Friday, October 9, 2009

Point of View

There's a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to point of view. The vast majority of today's writing community will concur that there are two different options, and a rare few out of them will admit to three--first person, third person limited, and second person. If you think about it, it's easy to see why most writers have limited POV to those three areas. This is typically how we speak: I did, he/she did, you did. But in the world of writing there are so many options available to us.

And there is one area that a lot of critiquers particularly seem to abhor: head popping. Oh the horror of head popping! It should never be done! It is the mark of the amateur! Uh, not so much. In fact, head popping (aka Omniscient POV) is precisely the style Tolkein, Lewis, Asimov, King, and a handful of other highly successful and brilliant authors use. So why all the hate? Because most new authors have not yet mastered the art of the omniscient POV, so rather than helping them to perfect it, teachers and mentors will usually suggest that they steer clear of it altogether (In fact, a lot of teachers and mentors don't know enough to teach it anyway). This is a shame. The omniscient POV, when done well, can lure a reader into a story like no other. The reader can know at all times just what is happening and what everyone is feeling because the all-knowing narrator knows these things. This narrator can either be the author himself, or some other outside character that the author has created. This character isn't always in the story, just telling it.

First person point of view seems to be on the rise in popularity. Everywhere I go another author seems to be attempting it. There's nothing wrong with it; it's a good enough POV and it's the best one to use when you want to lead a reader astray. But it is easy for the author to get lulled into a sense that they have brought the reader as close to the story as possible, so they don't have to work as hard. Uh, no. Think about it. Yes, the reader is right in the head of the MC, but every other character must be known outside the point of view person. And it is easy for the reader to be lied to. Reality is only as how the MC sees it. If anything, as a reader I feel very pulled out of the all-encompassing story when I read something in first person. In some stories, that works. In a mystery, for example, the first person POV would be perfect. The reader would have no more information than the MC. In fact, I'm in the process of writing a short story in first person because I plan on pulling a fast one on my MC, and in turn, the readers.

There are quite a few POVs that I just won't get into here right now. Some of them have fallen out of use in modern writing and others are just so difficult that only the most knowledgeable writers would dare attempt them. However, the last point of view that I will talk about is third limited.

A lot like first person, third limited is restricted to one character at a time. A lot of authors choose to have several POV characters in one novel, while others may stick with one (e.g. Harry Potter series). You can't "head pop" in third limited because the narrator is the character of choice, not the all-knowing one. The narrator, therefore, can surmise what the other characters may be thinking or feeling, but it is all speculation based on their actions.

Point of view, like I stated in my previous blog post, I shake my fist at you! is a style. If you see that a writer has used a certain POV rather poorly, direct them to the best resources to perfect their craft. But do not steer them away from their style. We need an end to cookie-cutter novels that are crafted the way "everyone" is doing it. I think we know what kind of novels come out when that happens. ;)

~Emily White

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