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Friday, October 12, 2012

POV = Point of View...What is it?

This week in F2K we are studying POV, which is writerese for Point of View.  What's that, you might ask.  When you write fiction, you have a decision to make before you ever set a word on the screen or paper.  You must decide whose voice is speaking.  Who is the one who is presenting the ideas here?  

There are several POV's available to writers.  The most common is called 3rd Person Narrative.  This is easily recognized by the pronouns being used.  Most 3rd Person Narratives use the pronouns  he, she,  and it.   One character usually tells the story.  This can be a live or inanimate character.  I've seen pencils be the protagonist, or "good guy" in stories, and very effectively, too.  An example of this POV is from my novel "Door In Time":


John and Sarah listened with amazement as the strange young man John had just rescued from his cornfield told an unbelievable tale of time travel beginning in 2007 and culminating in 1887.  John and Sarah exchanged looks of disbelief mixed with compassion for the distress the young people appeared to be suffering.  The young man’s speech was strange, using words like “bogus” and “cruised”. The young people’s clothing was strange, with pants cut off above the knee and shirts of strange fabrics, and they had talked of strange gadgets earlier, such as a cell phone, computer, microwave ovens. Sarah stated she thought the kids were practicing witchcraft and was afraid, but John sensed that they thought they were telling the truth, even though he believed they must be delusional or crazy.  How could they possibly believe in time travel?  What was going on here?

In this paragraph, which is actually 3rd person omniscient, meaning that more than one character's thoughts are known, John and Sarah's thoughts are shown.

Contrast that paragraph with the following paragraph, also from my novel:

“Well, when I got up this morning, it was August 23, 2007.  I was at my home in Wichita, Kansas.  My friend, Randy, called to see if I wanted to get together to find a baseball game or something.  We picked up Charity at her home and cruised around the city park.  We noticed this old building that seemed abandoned, and decided to explore it.  Inside, we found papers that said the place was an old time travel service.  We didn’t believe there was such a thing, but when we couldn’t find Randy, we began searching for him.  He had gotten separated from us while searching the different rooms of the building. We came across this gate that had a sign reading Gateway Time Portal.  We passed through this gate together and suddenly found ourselves in your cornfield.  I know it sounds really bogus, but that’s the truth.  I don’t know how exactly we got here, but we came here to find Randy.  Now he’s disappeared again, and we don’t know how to get home.  I’m sorry if we have caused you any problems.  As soon as we find Randy, we’ll try to return home and not bother you again.”

This last paragraph was written in 1st person narrative.  Notice the frequent use of the pronouns "I, we, he, and she."  This paragraph is told from the POV of Josh Peterson, the protagonist in my novel.  When you write from this POV, you must be ever cognizant of the fact that you cannot know what is in the thoughts of the other characters.  You can write what you see, hear, smell, taste, or feel, but you are not privy to the thoughts of others, only your own thoughts.

Another POV that is commonly used is the 2nd person POV.  With this voice, you are telling what the reader is feeling.  This is one of the hardest to write, at least for me, because it is so easy to slip unconsciously into first or third person.  An example of this style is:

You wake with a start.  You see the light coming through the window, splashing across your bed and onto the opposite wall.  You feel the warmth of the sun as it shines on your face.  Listening, you hear the sounds of pigs, chickens and cattle feeding from their troughs.  The sounds and smells of breakfast cooking assault your nose, and your belly growls in response.  You sit up in bed, and pain slashes through your consciousness and throbs in your head, bringing back memories of the night before. Oh, why did you stay out so late, and why did you mix whiskey and beer?  And for Pete's Sake, why did you drink so much?

There are other voices that can be used, but these are the most common ones used in writing today.  Which do you prefer?  The important thing to remember is that you should remain consistent in your story.  

Don't start out with 1st or 2nd person and switch back and forth between the two.  Don't throw in some 3rd person POV just for variation.  This will only confuse your reader and label you as an amateur.  

For each story, pick one POV and stick to it throughout the story.  If you need to switch, then go back to the beginning and rewrite the story from the new POV. 

Consistency is the key.

Happy writing!

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