Point of View for Puzzled Writers
by Connie Flynn
Some writers come into the business with an intuitive ability to manage their character's point of view. Never once do they have their characters describe something behind them when they've never seen it before and thereby giving new meaning to the saying, 'she had eyes in the back of her head.' But other writers struggle with the concept and frequently change heads in the middle of a scene or have one character read another's mind without any clue of this hidden psychic ability. So there are rules for writing point of view, but beyond that there are multiple parts of point – three of them to be exact.
RULES – USE THEM OR LOSE THEM.
Rules are subject to change. Writing techniques and style expectations change with the times, just like clothing and furniture and hot colors. There are some fundamentals, though, in every field. While creative fields are more fluid than many others, some expectations remain. Among them are the basics of managing story point of view, which will seem to consist of dozens of rules but is actually less complex than that. We're about to meet them.
Three rules for rules:
1. Never break a writing role until you understand and master it.
2. Never blindly follow a rule that doesn't make sense to you.
3. When you know the rules, break them when it serves your story, but do not rush to judgement.
WHAT IS POINT OF VIEW?
The first rule is that while a story can feature several point of view characters, one of them must have more influence over the storyline than the others. There are exceptions to the rule (as always) but it's best to follow it when you're starting out. Once you've decided the who, start asking question like these:
1. Who is telling the story or scene?
2. Where are/will they be standing physically?
3. What are their pre-judgments?
4. What is their goal?
5. What do they want from it (motivation)?
6. What do they value most?
7. What are their concerns and priorities
8. What do they always do under stress?
9. What would they never do, no matter what?
When you get to the harder questions — pre-judgments, values, reaction to stress, etc., don't makes your character until a little angel. Examine they're dark side because this is where character growth comes from. You can also invent your own questions. You can never know too much about the soul of your character. Just don’t dump it into your story all at once, just use it to predict what your character will do next.
POV IS A WRITER'S MOST IMPORTANT DECISION
1. Every book has a dominant point of view and this person is called a focal character. The story revolves around them and the better you know who this character is the better your book will be.
Point of view relies on the specific aspects. Anything else is simply a variation of one of these aspects.
ASPECT 1: CHARACTER PERSPECTIVE – Who Tells the Story?
In this context, the word narrative refers to the voice that is telling the story, rather than to the specific kind of writing that lacks dialogue.
1. First person narrative (dominant pronoun is “I”) – all action is limited to what the narrator knows.
2. Second person narrative (dominant pronoun is “you') – seldom used except in instruction booklets or experimental literary fiction.
3. Third person narrative (dominant pronoun(s) “he/she”) – writer moves from character to to character and often gives multiple points of view. Only one character has the dominant voice in any scene.
4. Omniscient (dominant pronoun(s) “he/she”) — also considered third person, but the narrator moves fluidly through points of view at will.
ASPECT 2: CHARACTER KNOWLEDGE — What Can They Tell?
The choices are these:
Limited means readers know only what the character knows.
1. First person, always limited. Character can only know what they directly experience or are told, and what they told might be unreliable.
2. Single point of view, limited. The protagonist is the narrator and readers know only what the character knows. For that reason, I usually advise students to avoid this POV in favor of first person.
3. Multiple point of view, limited. Several points of view are used, but just one per scene (usually). This is currently the most popular choice.
4. Omniscient, unlimited. Third person viewpoint and in its extreme form the story is told as though the narrator has godlike qualities and is observing from above, dipping in and out of characters heads and even offering group perspectives. It's the most versatile of the viewpoints, but can also be the most undisciplined with the writer somehow becoming the focal character.
ASPECT 3: DISTANCE AND DEPTH— Close, Distant, Shallow or Deep.
Also known as subjective and objective, it refers to how deeply we penetrate a character's psyche, thereby pulling reader in until they become the character, always a good thing.
It's often believed that first person can only be subjective and that third person is easier to write from the objective distance. That isn't the case.
1. Distant or Shallow aka objective. The writer narrates from outside the story. Character emotions are often described as if from the outside, not necessarily filtered through the characters.
2. Deep aka subjective. The writer narrates and filters reactions through the character. Narration reads as though the character was speaking it or giving mental commentary.
3. The sliding scale.
a) First person can be objective or subjective. It's the degree of emotional and motivational intimacy that defines the voice.
b) Third person can have single or multiple points of view. Individual characters can move from completely objective to highly subjective inside the same story.
c) Writing that becomes completely objective becomes a variation of omniscient. This is called cinematic, where the story is written with the same objectivity as a film or play script and requires the considerable skill in 'showing not telling' to carry off.
NONE OF THIS REFERS TO THE WRITER'S VOICE
In current fiction, writers appear to subordinate their voice to their characters' voices and that is partly true. However, each writer does have a voice that crops up book after book. Generally it can be found in theme and subject matter, in choices of character types, even in the way you handle punctuation, paragraphing and chapter breaks. Every story choice you make reveals your unique style.
On the other hand, character voice is simply that, the way the character speaks. It needs to be individual, and the more flexibly you, the writer, can switch voices, the more powerfully you will write. And that ability itself is part of a writer's voice. Ultimately, voice is something that develops over time and shows up as a writer's mastery of the art of making fiction gets stronger.
2008/2010 Constance K. Flynn
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About the Author:
Connie Flynn, bestselling, award-winning author of ten published novels and three published short stories, also teaches fiction writing at Mesa Community College. She has been reissuing her legacy books in the Amazon Kindle store and her online offerings are growing. Busy polishing a recently completed new novel scheduled for mid-summer publication, she also had another new work in progress. She writes in several genres — paranormal romance, romantic comedy, action-adventure and contemporary fantasy. She also writes mystery and suspense as K.C. Flynn. Look for several new releases from Connie/K.C. in 2013.