Friday, June 25, 2010

Point of View Demystified

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by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to a PODCAST of this article.

I recently sought to hire an editor for my MANUSCRIPT and found many of them willing to offer a CHAPTER length sample edit. One came back with the notation I had a Point of View error on page one.

How in the world did I miss a POV error on the first page? *shakes head - roll eyes*

If nothing else, the experience taught me two things. Editors are a necessity, and POV errors are easy to miss. With that said, I thought I'd pen an article on POV and share it with you.

Let’s first try to understand what POV is. In a sound bite, it’s who's telling the story. POV is nothing more than the writer’s method for presenting narrative. See, it’s not all that mysterious, though mistakes are evidently difficult to catch.

The first aspect of Point of View to understand is each POV has its advantages, disadvantages and typical uses. My focus for this article will be the three most common uses of POV.

The three major types are:

First Person POV - the writer tells the story
Second Person POV - the writer gives advice
Third Person POV - the major character or characters tell the story

Third Person POV has three subdivisions and they are:

Limited
Omniscient
Objective

Let’s take a look at First Person POV.

First Person has the writer, or narrator, tell the story. In effect, the author speaks to his readers. This POV is told in either present or past POV.

It is most often used when one authors a book about ones’ personal experiences or opinions. You’ll see the writer using the pronouns I, me, my, mine, we, our and ours. It does fit into fiction, but is widely used in memoirs.

Second Person POV

Think of this as an instruction manual with extensive use of the pronoun, “you.” This POV is rarely used in fiction as it simply tells the reader what the characters are doing and what they see. A weakness is it provides only limited access to creativity though a strength is it grabs the reader’s attention. It can also exist in past and present forms.

Third Person POV, where a character or characters tell the story, has three subtypes and we’ll discover each of these in time. It's the primary POV utilized in fiction.

Third Person - Omniscient POV

Third Person Omniscient POV has all the major characters in your novel tell the story. What is nice about this POV is the freedom it affords. The author can tell the reader everyone’s motivations and their thoughts. It allows the writer to give or withhold information at will.

The difficulties of this POV lie in lack of control and its potentially cumbersome nature. If you aren't careful and you show too much of what’s inside every character’s head, the reader receives an overabundance of information and can become frustrated if your POV loses cohesion.

To overcome this drawback, ensure consistency in your POV and have only one person at a time tell the story. It's also important to eliminate any information that is not pertinent to the story. Have each chapter focus on one individual to eliminate “head-hopping,” which is jumping from one character’s POV to another within chapters.

Third Person - Limited POV

Third Person Limited POV is perhaps the easiest to utilize and most popular when writing novels. Here the author writes from a single person’s vision throughout the entire book. In third person POV, you’ll see pronouns such as she, he, her, him, hers, his, it, its, they, them, theirs.

The disadvantages come with the writer’s limitation as to who sees what. The character who tells the story cannot get into the head of another to read his thoughts. He can only surmise what the other guy thinks by their facial expressions, actions and such. It’s also very easy to shift out of this POV.

Third Person Objective POV

In this POV, the author only tells his readers what happens by way of action or dialogue. Their characters’ feelings or thoughts are never revealed. It's not the most effective POV for fiction.

The secret to POV is to learn what type works well for your writing style and genre.

Now, who wishes to share a POV issue they've faced?

I hope you know by now, I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the now-at-the-editors novel, "Born to be Brothers"

2 comments:

  1. This is a great explanation of the different POVs.

    I haven't really hit an issue with POV but I'm having trouble properly organizing my POVs. I'm writing from 3rd person with multiple points of view, but I'm doing a bit of "head hopping" as you call it. I can't divide each chapter into a POV, it's a specific division of scenes. But, I plan on making clear breaks between the scenes, so hopefully it won't be too much of an issue!

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  2. C. Patrick SchulzeJuly 4, 2010 at 9:45 AM

    I do understand, Suzanne. It's a tough call sometimes. Make sure you've got a good editor and they'll make sure it all works. Let us know how it turns out?

    Best of luck.

    Patrick

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