Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What's your Point of View (POV)

For the first of my discussions on “da rulz,” I decided to tackle point of view (POV). I think most, if not all the people following this blog have a good idea of what POV is, but in my reading up on the subject I found some new information that expanded my own understanding. So I hope this will be informative for both novice and seasoned writers.

POV is a huge topic. In my writing library I have several books that devote at least one chapter to it, if not more. I have one book that focuses solely on POV. (At the end of this post I’ll give a list of these books and some links if you want to purchase them.) It’s also the one writing technique that most fascinates me, because so much can be conveyed in a story through effective use of point of view.

Because there is so much that can be said, I’ll break the discussion of POV into several posts. At the end of each one I’ll have a little exercise y’all can do. Remember, everyone who posts comments to this blog will be entered into a drawing at the end of the month!

The basic definition of point of view is, “Who is telling the story?” Whose head are we in as we move through the action of the story. In school we all learned that there are several different types of point of view: first person, second person, third person, and omniscient. First person narration uses the pronoun, “I,” second person uses “you,” and third person uses “he/she.” Omniscient POV is an authorial voice, as if the narrator isn’t actually in the story but is recording the events from a distance, like a reporter. Knowing this much, we could identify the method of POV any author uses to tell a story.

Of course, writing effective POV is much more than deciding which pronoun to use or engaging in a simple recording of the events. POV is a powerful storytelling tool, with each form having benefits and pitfalls that must be carefully considered by the author. Alicia Rasley, in her book, The Power of Point of View, wrote that POV is “the vehicle your reader uses to travel through the story … ‘driven’ by one of the characters.” This is more than a clever description of the technique. Think about how you drive a car, compared to how your mother drives a car, compared to how a professional stunt driver might drive a car. Every ride is different.

Likewise, the way your POV character tells the events of a story will be different from every other character would tell the same events. Each character has his/her own voice, perspectives, opinions, experiences, and emotional reactions to what’s happening to or around them. It’s this voice we must tap into, these perspectives and opinions we must explore, these experiences and emotions we must use to propel the story forward. And in so doing, we give the reader a ride through the character’s world. We allow the reader to experience the story vicariously through the character’s mind and senses. Through the use of POV, our stories are more than a straightforward conveying of things that happen.

It is my opinion that POV is the most important technique a writer should master, because it is through POV that our writing moves from a sequence of grammatically correct sentences to an adventure we invite the reader to partake in. 

In my next posts I’ll examine each of the three major types of POV (second person is almost never used for fiction), and explore the benefits and pitfalls of each. In the meantime, I have a couple of questions for you. 

What form of point of view have you chosen for your current project, and why did you choose it?

Books I will be using for this topic:

Alicia Rasley, The Power of Point of View: make your story come to life, Writer’s Digest Books, 2008

Noah Lukeman, The First Five Pages: a Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile, Simon and Schuster, 1st edition, 2000

Sol Stein, Stein on Writing, St. Martin’s Press, 1995

Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel, Writer’s Digest Books, 2001

Orson Scott Card, Characters & Viewpoint, Writer’s Digest Books, 1st edition, 1988

Nancy Kress, Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint, Writer’s Digest Books, 2005