Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Not Your English Teacher’s Point of View

Your teacher tried to explain the three points of view: first person, second person, and third person, which has nothing to do with how many people are in a story.

First Person.
In this POV, the focal, or point of view, character uses the pronoun “I” or possibly “we,” if plural. Everything must be revealed through this character’s senses, knowledge, feelings and thoughts. The author is limited by what can be shown through the POV character but a benefit is that this POV gains immediacy and reality. (It also lends itself to eavesdropping, so the reader can hear conversations and learn information that the POV character isn’t otherwise privy to hearing.) ☺

(A) I went to the store and saw a little black sweater with red flowers. It called my name, so I just had to try it on. I wondered what Brad would think.

(B) I didn’t know that Brad would hate it because it reminded him of a sweater his mother used to wear.

Sentence B doesn’t work even though it uses the “I” pronoun because the character can’t say what she doesn’t know.

Examples of first person POV are: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding, and Kissing Adrian by Siri Mitchell. A book written that uses the pronoun “we” is Anthem by Ayn Rand.

Second Person.
The POV character speaks to “you” and makes the reader feel as if he’s a character in the story. A few novels have been written in this narrative, but this POV isn’t very popular today except in some fanfiction.

Third Person or Omniscient.
Historically, the omniscient POV has been the most common. The pronouns “he” and “she” are used. A narrator, who knows all the facts, tells the story. The author’s knowledge and prerogatives are unlimited. In this POV, you can write, “Little did he know . . .” and divulge information that the character does not yet have.

Examples of third person POV are: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Solzhenitsyn, and Finding Stephanie by Susan May Warren.

Writers using the omniscient POV may be tempted to head hop. For example, in the classic dinner party, the author goes around the table revealing the thoughts of each guest, hopping from head to head.

Jim chewed the roast beef—and chewed and chewed. He took a swig of water and finally gulped down a chunk. Where in the world did Tom get his meat—from Shoe Leather R Us? He wondered if he could make an excuse to leave early.

Sylvia glanced at the gentleman to her left. He appeared to have as much trouble swallowing the tough beef as she did. Might she plead a headache and ask him to escort her outside?

Again, I’ll say that historically the omniscient POV has been what we’ve read the most, so it’s very easy to slip into this narrative view. However, today’s editors will mark you as an amateur if you head hop.

Limited omniscient POV tells the story through one or two character’s points of view—maybe as many as four character’s views, but each scene is limited to only the viewpoint character’s senses, knowledge, feelings and thoughts. A new scene may skip to a different character’s POV but the author must write from the new character’s viewpoint. When the author writes essentially becoming the character in the scene, this is writing with deep POV.

In the example above, the story is told through Jim’s viewpoint, so we can only know his thoughts.

Sylvia grimaced. She appeared to have as much trouble swallowing the tough beef as he did. He leaned over and whispered, “If you announce that you have a headache, I’d be grateful for the chance to escort you outside.”

Deep POV.
In deep POV, you must write the story with only the knowledge, thoughts, experiences, and feelings of your POV character. The entire scene, not just the dialogue, should reflect the personality of your POV character.

This is where stories come alive. Today’s editors want to know if you understand deep POV, and beginning writers often struggle to grasp this concept. I’ll explain more on Deep POV next week.

~Roxanne Sherwood~

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