Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Point of View - I see you. I am the STORY TELLER. He/She is the STORYTELLER

Point of View. So much has been written, talked about, asked about when it comes to Point of View. There is first person, second person, and third person/third person limited points of view—not to be confused with Voice, which is another subject for another post. In fact, I’m wondering how to talk about POV without creating a too-long post. It may be the most confusing to write about without sounding rambly. Huhn. Well, read it all if you wish, skim, or skip!
(by the way - I'm going to be on the radio Friday - on the West Coast - more about that later - on "How She Really Does it with Koren Motekaitis")

Should a writer write in first person or third, or even second? Should a person stay in one point of view? How many points of view should a writer use?

Those “shoulds” are the problem here. If I get nothing else across to anyone reading, it is that we all must find our own voices and styles, our way of speaking to our audiences. We must feel at home with our words, language, characters, our Life’s Work! When we sit down to write, it must not feel a struggle based on what we think is expected of us, or some advice someone throws at us as gospel (even my advice-take what you can use and leave the rest). I don't like hearing other writers tell people, "You aren't a real writer if you . . . " or "You aren't serious about your craft if you . . . " Bull Hockey Poo Poo Doo Doo Pee Pee! However, if you do struggle over your manuscripts, don't even let that freak you out, either--I've read of some prolific authors who do not like the process of writing; they struggle through the writing, but still manage to create fine works. I respect those authors tenacity.

Here’s the thing: if you convince your audience and they read along without the urge to put down your book for good then you have done your job no matter what Point of View you write in, or your style, or voice, or etceteras. Convince your audience and you have done your job. Period.

Personally, I am strict about certain things in my own writing and one of those is Point of View. When I decide on what character/narrator is speaking to the audience, the Point of View, I stay there for the duration of the book, the story, or if I decide to write a book from multiple points of view, I’ll stay in one POV, characters/narrators voice, for the duration of that character’s chapter. No head hopping! Have authors head-hopped successfully?—my opinion? Well, I’m on the fence about it. I’ve had authors head hop with skill, but it still bumps me out of the story. I have to stop, even if briefly, adjust my thoughts, and think, “Oh wait, the author left that person’s head and is now in another person’s head and now is back to the other person's head . . .” Even with the most talented writer, head hopping can create narrative that jerks me around a bit.

What do I mean by Head Hopping, leaving the character/narrator's Point of View?

Imagine this, and I will use Second Person to address You (and more on second person another time):

You are at a party. As you circle the room, you can’t know anyone else’s thoughts—or can you? Well, you can assume that Maria-Thérèse is feeling agitated or worried—her brow is furrowed; she is wringing her hands—through her actions you know something is bothering her. T. Anne is laughing, her eyes sparkling, so you make the assumption she is having a good time, even though you do not know her private thoughts. Jessica is hanging back, in the corner, watching everyone without expression—you don’t know what’s going on with Jessica, why she’s being secretive, or anti-social, you can’t guess her thoughts at all, but something’s up with Jessica, that you do know. You can go speak with, Dialogue, other party-goes to find out information. So through dialogue and assumption, you figure out what others are "thinking," but only through your own limited perceptions...which is just fine, because you will be the STORYTELLER--you will convince your audience that everything you say is the truth you want them to know.

Just as you make assumptions at that party, your character, as the narrator, does the same: they see through their eyes and their eyes only, they can only guess at what the others are thinking By The Actions Of or the Dialogue Of the other party-goers, and by those actions or dialogue your narrator creates their assumptions, how they perceive the world. Your narrator then shows or tells the audience what is happening in that room. Convinces the audience by being the Storyteller! STORY TELLER.

If you were writing about the party in First Person Point of View, everything would be through the eyes of the narrator/STORYTELLER, using “I.” I am entering the party. I watch all the people. I see that T. Anne’s having a good time because her face is all sparkled up, we talk and she tells me she’s so very happy, so I was right. I note that Jessica is being secretive, because she is standing in the corner with no expression, she isn’t talking. I ask T. Anne what's up with Jessica, she says "I'll tell you later." I'll find out about Jessica later. As first person narrator, the character only knows his/her own thoughts, but can guess others thoughts through perceptions and assumptions and dialogue and then relay them to the audience, storytell to the audience what the narrator wants them to know. It’s cheating to hop into secretive Jessica’s head and tell the audience what she is thinking— the narrator will have to find out what’s going on with Jessica and as the narrator finds out, so does the audience.

