POV Pitfalls

July 28, 2009

At the moment, I’m reading Greywalker by Kat Richardson. It’s urban fantasy, but more important, it’s well-done urban fantasy. I’m not even 60 pages into it, and I already like the protagonist. I also like the writing, despite the first-person POV, because Richardson doesn’t fall into the trap of having the character give random info dumps about herself.

Richardson maintains a true first-person POV, which means the character isn’t really thinking about her physical appearance unless the action calls for it. For instance, we know the character is female at the start, only because her narrative reads, “I groped for my purse…” (a quibble: you’re a P.I.; why the hell do you keep your gun in your purse?). Later in that same paragraph, we know she has long hair, but only because the guy she’s fighting grabs her long ponytail. We don’t even get the character’s full name until she introduces herself to someone at the start of chapter 3. This is the way information should be presented in a first-person POV.

In contrast, we have Death’s Daughter by Amber Benson, which starts with (the formatting is hers):

My name is Calliope Reaper-Jones, and I think I’m losing my mind.

Calliope goes on to describe her day job, her friends, the way her life works ā€” it reads like a boring blog ā€” instead of letting action tell the tale. Shortly thereafter, she goes into too much detail about the clothing she’s about to put on, and while I can buy that to a certain extent as character development, overall, it fails. I, as a reader, don’t give a shit what Calliope is wearing, especially with a dragon downstairs (yes, really, the info dump about her wardrobe comes after the realization there’s a dragon downstairs). There are other problems with the writing, but the info dumps are my main gripe.

First-person POV is a tricky thing to write. You can’t really include a physical description or history of your character unless the story goes there or someone else comments on it. Even if you have another character speaking, the commenting will be imprecise: “I know you want to be in a size 12, but face it: you’re at least an 18. So quit bitching and get something that fits you for once.” This sort of dialogue is useful in a first-person POV, not only for the description (we know the narrator is overweight) but also for what it tells us about the narrator’s personality that we might not otherwise get: she’s vain about her appearance and hates the fact that she has to wear larger clothes.

Anyway, this post started out as a recommendation for Greywalker and ended up veering off into personal pet peeves about first-person POV, so I apologize. That said, do give Richardson a shot. I’m only 60 pages into Greywalker, but I’m reasonably certain it will be good to the end. Her writing strikes me the same way Jim Butcher’s does, which is as a solid piece of story-telling.



  1. I picked up Greywalker last weekend and am already on book 3 of the series. I really like (obviously) the books. Although I will admit to finding the POV a trifle unsatisfying because the why of things isn’t always as clear. If that makes any sense at all. But, all in all good reads and 5 million times better than Death’s Daughter.

    • Me, I’m the opposite: I love the unreliable narrator. I love the uncertainty that can be found in a tight third-person POV or a very well done first-person POV. I love it when the author doesn’t lay things out for me and allows me to learn along with her main character.

      But I’m masochistic like that.

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