A Window & A Point Of View

In my former life as an English teacher, I was once required to teach my class of Turkish students about Point Of View (what we authors happily abbreviate to POV).  We were reading Death Of A Salesman at the time, and my kids were often confused when scenes flipped from present to past.

Following my fairly longwinded explanation of POV — in which I tried to explain that despite these changes in time, the POV was still that of Willie Lohman— one of my beautiful students put up his hand and said “It’s like looking through a window.  We can look in, or we can look out, but it remains the same window.”  Thus I was effectively redundant for the rest of the lesson.

The window analogy was, of course, perfect, especially as we so often consider the eyes to be the windows to the soul.  If we are looking through the eyes of Willie Lohman, we can look inward or outward, but we cannot see through someone else’s eyes.

Why does this matter to us as writers more than it does to English teachers (and it matters quite a bit to English teachers, I must say)?  It matters because choosing the correct POV for a story, and then maintaining that POV is vital to the continuity and understandability of the story you’re writing.

The first step to mastering your POV is to choose the character best able to tell your story for you.  Whether you write in the third or the first person, it’s still necessary to choose ONE character.  I got a great laugh recently, when I read The Guide To Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction by Philip Athans, in which he says “In my mind there is no difference between third person omniscient and third person lazy.”  In other words, pick a character from whose POV the story will be told…and work with it.

I have to say, for my latest book UnEarthed, I was tempted, so very tempted, to slip in, at the last minute, a POV different from the rest of the book.  I resisted because it would have been cheating.  It would have ruined the flow of the book and it would not have worked.  It didn’t help when my editor said “I’d love to read the scene where Astrid…”.  I took a deep breath and said “I could do that, but then I’d have to rewrite the rest of the book offering Astrid’s POV throughout the whole thing.  I think that might ruin the story, don’t you?”  So we didn’t do it, and I’m glad. (I am however, saving that scene as an extra for my website)

I also read that Markus Zusak rewrote The Book Thief a number of times.  Each time, he was trying out a different POV.  Finally when he stumbled on Death as the narrator, he knew he was onto something great.

So rules for POV,

Step One: Choose your weapon

Step Two: Hone it.  An appealing POV requires a believable voice.  You only get that by getting to know your narrator.

Step Three: Remain loyal.  Once you’ve chosen your POV, you can look only through their window.  You can open the window for a smell.  You can hang out of it and dangle from the ledge.  You can touch things through it.  You can look out the window, or in through it, but you may not hijack anyone else’s window.

The only time this rule can be mangled, is if you are practicing a scene-sequel technique.  This is a process most common for romance authors (and I’ve written a few of those, so I know), which allows them to tell the story from both a male and a female perspective.  It’s a technique you must choose deliberately and deploy thoughtfully; it’s not randomly hopping from one person’s mind to the next with neither method nor indication. In fact, that might be my next blog post…

In the meantime, here’s a little activity.  Look at the picture below:

1) Whose point of view are we seeing?

2) Describe what you see from this point of view.

3) Pretend you are the girl in the window.  What does she see from where she is now? What would she see if she stood outside her window and looked back in?

You cannot be the girl and the person on the street.  This is the essence of maintaining a POV.

For more about building POV and voice, visit http://www.anphobos.com



~ by bloowillbooks on March 20, 2012.

2 Responses to “A Window & A Point Of View”

  1. Really great post. The window analogy is fantastic. It’s certainly cleared up how POV can be explained. When we start this topic in my writers group, I’ll recommend everyone read this. I’ve shared it on our Facebook group too.

    PS: The log in with Facebook or Twitter are not working for me. (?)

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