Points of View by Michael Ford

Posted on July 19, 2012 by in Writing

If I were in your shoes…

Some examples of point of view in Working Partners books:

 

DC Saw SharkMSTV flying soloConfessions CoverBloodline cover

Dinosaur Cove: omniscient third person

My Sister The Vampire: close third person, two perspectives

Confessions of a First Daughter: close first person, one perspective

Bloodline: first person diary/letter format, four main perspectives

A term oft-bandied about in the editorial and creative-writing worlds is POV – point of view. Choosing whose perspective to tell the story from is a decision that often makes itself: it’s the person undergoing the central quest/struggle/dilemma – the protagonist. Most, but not all, of the books we work on at WP have a single POV. This makes for a powerful reading experience, because filtering the narrative through a single perspective, mining a character’s emotions and sense impressions, brings us as readers closer to the protagonist and creates that all important empathy. We often tell our writers: what the main character doesn’t see and hear doesn’t belong in the page.

It sounds obvious, but it’s not particularly easy. There’s often a tendency to drift away from a character’s POV and start describing events from what we call an authorial perspective (eg, ‘Ellie ran a hand through her glossy locks’ where ‘glossy locks’ is likely not an observation Ellie would make about herself, so isn’t her POV). This ‘drift’ isn’t always a bad thing, but it can produce a jarring effect in unsure hands. In visual terms, it would be a sort of blurred focus.

Lots of books don’t stick to a single POV, of course. They require and make use of multiple characters’ viewpoints in order to tell a story in different times and places, and to generate dramatic tension (some characters know things that others don’t), or to cast motives and actions in different moral shades. Mysteries tend to be single perspective – the pieces of the puzzle being put together by one character (along with the reader). In thrillers, it can be effective to construct a plot by seeing the machinations of several characters unwinding, and seeing the villain’s actions in particular can produce a sense of dread. Romances can play either way. Perhaps, as with David Nicholls’ One Day, it’s nice to see the thwarted love affair from both male and female POVs; but few would argue that Pride and Prejudice would be better if we saw all of Mr Darcy’s actions from his POV – it would rob us of the slow dawning of Elizabeth Bennet’s understanding that he’s not such a bad egg after all!

There are hazards with multiple POV – if one character’s story is more interesting, or better executed by the writer, it can produce an uneven read. There’s also an element of artificiality to it. Swapping POV draws the reader’s attention (albeit briefly in the right hands) out of the story, before entering again. Single POV encourages total empathy and immersion.

So, choose the shoes you walk in carefully, and according to the road you want to travel.

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