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

dreamstime_xs_25904967

 

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!!!

Theme: To Choose or Not to Choose…

dreamstime_m_50164560 (2)

Every writer is ultimately asked:

“What’s your book about?”

“Oh, it’s about this guy who kills a store clerk and then tries to hide from the police.” The recipient of this information will give a nod of the head and then ask:

“Yeah, but what’s your book about?” This is the point where the writer suddenly has no words. Why?

It all comes down to theme. It’s the difference between writing a book that has a lot of plot: bombs going off, people chasing other people, innumerable twists and turns, and reading a book that lasts in the mind of the reader beyond the ten minutes after the book is finished. If you look up any of the cheat sheets like SparkNotes, there is always a treatment about the theme of a book. Some are very broad, like it’s about the forces of good vs. evil. Note: most books are in some way. If one were to write the story I suggested above (I haven’t) one theme I might suggest is that the story concerns how superficial facts are often taken as gospel without looking to the root causes. The perpetrator’s guilt is assured by the public because they simply read the initial facts in the newspaper. It’s still very broad, but it now speaks to a dire societal tendency. Now the book will become an indictment on how the forces of criminal justice and public media operate. The resonance of the book will carry much farther because it’s about something other than how the character ducks the police or the vigilantes at every turn.

Some writers go in with certain themes in mind; others just get the story down on paper first. Either way works, and I’ve used both approaches. In some ways knowing your theme from the beginning is an advantage because you can bear it in mind as you write, and seize the opportunity in the moment to strengthen the ties to your theme. But, here’s the really cool part. If you just sat and wrote from page one to page three hundred with no thought as to what your story is about beyond its characters and plots, you will have subconsciously introduced theme or themes into your story. That’s why revision can be so much fun. Put the finished novel away for a month and then sit down quietly and read it from start to finish. Read it as a writer, and look for what surfaces. In one of my novels I did just that. I told the story of a boy who goes through several traumatic incidents as he tries to deal with his mother’s murder. On reflection, I realized that I had introduced themes of social injustice, racism, and bullying into it with no forethought at all. On revision (so many revisions, including rewriting the entire novel in third from first person) I underscored these issues and strengthened passages with backstory, dialogue, narrative, and plot. The story that emerged was so much better than the first draft, or even the second and third.

One piece of advice: the literary approach to writing dwells significantly on character and theme, but don’t worry about this. Just write. If you have a theme, great, if you don’t, then just get the whole thing down first. It’s my personal belief that it’s possible to achieve a balance between literary and mainstream novel writing. Dan Brown is often accused of writing plot boilers, but if you really look at his novels, he deals with some very substantial themes like the subjugation of women and overpopulation.

To borrow a familiar iconic quote: if you build it, they will come. In writing, if you write it, the theme will come.

Happy writing!

© Vectorchef | Dreamstime.com - Character Boy Write Letter Theme Elements Photo

© Vectorchef | Dreamstime.com – Character Boy Write Letter Theme Elements Photo