News from Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Point of View--What is it and who cares?

I had enormous trouble with Point of View when I began writing. There is a rule in fiction writing that every word has to be in somebody’s point of view—in other words how the main character in that scene is experiencing the moment. My critique group despaired that I would ever “get it,” but the truth is, unless you write in POV, you’ll never get published. Editors won’t read your stuff. If your fame equals Nora Roberts or Tom Clancy you can write anyway you choose. For the rest of us, near the bottom of the food chain, if you don’t follow the rule, you’re spinning your wheels.
To complicate matters, there are many Points of View. Your only recourse is to know them all, and then you decide what to use. I’ve never read an explanation that made any sense, so, for the next couple of weeks, I’m going to try to explain them all in simple, understandable fashion, with some examples.
We’ll start with my favorite—the one you are never to use—which I use all the time. It’s called Omniscient, but I like to call it Authors, because it is you, the writer, invading the narrative with comment, or simply writing the scene with no one else in it with a point of view.
Example: “Once upon a time, in a land far away, there lived dragon.” That is your voice, telling a story. I used Omniscient as a beginning for Christmas For Annabel. I wanted to clue my reader in that this was going to be a fairy tale with Christmas Magic and a happy ending, so I used it in the prologue. To Whit: “Imagine, if you will, on a cold frosty night, an all but deserted downtown city street. It is a few days before Christmas, and all is quiet.” It sets the scene for a modern love story.
I used it sparingly in Maddie’s Choice. A scene in the first chapters of the book has Gideon, my troubled male protagonist, and Maddie, my irrepressible female, having dinner with two ranch hands and Gideon’s two young nephews. They’ve been telling silly knock-knock jokes and laughing while Gideon sits glaring. He leaves the table to go to his office. I end the chapter with: “They spent the next half-hour cleaning up, talking companionably, and occasionally laughing, unaware that Gideon listened from his office down the hall, wishing he were part of it.” This is my reader’s first hint that here is a lonely man, needing love.
John Steinbeck, my favorite author, was a master of this, but he wrote when omniscient was allowed. In his novel, Sweet Thursday, Doc, a marine biologist, one of the loneliest persons you’ll ever meet and the main character, is conversing with a girl he picked up in a bar, trying to get her interested in octopi.  Steinbeck interjects: There’s no need for giving the girl a name. She never came back . . .” Wow. Doesn’t that tell you all you need to know about her and him?
If you still don’t get it, e-mail me at and we’ll talk.
One last example from a novel that, as my agent, Jeanie Liaocono would say, is waiting to be published. To set the scene: the guys are playing poker in one of the motel rooms; the girls are having their own party down the hall that has gotten way too loud. A harried manager has summoned the guys to do something about it. “Lloyd’s concern for Penny sent him to the head of the group hurrying down the corridor. The noise from room 112 bounced off the walls. Like a posse of vigilantes, ready to storm the gates, the men advanced.
The last word is author intrusion, and will probably be booted by my editor, but it was fun writing it.
Next week: Interior Monologue, the one you have to know before you get to Third Person, Single Point of View.

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