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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Workshop Wednesday - POV

In the interest of everyone doing what works best for her, let's talk about point of view. And then let's talk about why it's not as important as some people think. 

Okay, so, we know that point of view is the perspective from which a story is told. The narrator perspective. There are three types of narrator (more or less, let's keep things simple):

Omniscient - this is an outside narrator, one who is not participating in the story. The word means "all-knowing," and an omniscient narrator is a source-less voice that relays all the events of the story, showing intimate knowledge of all the characters. This POV was much more popular a long time ago, and is not en vogue now.

First Person - I, my, me, we.

Third Person - He, she, they.

Then you've got your tenses.

Present - The snow falls, and I dance through it.

Past - The snow fell, and I danced through it.

I write in third person limited past tense, using multiple narrators, and scene breaks to shift between them. In the nineties, it was common to come across third person narratives in which the narrator shifted between paragraphs, the perspective hopping from head to head to head. I always figured it out, but it's more confusing, I think. So I like to end a POV with a clear scene break before I go on to the next. Only one character narrates each scene that way. Much more tidy. This also enables the writer to keep characters and readers in the dark for suspense reasons - if you don't know what the villain is up to, he can surprise both the character and you later.

Apologies - that's about the most rudimentary breakdown possible. But now we're getting to the part that I think is more interesting. That is, my point that POV is essentially unimportant. Because POV is a stylistic choice, and what's most important is that the story be told in a way that best conveys the author's intentions. A way that stirs the most emotion in the reader, and endears the characters to them most effectively. An author should always stay within the proper POV rules once choosing one, but it's the other aspects of his or her prose that snare readers and sell the story.

There's an even mix between first person and third person narrative style in the work of my favorite authors. Lestat tells his own first person stories - how could he not? He's the Brat Prince! He could never settle for being spoken about when he could do the speaking himself. Whereas in the Song of Ice and Fire novels, all the prose is in third person perspective. Is either story less intense in this instance? No.

I've been told that first person POV helps readers feel more like they're inside the world of the story, really living the action. I don't think that's true. I can be thoroughly engrossed in a third person story. What accomplishes this feat is an author's attention to detail, their development of a sensory experience within the text.

I'm going to write out the same scenario, in several different ways.

First Person Present Tense:

I sit astride my horse, waiting for my number to be called. I'm nervous, and so is the horse.

First Person Past Tense:

I sat astride my horse, waiting for my number to be called. I was nervous, and so was the horse.

Third Person Past Tense:

She sat astride her horse, waiting for her number to be called. She was nervous, and so was the horse.

Third Person Past Tense With More Detail:

She laced her fingers through Bedlam's mane, and felt the rippling of his skin beneath her knuckles. He twitched his withers, like he was shaking off a fly. "Easy," she murmured, and with the tip of her tongue tasted the film of powdery dirt that had settled on her lips in the warm-up ring. Her peach lipstick was coated. Just like the tops of her boots, her wool coat sleeves, the creases in the leather of her white gloves, pristine no more. She took a shaky breath, and the horse echoed it, massive ribcage swelling between her legs. "Easy," she repeated, as the sweat trickled down between her shoulder blades.


More than anything, realism, attention to detail, and physical manifestation of emotion sell a story. When we talk about POV, we should talk about finding consistency within it - no jumping between first and third on the same page, no swapping of tenses. My point isn't that POV is unimportant in general - it is! Consistency is key! - but that POV isn't important when it comes to creating lovable, believable characters. Go forth and write in whichever POV makes you most comfortable, and your comfort will shine through in the way you deftly handle the text.

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