Help me! > BookMarc by Peter Abresch

Point of View -- Part 1

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Bob Mueller:
Date:         Wednesday, April 28, 1999 03:09 PM

BookMarc #25
Point of View--POV--part 1

Point of View, or POV for a writer's shorthand, is viewing the story through a character's eyes. Like we are in their head, privy to their thoughts. In normal conversation a friend might tell you what happened on her vacation.

I went to the beach and the waves were so high I thought I would die.

She is telling her story and we see only what she saw, but she also relates her thoughts and that colors everything we hear. This is a first person POV, and in using it we have to narrate everything from First Person's head, viewing the world through First Person's eyeballs.

The advantages of using a first person POV is that we see and feel everything when First Person sees and feels it. This involvement brings about the maximum character identification and binds the reader to the story. The disadvantages are the same things. The writer is limited to only what First Person sees and feels. She can not view something off-camera. And we MUST NEVER hide something First Person knows or the reader will feel cheated. Also, if First Person is a repulsive murderer, the reader may not want to identify so closely with First Person for three hundred pages. Also, since First Person is the narrator, she is alive at story's end. Not a problem for mystery series where we know the hero will still be around, but it would not be a wise choice if we want to keep the narrator's fate in doubt. One way around this is to have First Person not be the protagonist, but instead a narrator telling the story of the protagonist, as Le Carre does so well in RUSSIA HOUSE.

She went to the beach and saw the big waves. Oh no. No way was she going into the water.

This is telling the same story in the third person POV, and subjective in this case, meaning we are in Third Person's head. We know her thoughts. In learning to write third person subjective, my old college professor recommended writing in first person and then changing all the 'I's to 'she's or he's. It works as a learning tool, but the conversion in not quite that simple.

The advantages of third person is that protagonist's fate will be in doubt till the end, and while it is just a shade less in reader identification than first person, it is enough to allow a repulsive person be the POV w/o the reader feeling uncomfortable. The same advantages and disadvantages to first person apply. The writer must not keep relevant thoughts from the reader, and show only what's happening through the protagonist's eyes. With the third person, however, the writer can get around this off-camera limitation by using multiple POVs, being in different people's heads for different parts of the story, and thus showing the reader things the hero can't see.

They went to the beach and saw the big waves. Marsha shuddered at the idea of getting in among them, but John smiled at the thought of skimming along on his serf board.

These two sentences tell the story in third person omniscient, meaning that, like God, we are in everyone's head at the same time. I think the biggest disadvantage is that character identification is so dispersed there is less to bind the reader to a single character's fate. If you want to build a series around a hero, this would be the last way to go. In my humble opinion. The other disadvantage is that we can't hide relevant thoughts of ANYBODY while in a scene. If John was determined to kill Marsha from the beginning of the book, and the reader, despite knowing John's other thoughts, doesn't know about the plan till the end, he/she is going to feel cheated. I think this is the most difficult POV to master, and yet a lot of beginners jump into it because the advantage is they can show anything, anywhere, anytime. Another reason is it is similar to what they experience in movies, but movies lack the advantage of being in someone's head. Some published writers do it well. Many others do it poorly. I think the disadvantages outweigh the advantages, especially for those starting out. Also, although I've read a lot of good books using third person omniscient, I don't believe I was engaged in any of them as much as good books using first and third person POVs. Again, my opinion.

In BookMarc #25 we'll take up some examples of showing the story through POV.

And, as always, all suggestions, rebuttals, comments, and additions are gratefully accepted.

Copyright Peter E. Abresch BookMarc February 13, 1998

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From:    Jane B
Date:    Wednesday, April 28, 1999 05:12 PM

I personally find the omniscient viewpoint very difficult and unsatisfying to read. Can anyone point to a well-known book that uses it? I'd be interested in seeing it done well.

I prefer to write third person limited, but I like to read first person as well. I hope, after gaining enough experience, I'll learn how to write first person effectively. Right now, I have too much difficulty separating myself from the persona to do that. For some reason, writing he or she helps me keep the viewpoint character "in character".

Jane

==========
From:    Rhea Skillings
Date:    Wednesday, April 28, 1999 07:48 PM

On 4/28/99 5:12:28 PM, Jane B wrote:
>I personally find the
>omniscient viewpoint very
>difficult and unsatisfying to
>read. Can anyone point to a
>well-known book that uses it?
>I'd be interested in seeing it
>done well.

Lonesome Dove. I'll never read it, drives me nuts, but I guess he did it well, it certainly sold like mad.

One thing about 1st pov, though, it's easy to just relate facts like a reporter and get a "cold" story. I just finished one and while I did get interested in the story, I didn't empathize or sympathize with any of the characters because the story wasn't told with enough emotion. For instance, a dog dies a horrid death and I didn't cry. I cry at the drop of a hat these days, but not a tear even threatened.

Rhea Skillings

==========
From:    Jane B
Date:    Thursday, April 29, 1999 06:19 PM

On 4/28/99 7:48:27 PM, Rhea Skillings wrote:
>One thing about 1st pov, though, it's
>easy to just relate facts like a
>reporter and get a "cold" story. I just
>finished one and while I did get
>interested in the story, I didn't
>empathize or sympathize with any of the
>characters because the story wasn't told
>with enough emotion. For instance, a
>dog dies a horrid death and I didn't
>cry. I cry at the drop of a hat these
>days, but not a tear even threatened.

Wow, Rhea--that seems unusual for 1st person. That's totally within control of the author and if you're getting a cold story, then that must be a pretty cold character (or maybe one just poorly done).

Jane

==========
Date:    Thursday, May 06, 1999 02:03 PM

Rhea & Jane,

Just because we write in first person doesnít mean we can neglect building out characters, especially the protagonist. The whole reason for using first person in a novel is to show the protagonistís interior dialogue and emotions. Fail you do that and you might as well be writing a newspaper article. Right?

As for a good omniscient view point, I think the Amanda Quick books are done very well, BUT, as a man, Iíll deny reading them if you tell on me.

One last thing. If anyone asks a question or makes a comment here, it might take me a week to get back to you, but I promise I will get back. Iím plowing through a second draft and Iím backed up on a bunch of other things, and I just got back from Malice. Howís that for excuses?

For all those I met at Malice, thanks you your comments.
Peter Abresch
Author of BLOODY BONSAI,
the Jim Dandy ELDERHOSTEL Mysteries
& BookMarc

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