Some authors write in Omniscient Point of View. Omniscient POV knows everyone’s thoughts, like an omniscient god. I don’t like writing from it and I don’t like reading it. That is when you walk into the party and everyone’s thoughts are known. You hear T. Anne’s thoughts, you hear Maria-Therese’s thoughts, you hear the secretive Jessica’s thoughts, you hear the main character's thoughts, and bouncy bounce the reader goes from head to head. Drives me batty, but that’s my own thing. Maybe it’s easier to write this way, for you can let your audience know all manner of thoughts and feelings of characters, but it’s not for me.
I like having that intimate control, that imtimacy with the audience through one POV at a time. A storyteller conveys his/her world through his/her eyes and storytells it to the audience and convinces them they are the true storyteller of the world they live in and are presenting to You, the reader, the audience.

Third Person LIMITED POV is similar to first person point of view in that you stay in one character’s head and that character perceives the world through his/her eyes for the duration, using “She, He,” or the characters name: “Stephanie.”

In third person limited, just as in first person, there is a camera lens attached to that character/narrator/storyteller and that character/narrator/storyteller records what is going on and relays it to the audience. For example, Stephanie enters the party; she notices Maria-Therese’s nervous stance, hears T. Anne laughing and then sees how sparkled up she looks, and she sees Jessica standing in the corner (by the way, I’ll also be writing about She notices/He watches/She sees/He looks …another post, but I am using this for my own purposes right now). She notes their body language and how they react to the world around them, and she speaks to them to see what they have to say, but she can’t know their personal private thoughts, only assume them. She lets the audience know what’s going on in the room by showing it through her own reactions to the people around her or how people react to her, or through their dialogue: but everything is based on her own personal assumptions to the word around her; how Stephanie sees the world through the workings of her own mind and personality.

Trust your narrator—which is another post: the reliable narrator, for another day.
google images from:


Strange Fiction said...

I have mixed thoughts or tastes when it comes to POV. My opinion is apt to change on a book-by-book basis. I suppose it depends on how well the head hopping is done. There’s nothing worse than having to stop reading to scratch your head. Huh? In my writing I must confess that I’ve been known to head hop to the extreme. Thanks for the reminder-- it’s something I’m working on!

T. Anne said...

LOL! What is up with Jessica? She's very close to achieving her dreams :) That brightened my day. BTW< we blogged on similar topics today!

Analisa said...

Great post. I love that you limit the point of view. It works for you.
Walter Mosley wrote a book on writing called This Year You Write Your Novel. It was very helpful to a newbie like me and also goes into POV. It is a short read only about 100 pages.

I am looking forward to the reliable narrator. :)

Jenn Johansson said...

Great post! For me the needed POV changes by book and what voice is needed to tell the story the right way. :)

Stephanie Faris said...

I never know what to do because certain publishers do have preferences, especially in young adult. I prefer first feels snazzier, but in romance often publishers prefer third.

T. Anne said...

Just popping back in to say I love the book trailer!

Barbara said...

I know what you mean about head hopping. Very distracting. I write romance, so I write in 3rd, but try to stick with one POV per scene. Sometimes, if it's a long scene, I'll split it in half, and change once. But even editors differ on how much they will let you do that. And I totally agree that to know the rules is to be able to break them. Really great post on a difficult subject. We're both thinking about this topic this week! Thanks for your comment on mine.

Rick said...

Here’s the thing: if you convince your audience and they read along without the urge to put down your book for good then you have done your job no matter what..."

You are so unbearably clever! I'm actually printing this post out so that I can read it several more times I liked it that much.

Sandra Leigh said...

As for me, I'm adopting (okay, stealing, if you like) "Bull Hockey Poo Poo Doo Doo Pee Pee!" as my Official Expletive. I love it.

What's this about Friday on the radio? Will I be able to get it here in Canadia?

Lazy Writer said...

I love this post! POV is tricky sometimes. My completed ms is in first person, and I've found many places where I accidentally did a little head hopping and let my mc say how another character was feeling. I am having fun laughing at myself about it!

KayKayBe said...

Great topic. I like to use first person omniscient- my MC is an empath and thus knows what other characters are feeling. It's been fun to play with her trying to figure out WHY someone feels a certain way, so I guess she's not really omniscient. :)

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