Creating: Tactical Writing—POV

by Randy Ingermanson

Con’t from September 9 newsletter. (Not getting our newsletter? Email us and we’ll put you on the list.)

Because that’s how people experience life. There are two kinds of people in the world — you and everyone else. You experience yourself from inside your own skin, inside your eyes, inside your ears. You experience everyone else as outside your skin, outside your eyes, outside your ears.

Your reader knows this perfectly well. When you insert your reader into your Storyworld, there is only one way to do so which will feel natural: Inserting your reader inside the skin and eyes and ears of exactly one of the characters.

The POV character will normally be a person. Rarely, it will be an animal. More rarely a plant. Even more rarely, an inanimate object.

Beginning writers often want to make their POV character some omniscient god-like person who sees into all minds. That’s a mistake, because your reader is not omniscient. (I am willing to bet money on this.) Making your POV character omniscient will feel unnatural.

So why do some beginning writers want to use an omniscient point of view? Usually, it’s because they have read a good novel that used omniscient POV. They assume the novel was good because it used omniscient POV. In reality, the novel was good even though it used omniscient POV.

Some writers will even argue, “Charles Dickens wrote in omniscient POV, so I can too.”

When someone takes this line with me, I sometimes say, “When you can write fiction one tenth as well as Charlie, then you can use omniscient POV.” Which is a little unkind, but it’s probably nicer than sticking a fork in their eye.

On days when I’m feeling a bit more patient, I observe that great writers of the past made many stupid mistakes, such as beating their wives, pickling their livers in alcohol, getting killed in duels, and using omniscient POV.

All of these are frowned on today.

Great writers of the past were great writers in spite of the mistakes they made, not because of them. It is widely agreed nowadays that the goal of the fiction writer is to make the reader identify with one particular character in each scene.

It’s perfectly fine, of course, to make the reader identify with different characters in different scenes. Most modern novelists have several POV characters in each book, switching to a different one with each new scene.

That works very well. The only hazard is that if your scenes are too short, your reader will start feeling jerked around.

What doesn’t work is “head-hopping” — putting your reader inside the head of first one character, then another, then another, all within the same scene. Then the reader doesn’t know whom to identify with.

Yes, there are some writers these days who still practice head-hopping. They get away with it because they are good storytellers whose strengths outweigh their weaknesses. But their editors wish they would stop.

It’s a simple tactic — choosing one POV character for each scene. Simple, yet powerful.

© Randy Ingermanson 2010. Republished with permission.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 13,500 readers, every month. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit

http://www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

 

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2 Comments on “Creating: Tactical Writing—POV

  1. Note to self. Do not pickle wife’s liver in alcohol.

    But seriously, thanks for this. Frank Herbert head-hops through half-a-dozen characters in one scene in ‘DUNE’, but I will NOT try to follow his example. I keep to first person where possible.

  2. My comment was garbled for some reason. So I’ll try again:-

    Note to self. Do not pickle wife’s liver in alcohol.

    But seriously, thanks for this. Frank Herbert head-hops through half-a-dozen characters in one scene in ‘DUNE’, but I will NOT try to follow his example. I keep to first person where possible.

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