PoV

When writing fiction, there are many ways to write a story, except when it comes to the characters. There are basically only two ways to write about them – as the narrator, in third person, or first person using the character’s voice or perspective. The writer uses the characters’ Points of View to help the reader get inside the minds of the characters. That’s all well and good if the story is written in third person and begins the story by getting into the heads of the main characters. This does not work at all in first person because how is the main character to know what another character is thinking? He/she can deduce how another is feeling by their actions and expressions, but the writer cannot suddenly jump into the head of another character 2/3 of the way through a novel!

I must confess, I am guilty of doing just that, years ago when I first began seriously writing. Man, did my writer’s group jump all over me for that one! Here I was, sailing along, telling Joel’s story starting with him running away from bullies as a kid, to losing family members, to his fleeing the country to avoid a murder charge. He finally goes looking for his sister in New York, but she isn’t at her last known address. He makes a fuss in the wee hours of the morning and is arrested for disturbing the peace. With little English under his belt he tries to explain his actions to the NYPD but isn’t understood. Enter the pretty female detective who fluently speaks many languages. She helps him out.

Now, I really like this female detective and suddenly she’s telling me her life story. Naturally, I want to tell it on the page as well. Then she gets pushy and starts to take over, pushing Joel aside and getting her own ‘air time’ as it were. That’s when the Group started screaming! Well, they never actually screamed. They just kept saying, “YOU CAN’T DO THAT!” And they were absolutely right!

We writers have to be very careful with PoV so we don’t have our readers running away from the story or putting it back on the shelf and never going back to it. This morning, I mentally took this novel off the proverbial shelf and started looking at it with fresh eyes. I have been thinking about all the versions I have on my flash drive, trying to figure out the best way of handling it, if I want to get it published. Do I break it up into His Story/Her Story/Their Story where each section is written in their particular PoV? Do I alternate chapters starting with his bully scene in the first chapter, jump into her perspective during that time period in the second chapter, then go back to his story in the third chapter? Do I work her into the story right from the beginning with a few paragraphs here, a few paragraphs there interspersed with his story. Or, do I ignore HER completely and just tell it from HIS PoV all the way through?

As much as I hate to do it, I think my last alternative is what I will end up dong. Since I have her back story written already, it will be easy to work in bits about her life through conversations once they meet in New York and only tell my readers about her feelings through Joel’s eyes. Somewhere down the line, I might write Her Story as its own entity, going beyond Their Story in New York and follow through to another adventure, perhaps. I must be strong. I have to stand up to her and say, “You can’t bully me!” even though I can already hear her in the back of my mind pleading with me to let her have her say.

Does that sound a little crazy? Perhaps, but aren’t all writers a little crazy? Well, imaginative, at the very least! 🙂

Have you ever struggled with PoV? How did you handle it?

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14 comments on “PoV

  1. Oh yes, I cheated, I wrote the book in two halves, actually it seemed to work quite well and I was satisfied that both had had their moment in the sun, even though they did both end up dead. I like the sound of your detective though, good luck with whatever decision you make.

    • Oh, no! You killed them off? I guess we do have to do that to some of our characters, as much as it pains us. That is why I may have to ignore Laura and concentrate on Joel. The problem is, so much of Laura’s character is based on a former roommate and me and our college life. The reader would even get to meet the other roommate (the one I referred to as being like your character). I REALLY want to tell her story, but I think I may give her her own book in order to tell her story. 🙂

  2. I usually alternate points of view in my stories, as I think sticking to the one perspective the whole way through and making it work can be really challenging. But, it is a good way to help hide some details from the reader, by only seeing through the eyes of one character.
    I must admit, when I read stories by some of my students, a lot of them have trouble with getting the perspectives right. Mind, a lot of the time I have to remind them to have more faith in their readers and their ability to figure things out without having to be told explicitly.

