Image

Archive for POV

Point of View: how many do you need?

Writing stories in first person is a electric thrill for many authors. You have easy access to emotions and sensations, plus the mystery of solving the problems of the plot are intense, too. Sometimes it’s tempting to want to use multiple first person points of view. If you can imagine Silence of the Lambs told in first person by Hannibal Lecter and Clarise Starling, you’re looking at a different book. Plenty challenging to write but maybe worth it.

How you decide to introduce first person POVs, and how many, is a juicy and complex choice as a storyteller. Julie Carrick Dalton even toyed with time, using her heroine’s point of view at age 11 along with the character’s POV three decades later. I began my second novel with a single first person point of view, then added a second as a character took a leading role in the book. Right now it’s just got a single first person narrator, with the rest of the book told in close third person. You don’t need a first person POV to show the heat of a character’s heart. First person gives and takes.

Willing to walk away

The choosing will mean revising and walking away from earlier attempts. Jessica Brody’s fine website Writing Mastery Academy examines many aspects of multiple points of view. As the author of the craft book Save the Cat Writes a Novel, she says you’ll need to decide who your book’s super-hero is if you have more than one protagonist. Each of the first person narrators needs a Beat Sheet, if you’re applying the Save the Cat method of storytelling.

It took her 13 years to write her novel. Dalton says, “The structure of this book gave me fits. In its final form, Waiting for the Night Song is a dual timeline narrative that switches back and forth from Cadie’s point of view at age 11 to Cadie’s POV three decades later. In the early drafts I wrote the story chronologically, including all the stuff in between – high school, college, and beyond.”

Then she reveals that the story’s middle section meant more to her than the reader. “After several drafts, I realized I only wrote the middle part for myself, so I would know who Cadie was and where she had been. I cut out the middle and wove the childhood and adult parts together to tell a single story. It was exasperating, but definitely the right way to tell this particular story.”

Remove filters to get your POV closer

Some easy writing advice to follow, offered all the time, is show instead of tell. But it takes careful work to preserve the showing while you remove filter words from your writing. These are words that make a story less vivid and make the writer more obvious.

You don’t want the latter to happen. We tell stories, but we don’t want our readers to focus on us as storytellers. Write memoirs or essays if you want to be seen while you tell the story. Fiction has several key elements, and none of them give writers a reason to show themselves telling. Not even first person.

In third person, the telling is even more tempting. Make a list of these barrier words and post it next to your computer screen:

saw
looked
watched
noticed
smelled
heard
touched
felt
knew
realized
thought
remembered
reminded
decided
seemed

You rarely need these in fiction’s narrative writing. (In dialogue you are permitted to do almost anything—but the dialogue has to propel the plot, or reinforce character traits, or make extra conflict). At the hardest end of the filter cutting, thought and decided can be erased by first-person limited point of view.

He thought he could wrestle the gun from Steiner’s hand.

becomes

He could wrestle the gun from Steiner’s hand.

At the easiest,

Randolph saw the wagon sink in the mud

becomes

The wagon sank in the mud. (We should know it’s Randolph doing the watching.)

Let a reader observe the action itself in the writing. Visuals rarely need “watched” and “saw.” Sensations like smell (one of my favorites) should be unique or pungent enough to stand without the verb smelled. The fuzzy filter is felt: it’s almost useful while you describe a texture. But the stubble on his chin felt rough can easily become The stubble on his chin was rough.

Go through and check your writing during revision. After a while, you won’t even write first drafts using filters.

Search and replace barrier words for POV power

Some easy writing advice to follow, offered all the time, is show instead of tell. But it takes careful work to remove showing at the same time you remove barrier words from your writing. Barrier words are ones that make a story less vivid and make the writer more obvious.

You don’t want the latter to happen. We tell stories, but we don’t want our readers to focus on us as storytellers. (Write memoirs or essays if you want to be seen while you tell the story.) Fiction has several key elements, and few of them give writers a reason to show themselves telling. Not even in first person.

Make a list of these barrier words and post it close at hand:

  • saw
  • looked
  • watched
  • noticed
  • smelled
  • heard
  • touched
  • felt
  • knew
  • realized
  • thought
  • remembered
  • reminded
  • decided
  • seemed
  • imagined

You rarely need these in fiction’s narrative writing. (In dialogue you can do almost anything—but the dialogue still has to propel the plot, or reinforce character traits, or make extra conflict. Reflection, as with these barrier words, is not a great mission for dialogue. At the hardest end of the barrier word-cutting, thought and decided can be erased by first-person limited point of view.

He thought he could wrestle the gun from Steiner’s hand.

becomes

He could wrestle the gun from Steiner’s hand.

At the easiest,

Randolph saw the wagon sink in the mud

becomes

The wagon sank in the mud. (There are other sentences to let us know it’s Randolph doing the watching.)

Let a reader observe the action itself in the writing. Visuals rarely need watched and saw. Sensations like smell (one of my favorites) should be unique or pungent enough to stand without the verb smelled. The fuzzy one is felt: it’s almost useful while you describe a texture. But the stubble on his chin felt rough can easily become The stubble on his chin was rough.

Go through and check your writing during revision. After a while, you won’t write even first drafts using these barrier words.