POV (Point Of View)

Hi Folks,

I get depressed a little when I think of all the talking I do and have done about writing over the years. Has it mattered? Sure, to a few writers here and there. But what I see as silliness and BS was around a long time before me and it will be around long after I’m gone.

Still, I talk about writing here and on my other blog. I’ve talked about writing in presentations at various conferences, to writer’s groups and in seminars and workshops over the years. (As my mom used to say, “Until I’m blue in the face.”) (grin)

And the biggest difference any of it has made, really, is moving a bit of air from one place to another.

The talking was (is) fun. Thinking I was making a positive difference was rewarding. But I really need to learn to smile, nod, and keep my thoughts to myself. However, as I wrote above, this is a lesson I have yet to fully take on board. Lucky you. (grin)

As evidence of that unfortunate fact, today I’ll talk about Point of View, most often skipped-over by writers as POV, or by more cutting-edge, chique writers as the all-new “deep” POV. (I wrote a post on “Deep POV” back in 2016 HERE and later in 2019 HERE.)

Just to be clear, some of those are successful writers, and I wish them well. Hey, whatever works. But some of them write dialogue without quotation marks because one guy did it one time in one novel successfully (if you measure success as that the next day around watercoolers all over the nation readers were discussing the technique instead of the story).

And some of them are the writers who won’t publish their works in ebooks because they “hate” ebooks. (Seriously? Isn’t that a little like selling only carpet in your flooring business because you “hate” hardwood?) Some of them are writers who won’t even read, much less try, Heinlein’s Rules because they aren’t science fiction writers. And the list goes on.

But I digress. To begin my actual take on POV, first let’s get over the dismissive, take-it-for-granted term “POV” itself. To do that, let’s be sure we understand the term “point.” Bear with me.

If you were asked to consider a particular “point of light,” there would be no confusion once you knew which light Source you were supposed to focus on. Or if you were asked to actually BE a “point of light,” you would be requested to serve as a Source of inspiration. So “Point” equals “Source.”

So the writer provides a “point of view” so the reader can sense (see, hear, smell, taste, and feel both physically and emotionally) the setting, action, pacing and other integral parts of the story through a particular source. That source would be the POV character.

What does that mean?

It means that every word on the page—every aspect of every setting, every word of spoken or heard dialogue, every slow or fast action—should be filtered through that POV character’s physical senses and accompanied by the character’s opinions. If the POV character notices something he has an opinion of it, and both what he notices and his opinion of it go on the page.

Repeat after me: Nothing. Else. Matters.

Whether you decide the narrator is godlike and “omniscient” (sees and knows everything) doesn’t matter. The point (source) of view is still the character through which the reader is observing the scene of the moment.

It also doesn’t matter whether the writer “chooses” to write in first person (I), second person (you) or third person (he, she or they). (Second person use is a very elevated skill that appears in fiction only occasionally and almost always in concert with one of the other two. I won’t get into it here.)

Regardless of the writer’s choices, the story is still presented through one or more Point (Source) of View characters.

Okay, so then what about “omniscient” and “limited omniscient” and all of those other English-teacher, literature-professor, critique-group, literary-critic concepts?

Those indicate the power wielded by the god of the story, the creator: the writer. Within the story, they mean nothing at all. They are functions of the critical voice. They are important, maybe, to the writer’s approach to the story (but the writer does not actually enter the story—more on this later), and they are important to deconstruction (there’s a great word for you—think about it). But not to creation.

On the one hand, those concepts are valuable to some writers because they enable the writer to consider the overall world of the story from a safe distance. On the other, they are methods used to dissect and study philosophically the deconstructed parts of the whole. But they are not a way to put the individual story together in the first place. They do not exist in the writer’s toolbox, even if the writer thinks they do.

In all honesty, it took me awhile to “get” this, and like many writers, for a time I clung to those concepts as a kind of life jacket. But eventually the little light came on and those concepts took their rightful place among many others that Just Don’t Matter.

Again, all that matters is the source through which the story is being conveyed: the POV character at any given time, whether the character reveals his observations through first person or whether those observations are revealed through third person.

What exists in a beginning writer’s toolbox are Words from which the writer will create a POV character (even if he doesn’t realize it), through whom the writer will convey a story.

Well, that plus seven marks of punctuation that force the reader to pause for various lengths of time. Those are the long-pause period, question mark, exclamation point and colon; the medium-pause em dash and semicolon; and the short-pause comma. Those are joined by four marks of punctuation that do not create a pause of any length but are otherwise occasionally useful: parens, quotation marks, single quotes (and apostrophe), and the hyphen. You can learn a great deal more about all of these and their specific uses in Punctuation for Writers.

As the writer learns and practices and develops his skill set, he might add various time- and reader-proven fiction techniques to his toolbox: Grounding the Reader, Pacing, Writing Action Scenes, Adding Suspense (Tension), Pulling the Reader to Depth, and others I’ve talked about here and elsewhere ad nauseam.

But even then, all that matters in a good story is that every words on the page is filtered through the POV character’s physical senses and accompanied by his or her opinions of the settings, scenes, the other characters, and the action (or lack of action). As others have said, it’s important that the writer be “in the character’s head” during the writing process. Or as I put it, BE the character.

The result is that the reader will read the characters’ story: the characters’ words (as spoken or heard by the POV character), the POV character’s descriptions, opinions, and decisions.

What is NOT included in a good story?

The writer. The writer’s words. The writer’s descriptions. The writer’s opinions. The writer’s decisions.

You aren’t writing your story. That would be a memoir or an autobiography. You’re writing a fiction. You’re writing the characters’ story, as experienced through the source (POV) character.

If the writer is in the story—the writer’s descriptions, the writer’s decisions, the writer’s take on the fictional or real world—the reader won’t be around very long.

‘Til next time, happy writing!


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