Point of View (POV): Who’s Telling the Story Anyway?

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Every writer has encountered the POV police, those nagging editors who tell you that you’ve violated the rules and gives you a literary slap on the wrist. The transgression – allowing two or more characters access to his or her own feelings or thoughts within the same scene, or worse – the same paragraph. Omniscient writers of the 19th and 20th centuries were masters of it, but the style has evolved into something much better. Today, we have scene or chapter shifts when writing in third person and alternating first person chapters as an additional choice. Violations of this sort contribute to an agent or editor thinking the writer is an amateur at worst or sloppy at best – neither of these things are desirable.

Rather than looking at these violations as something to avoid, writers should seek to capitalize on that element of craft. Use it! Get inside more of the characters’ heads. Let the reader see and feel what’s going on from the varied cast of characters who inhabit your world. The result will be added depth. After all, who likes to listen to a one-sided conversation?

Broadening the POV experience in a novel can create added tension and conflict; all the goodies that make readers turn the page. Any character in a chapter can be given dialogue, but consider what happens when you are in that characters POV, and the thought is not the same as what s/he says, especially if the character isn’t your protagonist. She might be saying I love you, but secretly thinking: I hate you, and I’m going to kill you. The reader now understands where she’s coming from, but the protagonist doesn’t. It’s like watching a movie knowing the killer is standing behind the door and the hero doesn’t. Instant tension. Readers love tension – give ‘em some.

POV is a direct path to characterization. Just as actions speak louder than words, so does what a person thinks, and in novels we get the luxury of knowing what that is. If your standing in a room of people, you have no idea what people are really thinking, only what they’re doing and saying, so use POV to flesh out your characters; all of them.

How do you avoid breaking the rule? First, practice and more practice writing will help. Second, before you begin to write a scene or chapter, take a moment to consider who the best choice would be in terms of moving the story forward and building conflict and tension. Once you’ve decided, then pretend you’re a demon and simply invade the body of that character. Every thought, feeling, and sentence that proceeds from that character’s mouth stems from the experience, knowledge, and education of that character. How and why they say and do things will be unique to that character, and that makes the story three-dimensional.

Don’t try to avoid the rule – grab it and own it.

Happy writing!!!

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