Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Points of View - Part 1

I feel like being a bit school marmish with today's blog post. -- Stop passing notes! No chewing gum in class! Stop picking on the boys! -- Do you feel like you're in grade school again? Good. Here we go. Point of View is one of the most basic aspects of writing fiction, however it has enough complexity that it can change the whole course of a story. In a recent post, Kalayna described how she had to change points of view to find the right voice for a story. I experienced something similar with a short story I am writing. I started to tell it from more than one character's perspective, but I lost the tension and, in the process, the plot.

There are four key aspects of POV--person, ensemble, distance, and omniscience. Each of these categories contains a range of possibilities with itself and the combination of the four makes for wildly varied creative choices. Most writers make these choices intuitively while they write a story, but being aware of the options will allow a writer more creativity, help them be more aware of POV inconsistencies, and possibly reveal to them why a particular scene or scenes don't work the way and author wants. I will tackle the two simpler aspects of POV today--person and ensemble--and wrestle with the more obtuse ones on my next blogging day. Why do hard work now when you can put it off, right?

The first key to POV is person. Person refers to the grammatical categories of first person (I, we), second person (you, y'all), and third person (he, she, it, them). Contrary to appearances, person in fiction does not define whether the reader is inside or outside of a character's head. Person does dictate perspective to a degree, but distance affects it much more. Person really comes down to pronouns--to what pronouns you use when you are writing. Most fiction is written in third person. Third gives the writer a greater choice in the other three aspects of POV, as well as being well known and well tolerated by the reading public. The next most popular person is first. First gives the reader full access into the mind of the character. First is limiting though, because it must be by definition close in omniscience and subjective in distance (see Part 2). Some readers are uncomfortable with first person because it is close to a loss of self or an invasion of someone else. Second person is rarely used in fiction, and it usually meets with poor results. People don't like being told what to do. Well, unless you're reading a blog. I personally write and read just as well in either first or third person. I attempted a second person story once, but I think I purged those files from my computer (I hope).

The second factor in POV is ensemble. Ensemble deals with how many characters will define your POV. We call the characters the POV character of the scene. The simplest ensemble choice is to go with one POV character--the writer follows one character all the way through the story. This can be done either through first or third person. Another popular tactic is to have an ensemble cast written in third person. This means that the entire book is written in third person and each scene or chapter follows a different character. The writer decides how many different POV characters they swap back and forth between. The POV character usually changes at the scene break. In omniscient view (again, you'll have to wait for Part 2), a writer can change POV character within the scene because the narrator keeps a distance from the action, but I'll get into that later. I wrote my first Nano novel in first person with an ensemble cast--the whole novel was in first person but I switched my POV character every chapter between the two main characters. Their voices were fairly distinct, so I think it worked most of the time, but the stronger, more sarcastic of the two definitely overpowered her sister in some chapters. She was just so fun to write.

The class bell is ringing, so you'd better stuff all your junk in your backpack and get out of here. I'll warn you, if you leave something behind, I'm keeping it. And if it's a caricature of me with dragon wings and snout, spewing fire, I'll hang it on my fridge, you sweet thing you. See you next time for more lessons in points of view!

1 comment:

haricot vert said...

lovely! :D i like it.