Monday, January 24, 2011

Point of View - third person omniscient

Okay, we covered first person. Let's swing to the other side of the spectrum to third person omniscient. This is where we know everything every person is thinking - sometimes we even know what a whole group of people are thinking! Omniscient point of view reached its most extreme form in nineteenth-century novels such as George Eliot's "Middlemarch." At one point, the author pauses the action and addresses the reader directly:

If you want to know more particularly how Mary look, ten to one you will see a face like hers in the crowded street tomorrow, if you are there on the watch: she will not be among those daughters of Zion who are haughty, and walk with stretched-out necks and wanton eyes, mincing as they go. Let all those pass, and fix your eyes on some small plump brownish person of firm but quiet carriage, who looks about her, but does not suppose that anyone is looking at her.

Browne and King say you're unlikely to want to go as far as this - it's difficult to maintain transparency when you're having a chat with your readers - but the omniscient point of view in its milder forms does have its uses. But what you gain in perspective you lose in intimacy.

Omniscient POV also tends to narrate. The author pulls back from the action and describes the surroundings or gives us an "info dump." We'll talk about info dump later, but it's just what it implies - a paragraph of information the writer wants to make sure the reader knows about.

Omniscient POV is also called "head hopping." Here's an example:

Lucas grabbed the ball away from Sam. He never liked sharing and he liked Sam even less. Sam wanted to teach Lucas a lesson, so he pushed Lucas on the ground. Alice hated fighting. "Stop!" she yelled. "You're only going to hurt each other."

Lucas and Sam ignored Alice's cries and began pummeling each other with their fists. The ball lay ignored on the ground.

So you see how we knew what each character was thinking or how they felt? Who was the main character? Whose story is it? You can't tell because I was equally in everyone's point of view. I even threw some narration in there. That can be distracting for some readers.

Fantasy writers often use omniscient POV. Fantasy kind of lends itself to it. However, in all the workshops and conferences I've attended, every single editor and agent has said to never, EVER use omniscient POV. Do not head hop, they said. Stay in ONE point of view. This is one of the writing rules. But I've also heard once you master the rules, you can break them, if you break them creatively.

Every manuscript I've read from a beginning writer or a self-published writer has been in omniscient POV. It's hard to stay in one point of view. I believe omniscient POV has its place, but I also believe working to learn to stay in one POV at a time strengthens your writing. So, can you identify your point of view? Give us an example of omniscient POV, if you write there. And let's talk about how we feel about this point of view. We'll talk about good old, regular third person POV next time.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Point of View - first person

Point of view (POV) is a biggie and the most confusing aspect of writing, in my opinion. What IS point of view? Simply put, POV is WHO is telling the story. Whose eyes are we seeing through? Whose thoughts do we hear? Browne and King write: "Some writing books distinguish as many as twenty-six different flavors of points of view, but there are really only three basic approaches: first person, third person, and omniscient."

There is a second person voice, but that is mainly reserved for magazine articles.

Let's look at the different POVs in the most basic form.
First person: "I"
Third person: "We"
Second person: "You"
Omniscient: any of the above

I've attended conference and workshops aplenty. Every single one was adament in NOT switching POV when you are first learning to write. Pick a character as your main character and tell the story in his/her POV. Don't get into anyone else's head and, if you do, for heaven's sake, don't head hop! And yet, I read novels all the time where the POV changes as quickly as a pixie.

Most people have no idea if you are switching POV and do they really care? Maybe not. But learning to keep to one POV will help you stay focused on the story. It will keep the reader in the story in a more intimate way. And it will help YOU, the author, hone your craft. When you are more experienced, you can switch points of view, but there's a way to do it. We'll talk about that later.

Let's look at first person. Writing in first person has some advantages, the main one is that the reader has a deeper intimacy with the viewpoint character. We are actually in their head all the time. In order to succeed in the first person POV, you have to create a character strong enough and interesting enough to keep your readers going for the entire novel. But you don't want the reader to feel trapped inside the character's head, so the character needs to be believeable.

The disadvantage is that you lose some perspective. You can't write about anything the POV character couldn't know, which means you have to have your main character on the spot whenever you want to write an immediate scene. This can limit your plot development possiblities.

When you write first person POV, your readers get to know only one character directly. Everyone else is filtered through the viewpoint character.

Here is an example of first person - from The Ballad of Frankie Silver by Sharyn McCrumb: "They have brought me down from my beautiful mountain in the white silence of winter, my wrists bound with hemp rope, my legs tied beneath the pony's belly as if I were a yearling doe taken on the long hunt. And perhaps I am, for I am as defenseless as a deer, and as silent."

POV is a personal choice. I typically do not write in first person. I enjoy third person (we'll talk about that next week) and I tend to switch POV when I begin a new chapter. We'll talk about that later, too.

How about you? Anyone out there write in first person? Give us an example so we can see how you do it.