Who is the narrator? Where and when is the story being told? These are just a few questions a reader may ask at the start of a new story. For many years, third-person has been genre's preferred narrative form, but lately it seems first-person narratives are having a resurgence. How do writers choose their viewpoint, and how does it affect the sorts of stories they can tell? Why is YA so often told in first-person, and epic fantasy generally (but not always!) third? To add another layer of complexity, the present tense also seems to be increasing in popularity -- Lauren Beukes' Zoo City and Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus are just two notable examples. How does the use of present tense change a reader's experience?
Kate Nepveu, Robin Hobb, Patrick Rothfuss, Edward Cox, Maureen Kincaid Speller (m)
(I don't know how the order of names is generated on the program list.)
I think the con generally is having a lot of trouble with its available spaces, because this was in one of the smaller rooms and there were likely as many people waiting in line outside hoping to get in as where outside.
I was a little nervous about being on this panel, because look at those other names! But everyone was generous toward other panelists conversationally and it really was a conversation, it was so much fun. (You all know I could talk about point of view and narrators basically forever.)
Maureen had us introduce ourselves in our preferred POV. IIRC, Ed tried third and found it surprisingly difficult; Robin and Pat both used first; and I (who had the advantage of going last) started in first and then switched to third, and ended with "she may or may not be fascinated by unreliability in narration."
We talked about a million things. The limitations of first-person, and how they'd got around it by the frame story in the Kvothe books or the found documents in the first Assassin's trilogy. I talked about floating first and concrete first, where it's never explained how the words get on the page or where a specific mechanism is mentioned. Pat said that floating first will always get the author asked how the words are getting on the page, that someone will care; toward the end, we had a talk about the history of POV in novels that I can't reconstruct now, but that I think came down to the origin of first-person in face-to-face storytelling, was carried through in the frame story idea that was once obligatory and since has been dropped (I met a mysterious stranger who told me this story, I found this manuscript), and it's been recent enough that the obligatory frame story was dropped that people aren't quite accepting of "the words just get on the page somehow, darn it" as the price of admission to that work.
There was the obligatory shout-out to Peter S. Beagle's The Innkeeper's Song, which is multiple-first and brilliant; Pat said it was currently out of print but "I'm going to fix that."
We talked about multiple viewpoints; Pat blamed the sudden explosion of really-multiple-third on A Song of Ice and Fire, but Martin has been honing his craft for decades, new writers are allowed a maximum of three. Also, people try to go right to the action by shifting POVs but that can actually remove suspense. Robin choose POV for the best-situated character and then stayed pretty tight with them, but also employed an omniscient sometimes to show competing understandings of situations and so forth. I mentioned an unpublished friend who generally constructs their multiple-POV book on the theory of "who in this scene knows least," because that allows for dramatic irony and the reader making connections and so forth, and how I'd suggested that maybe at plot or action-heavy moments might be a time to step back from that principle. (But I don't know how they solved it yet because the W is still IP.)
(In terms of cutting to the action, I mentioned _Ancillary Justice_, of course (booklog discussion of POV.))
Uh, what else? We talked about omni with a present narrator and how fun that can be: Catherynne M. Valente's _Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland . . . _; _Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell_; Lemony Snicket. We talked briefly about sex: I observed that romance is generally in third, while "chick lit" is in first, and while I don't know about professionally-published erotica, I don't see a lot of first-person fanfic. I sort of thought this might be because for people who read with themselves in the place of the first-person narrator, there would be too much of a disjoint if a scene was very physical or physically-based emotional, but that was just a theory--which can't account for "chick lit." (Pat had previously said that he made a distinction between character-based stories and plot-based stories, and that the former got first-person and the latter got third, but that he's working on two things now that are in third and follow female characters from his trilogy, and he thought possibly that he instinctively went to third was because they were female.)
Someone in the audience asked about really rare POVs like second-person or future tense; no-one seemed particularly enthused by them, but as writing exercises to stretch your craft, sure.
There was a lot more, but I'm stumped now, and for some reason it's a million degrees where I'm writing this and I desperately need to hydrate before my next panel. If you were there, chime in, and if not, feel free to comment! (Seriously, could talk about this forever.)