    • I suppose one must trust their readers to figure things out. As for the one perspective, I managed it very well (I think) in my two novels that were both in first person. I wrote it like it was me that everything was happening to. In a way, it actually was me, since I put in a lot of the stuff I was thinking while learning all the native cultural stuff. As for this other story, there were a couple of things I wanted to surprise Joel with regarding the young detective and weaving her story into the beginning of the book would kind of spoil things. I still have to think about all aspects before attempting the re-write. Thanks for your input! 🙂

  3. There’s still the grandmama of all PoV shiftages out there to aspire to/avoid: What Mary Shelly does in FRANKENSTEIN.

    For those who don’t remember, the tale starts out as a first person narrative with the captain of an icebound vessel who in writing to his sister relates an odd happening where a man wanders the ice. In the course of rescuing him, the man tells his tale, and we get a perfect word-for-word as he relates his tale.

    Thus, we get a first person where a different individual talks directly to the audience from the one we were with earlier, and our new narrator, Victor Frankenstein, takes over the narrative.

    And in the midst of him having the spotlight, Victor steps aside for a bit for the monster, who in the book was very erudite and loquacious, who then has *his* turn telling his tale. Apparently Victor not only created life, he also built the first dictation machine, as the creature ends up talking directly to us himself.

    Soon, the monster’s tale ends, when Victor gets the floor. Victor finishes up, and the captain wraps the show with the last solo. Like a matryoshka doll, there’s three narrative tracks embedded in each other, an embedded operand inside an embedded operand.

    And ever since I read that, I have absolutely *hated* the first person as a narrative device. Having seen what kind of destruction that can be wrought with it, I can never bring myself to use it. Especially if I do something where the narrator faces a threat of any sort: You read the description the narrator is giving, and in the back of your mind you know that this person relating the tale was able to survive the ordeal by the simple fact that you’re hearing about it from the narrator.

    That all said, what you described in your case is very similar to what Fred Saberhagen did in THE HOLMES-DRACULA FILE. Each chapter was written in the first person and split between Dracula and Dr. Watson. For all else with the book, good and ill, Saberhagen makes the narrative trick work for him.

    And if you really wanted to play hard and fast, what Richard Linklater did in the film SLACKER might make for an interesting book…

  4. I never actually read Shelly’s Frankenstein. (I know, bad me!) That all sounds very complicated! You’re right about the first person narrative and dangerous situations, knowing that if the person is telling the story, they survived. As a kid, I always preferred reading the first person stories because it was easier to see myself as the main character – and, at that age, never thought about the fact that they would have survived life-threatening situations.

    When I thought about splitting up my novel, either his/her/their stories or alternating chapters, I had not considered using first person. I’d still use the third person perspective.

    I guess I’ll have to look up Richard Linklater’s SLACKER and see how that relates.

    Thanks for your input! 🙂

    • My own silly fault for mentioning a film that might not be all that familiar:

      In a nutshell, SLACKER opens with one character getting picked up at the airport, who starts telling his story to the cabdriver. The passenger gets discharged, but the camera stays on the cabbie, who goes on to talk to a friend. The camera then follows the friend until that person meets another character, at which point the camera follows that person, as part of a long chain of PoV shifts throughout the entire film. And no, we never get to go back to the first person, or revisit anyone seen in a previous vignette before we get to the end.

      Criterion’s notes about the film tied to their release of their edition on DVD does a good job of discussing the pic and its PoV shifts at http://www.criterion.com/films/408

      • Thanks for the info. I don’t get out to movies much. Slackers sounds rather confusing. I will check the link a little later, when I’m not quite so tired. We just got home & it’s 12:30 am already. We old folks need our sleep! lol Good night! 🙂

  5. Very much so. I wrote one novel with each chap being a different viewpoint, to a total of 7 povs. Although I LOVED the idea of progressing the story through the others, each of the characters wanted to be the protagonist.

  6. I’m still experimenting with POV and I haven’t found one I like the best. I usually let the story decide how it will be told. Sometimes that means changing it halfway through and having to edit like a crazy person!

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