Saturday, September 3, 2011

Point of View Pointers for Fiction Writers

The more that I assess fiction, the more I am convinced that point of view (POV) is at the heart of successfully managing some of the most crucial stylistic and structural elements of the narrative. There have been a lot of books written on POV. Some claim that there are something like 30 or so possible POVs. Others say there are only three that count—which is the model from which I work. The three are:

1—Pure character POV—that is, narrative in the first person.
2—Pure omniscient POV—that is, narrative in a third-person voice that comes from the author hovering somewhere above or behind the action—and seeing, hearing, knowing, and recording all that’s going on.
3—Omniscient/character hybrid POV—that is, the use of a third-person omniscient voice only to the extent of setting a scene or quickly providing some information and leading readers into the head and body of a character who then speaks, and thinks for him/herself.
Many authors choose #3 because it is flexible, allowing the reader to see and respond to events through the character, while the author can still convey information that serves the plot, but which is not yet known to the character. The pitfall is when the author slips from one POV to another without developing any sufficiently for reader engagement. For example, what if you were reading a romance novel and came to a scene like this:
Judith looked into his eyes. Yes, she thought, this is the man for me. Randolph looked back at her and felt his defences collapsing. His pulse quickened as he stepped toward her.
So what's wrong with this? The answer is: POV slippage. The scene begins in Judith's head and rapidly switches into Randolph's. Carry on like this and, rather than a coherent scene that engages the reader and helps sell your manuscript, you end up with POV ping-pong and a mishandled scene that will be a red flag to any agent or acquiring edtior that you are not in control of your story.

Rule of thumb to solve the problem: Use one character POV per scene.

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