a seemingly controversial idea. I am uncertain but cannot remember these arguments before the internet’s inception. It is easy to see the wealth of books written in the third person and assume this qualifies the POV, but this assumption is the same assumption driving other stupid writing advice, such as the standard number of pages or words for novels. POV is not merely a function of storytelling but also a rhetorical device that adds meaningfulness to the story. Authors write in a particular POV for a reason and judging writing by this choice limits writing skills. Consider these points in the company of some lazy writers and their first-person books.

HP Lovecraft The Call of Cthulhu
Chuck Palahniuk Fight Club
Alice Walker The Color Purple
Gore Vidal Myra Breckinridge
Bram Stoker Dracula
Mary Shelley Frankenstein
Charles Bukowski Factotum
William Faulkner The Town, The Mansion, The Reivers


Photo by Zhang Kenny on Unsplash

Article Updated: 03/21/2022