Friday, 1 May 2020

If You Think It, You Can Write It!: Point of View


I hope the lockdown sees you all enjoying good health, getting out for your daily exercise and having plenty of time for your writing. Your story will demand dedication, but you may also find the world of your imagination is an addicting one.
 
This month's chapter deals with one of the biggest decisions you'll make about your novel and, as such, is one of the longer chapters. So, let's get started!

Chapter 4: Point of View

The Point-Of-View (POV) you select for your narrator is one of the more important choices you make as a writer because it has a significant impact on how you reveal events, and how readers perceive the people populating your novel.
In literature the term POV refers to the perspective, the lens, through which the story is told and dictates the pronoun. (A point to note is that while you, the author, are doing the writing, the narrator doesn't have to be you, it could be one of your characters.)

There are three POVs: first, second and third person. Let’s have a look at the benefits and complications of these different viewpoints.

First Person 
First-person POV is when the narrator uses the ‘I’ voice. 

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
“I cast no shadow. Smoke rests behind me and daylight is stifled. I count sleepers and the numbers rush. I count rivets and bolts. I walk north.” Elmet by Fiona Mozley.
“We were going out to dinner. I won’t say which restaurant because next time it might be full of people who’ve come to see whether we’re there.” The Dinner by Herman Koch.

The advantage of the first-person POV is that it gives an immediacy to what the narrator is telling us because we have intimate access to the character’s emotions and thoughts. If it is done skilfully, we feel everything they feel as they feel it. For a novelist it offers freedom to experiment with characterization and language; the latter is normally restricted to dialogue. In other words, you become the single-minded detective tracking the serial killer, the smart-mouthed witch with extra-potent spells, the fierce computer-hacker who struggles with social skills. Alternatively, you can use a fictional version of yourself .

One drawback of the first-person POV is the overwhelming focus on ‘I’  repeated on every page. One way to reduce this predominance is by alternating with descriptions of actions, other characters and the setting.

Another limitation is the partial vision, the one-sided view of whatever is happening which may turn out to be tedious. Including subtle actions and dialogue which contradict the narrator’s version, which they are is unaware of, offer a counter-narrative that readers pick up on, creating conflict and interest.

NB The first-person POV does not have to be that of the protagonist. They can be someone close to the principal character who is relating the events that took place, and how they were affected.

Second-Person 
The second-person is the least common POV. In a second-person narration, the main character is referred to as ‘you’, a technique which confers the role of passive actor in the tale upon the reader.

“You want to be somebody else. You don’t know who this person might be; all you know is that she should be confident, beautiful, beloved.” The Sweetheart by Angelina Mirabella.
“You are amongst them, of course. Your curiosity got the better of you, as curiosity is wont to do. You stand in the fading light, the scarf around your neck pulled up against the chilly evening breeze, waiting to see for yourself exactly what kind of circus only opens once the sun sets.” The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.
“It’s all yours. Your hands rise, fingers spread, ready to feel the firm scrape of the football, ready to pull it to you, ready to tuck it safely in.” Damage by A.M. Jenkins.

One benefit of the second-person POV is its ability to draw readers in, quickly engaging them in the character and their story. This POV often works for solitary, compulsive personalities who appear to be confiding their accounts to themselves, and for expressing the reality of a condition or circumstance shared by many.

A downside is that some people find the second-person POV challenging. You’re sad, tears fall, wetting your cheeks. “Nope. It’s a gorgeous day and I’m fine.”
This viewpoint can be demanding to maintain for the duration of the novel and shares the same issue regarding monotony as the ‘I’ in the first-person POV. Many authors who use the second-person POV offer points of view from other characters to provide variation. 

The advice I’ve come across about using the second-person POV is to become accustomed to writing in the first and third POVs before attempting this more distinctive approach. Yet…nothing ventured, nothing gained. 

Third-Person 
The final, and most utilized, option is the third person POV which uses he, she or they. Within this category are three approaches you can employ:

Third Person Omniscient: the narrator knows everything about all the characters, events and places, including knowledge unavailable to those within the story.

“‘Good,’ said the boy, for he had no wish to tell the secret to his playmates, liking to know and do what they knew not and could not.” Further on in the same chapter, the following sentence is about another character. “She had tried not only to gain control of his speech and silence, but to bind him at the same time to her service in the craft of sorcery.” A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K Le Guin.

The advantage is that we learn the ins and outs of all the relevant characters; appearances, likes, dislikes, history, etc., and the narrator can make observations and asides. This comprehensive point of view enables a writer to bring the reader into every aspect of the story.

Shifting Third-Person aka Third-Person Subjective Viewpoint
This strategy is adopted when a novelist decides to bring multiple viewpoints into play. With a reduced use of the omniscient narrator, this gives us access to the minds of two or more characters, showing their challenges and hopes.

“Later, in bed, he said, ‘Fran, there’s no need to worry. I’ll marry you. I said I would and I will.’
‘You needn’t,’ she said, pressing her hand over the place where the baby was. And he didn’t. Gone before the hair grew back. ‘Gareth, what do you want?’
Gareth’s thinking how ugly she looks, with her great big bulge sticking out. He wonders what the baby will look like.” Another World by Pat Barker.

To avoid confusing the reader, each speaker has to have a distinct voice, because changing viewpoint isn’t enough if the characters sound the same.

Third-Person Limited Omniscience: the narrator has full knowledge about the inner workings of the protagonist’s mind, but only reveals information about other people that the principal character possesses.
This is a popular POV used by many novelists because it enhances investment in the main character by revealing their thoughts and emotions, making it easy to identify with their struggles. All other characters and actions are filtered through the protagonist's perception of them.

“The islands just visible through the mist also looked like teeth, Faith decided. Not fine, clean Dover Teeth, but jaded, broken teeth, jutting crookedly amid the waves of the choppy grey sea.” The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge.

Third-person limited omniscience permits the writer to zoom in and expand someone’s internal monologue and to pan out and describe the world around them. 

Third Person Objective point of view: the narrator knows only what is seen externally and recounts it in a neutral, factual manner without bias and has no way of communicating what is going on inside anyone’s head. Every single thing is revealed through action and dialogue.

“It’s a Friday in early March and nothing has happened yet. Everyone is waiting. Tomorrow the Beartown Ice Hockey Club’s junior team is playing in the semifinal of the biggest youth tournament in the country.” Beartown by Frederik Backman.

This point of view works for those who enjoy a concise, less descriptive style of writing, although the impersonal point of view might result in writing that is spare to the point of clinical. On the other hand, this is an excellent challenge for a writer's ‘show don’t tell’ skills.  

I have great admiration for those who adopt first or second person. My favorite is the third-person limited omniscient POV as I prefer to identify with and reveal one individual’s inner self, yet be able to pull back and describe the surroundings and other people.

One essential point to remember, if you don't want to confuse and lose your reader, is be consistent.

As you write you may develop a favorite viewpoint which you then refine. Or you may decide to do something different next time and try out another POV. In writing, there is no right or wrong. There is only the story you are telling.

Exercise A:
Take a section of your WIP with at least two characters and rewrite it utilizing a different viewpoint from the current one.
Exercise B:
Using the same section of your WIP, rewrite it a second time, using multiple viewpoints.

When you finish, take the three different versions and compare them, consider the benefits of each POV and which works best for the character and the story.

My tip of the day: analyze the books you read and study how other authors tackle this subject—learn from the experts!

Stay well and stay safe.
Sending lots of positive thoughts and prayers your way.
Until next month, best wishes
Teagan.

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