So what is Point of View?
Sol Stein’s definition is a good one,
‘The character whose eyes are observing what happens, the perspective from which a scene or story is written.’
Apart from writing an autobiography we write with a mouth-piece, one of the characters, real or made up, usually the most important one for the telling of our tale; THE MAIN CHARACTER.
Having decided who fits this role we then decide on that person’s delivery. The two most popular these days are first person and third person.
When we are listening to friends in a bar or coffee shop there is no confusion about who is saying what; they are present in the room and we are looking at them, listening to them and sharing their stories. They may be recounting something that happened to someone else, using ‘he’ or ‘she’ and if they do their job well, they miss nothing out because they saw the whole thing happen.
They can even put in their own opinions, assuming a god-like omniscience, or access the inner thoughts of the person they’re talking about – very popular these days, we need to know the inner turmoil, the moral fibre of a character that reveals itself in private.
Not that many people would choose to be in a teenage boy’s mind for too long, but look at this example:
‘I’m up,’ He shouted, turning over in bed and resting his head on the pillow. For extra measure he banged a shoe up and down on the floor so his mum would think he was walking around. She would set off for work soon and he would be alone.
He had no intention of going to school today. He was going to meet that girl from yesterday. She looked at him in a way that suggested she knew a thing or two about boys. She might even let him . . .
We are in the mind of the character, but once removed, using “he/she, his/her.
It gives us a chance to hide things from the reader because the narrator doesn’t know about them. This can be important in a mystery story for example. Or in the above situation, what if the girl was really his half sister? A fact that she knew, but he didn’t and that was why she looked at him in that way. Nothing at all to do with what he hoped.
On the other hand, this same person might be telling us about something where he/she is the main protagonist and we know it’s FIRST PERSON because of the language,
It was dark and I kept looking over my shoulder every time the wind blew. I tried to tell myself I wasn’t scared, but in truth I wished I hadn’t spent the taxi fare on her. When I gave her the drink she didn’t even thank me, just acted like it was her divine right. What a b****.
We are in the mind of the character with great immediacy, the narrator uses “me, myself, I.”
First Person POV is alluring, but sometimes you’re up so close and personal it might put you off. As Sol Stein says,
‘If he sees himself as weak, the reader won’t have much interest in him as a protagonist. If he sees himself as strong, the reader will think him a braggart. Therefore, in the first-person POV the author relies on action and the speech of other characters to reveal things – particularly good things – about the “I” character. An unreliable or villainous first-person narrator can lend credibility…
If the character takes the reader into his confidence, the character can’t “forget” to provide the reader with an essential secret or other important piece of information. When the reader learns that was withheld, he will feel cheated. The most dramatic way of handling information that the character is reluctant to convey is for another character to strip the secret from him in heated conversation.’
Much has been written about ‘Point of View’, so much so that some people begin to get confused about the do’s and don’ts. Others don’t really care; they just want to write.
Sometimes we want to include so much information, all the research that we painstakingly did, that we use any old character as our mouthpiece. This is a mistake. Not everyone says and thinks the same things. Just as in real life, when certain things sound odd coming from certain people, we need to marry the character with the dialogue and the main viewpoint with the most interesting parts of the story.
If you are using a character to report what happened to another one and you keep doing it, you’ve chosen the wrong protagonist – irrespective of POV.
ANOTHER PERSON’S POINT OF VIEW
If we want to get into different characters’ minds we can do so, but need to flag up the change to the reader so they keep up with the change of character. There’s no hard and fast rule, but consider keeping the characters separated into their own chapters, or if that is not what you are looking for, leave a blank line or two in your document so the savvy reader understands. Alternatively, if you’re as good as Hilary Mantel, do what she did in Wolf Hall. She changes POV from the young Thomas Cromwell to his sister and back again all in the space of a few lines and the reader keeps up no problem.
What do you think?
Best thing now is a few writing prompts to get the juices flowing . . .