Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Writing in a pov not your own

At Kill Zone Blog, this post from James Scott Bell: Writing in a Point of View Not Your Own

Turns out Bell has a series of novellas about “a crime-fighting nun, Sister Justicia Marie of the Sisters of Perpetual Justice.”

I’ve written here before about the genesis of this character. How my son, who loves plays on words, said I should write about a nun who fights crime with martial arts skills. “You could call it Force of Habit.”

He smiled. I smiled. And then I said, “I think I’ll do it.” …

Having never been a nun…or a woman…I gravitated toward Third Person from the jump. That does not mean I couldn’t take a stab at First Person. Unlike some of the “wisdom” of the age, I say let a writer do what he or she will and let the market decide. I just felt more comfortable in Third.

Well, that’s a kind of fun idea for a series of thrillers or mysteries or whatever. There’s a link here to the upcoming collection of Bell’s novellas about Sister Justicia Marie, at a very good price, too. Dorothy Gilman did something of the same sort with A Nun in the Closet. That was a good story. I think I’ll go ahead and preorder this Sister Justicia collection; sounds like fun.

But I think this “can you write in a pov not your own” question has GOT to be a question asked by writers of contemporary fiction. Especially because Bell declares that research is key! Go interview some nuns! That’s fine if you’re writing a story set in this world, but I can’t be the only fantasy author who chuckles at that idea.

Let me see. Male pov protagonists …

The Floating Islands … Alas, I’ve never been able to use dragon magic to fly.

Black Dog … I’m not a werewolf of any sort.

The Land of Burning Sands … I’m not a male slave with a gift for making things.

Winter of Ice and Iron … I’m not a duke, and thank heaven I don’t share my soul with a powerful genius loci.

And, of course,

Tuyo … which I wrote in the first person even though I’m not a male warrior from a warrior culture.

So, yes, pretty sure it can be done, and done well.

I don’t think research is key. I mean, how could it be? I think having lived life and having formed a general idea about how people behave now and how people have behaved in other cultures — that’s the key. Plus, especially for Tuyo, which is admittedly somewhat idealized, a pretty clear picture of how people ought to behave.

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10 Comments Writing in a pov not your own

  1. Evelyn M. Hill

    Romance writers get to listen to would-be humorous remarks about how much fun research must be.

    And if I try telling them I write “sweet” romance (i.e. chaste) they stare at me as if that’s not really Romance at all.

  2. Rachel

    Oh, I just BET you do!

    Any favorite titles for sweet romances leap to mind? Because though I don’t really mind skimming past the sex scenes, it’s nice sometimes not to have to bother.

  3. Alison

    I loved Margaret Frazer’s Sister Frevisse mysteries. A medieval nun yet she made it all seem so real. For ‘sweet’ romances my go to is Kathleen Gilles Seidel. Her Summer’s End book is one of my favorites to reread. Kristan Higgins’ Blue Heron books are also sweet, light, fun, and with alternating POV. I don’t know how they do it.

  4. Craig N.

    Honestly, my immediate reaction was: how can you *avoid* writing in a pov not your own? (Unless it’s an autobiography, I guess.)

    Also, if you try to do real research, surely one of the things you’ll discover promptly is that real-life members of any group — e.g. nuns, let alone women — include people so very different from each other that research is not going to be so helpful as all that. (He’d met a range of women before starting to write, hadn’t he? I suppose I’m being unfairly critical, since I didn’t click through and read what he actually wrote.)

  5. Evelyn M. Hill

    Mimi Matthews writes sweet historical romances that are very well researched and accurate.

    One sweet romance that I just re-read recently was The Duke of Olympia Meets His Match, by Juliana Gray. Yes, the hero is a duke and the heroine is a governess, but he is in his 70s and she’s in her 50s and it takes place on a transatlantic liner. Plus, they chase spies.
    Oh wait. They do (spoiler!) consummate their relationship, but it takes place off the page.

  6. SarahZ

    I mean, when you write about actual cultures or experiences that aren’t your own, you should do research for authenticity, but obviously people can write povs other than their own – fiction exists, after all.

  7. Mary Catelli

    I like point of view characters who wouldn’t tell their own story if they had any choice in the matter, so — third. 0:)

  8. Allan Shampine

    I recently read Sherwood Smith’s “A Stranger to Command” (and loved it – thank you for the recommendation) and then started on Court Duel (and not loving it). I saw in the blurb that she wrote Court Duel when she was 20. I think this is a good example of life experience. Of course she doesn’t live in a fantasy world as a noble, but in both works she’s writing about growing up, understanding how politics and command work, how leadership works, etc. When she was 20 she just didn’t have much life experience to inform those discussions, and it shows. In the prequel, she had a lot more life experience to draw on, and again it shows. Sci fi and fantasy almost inherently call for POVs different from our own world, and there are no actual supernatural warrior nuns, but certain life experiences can lend richness to writing on related topics, and, similarly, writing on major life topics where the authors lacks any such experience can be more challenging. Again, can certainly be done, and done well, but from my experience as a reader I think it’s challenging for a young author to, for example, really nail a middle-aged POV without resorting to cliche.

  9. Rachel

    Allan, glad you liked A Stranger to Command! When I said it was my favorite of hers, I was right, but another that’s top-notch is the epic fantasy Inda series, so if you can’t get into Court Duel, try Inda instead. Very different from A Stranger to Command, but just as good and a lot more typical in that plenty of stuff happens.

    I agree that it must be hard for a very young author to write a novel that reflects adult experience, though that might be more likely if the young author had read broadly enough outside of MG/YA fiction. Because modern MG/YA always features young protagonists, it seems to me the young author would be far too limited in vicarious experience if they didn’t branch way out to novels with much older protagonists.

  10. Rachel

    Evelyn and Alison, thanks for the recommendations! All of those sound perfect for what I’m in the mood to read right now.

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