Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What's Your Point of View?

Today our Editor-in-Chief, Susan Reichert, is taking a break from Wisdom Wednesday to bring us the insight of our Special Features Director, Richelle Putnam. Please give a warm Southern welcome to Richelle!

by Richelle Putnam, Special Features Director

Defining Point of View (POV) in literature has always been a bit tricky, especially since Webster defines point of view as:
a position or perspective from which something is considered or evaluated.

And, of course, who can argue with Webster?
Literary POV, however, simply means “how” the story is told, not “who” is telling the story. Let’s say an argument happens between two friends and each tells you their side. In literary terms you’re hearing the stories from the same POV: first-person, but from two different “perspectives.”

Tricky? Yes.
First Person: The Narrator participates in the story, telling the story from his/her perspective. (“I”).
Second person: The reader (“You”) becomes an active participant in the story. This POV is rarely used because of its limitations and because most readers like to escape into someone else’s drama. Still, there are cases in which second person works. 
Third Person: (“he,” “she,” and “they”) Includes narrators that:
a.      See into any of the characters (omniscient). This all-knowing POV can include “editorial” omniscience, which makes judgments about the characters and their actions. Or can be “impartial,” which doesn’t make judgments about the characters’ thoughts and actions.

b.      See into one major character (Selective omniscience)

c.       See into one minor character (Selective omniscience)

d.      Remains objective and doesn’t see into any of the characters (objective  omniscience)
Writers can often get hung up between “literary point of view” and “Webster’s point of view,” thinking they’re one in the same. For instance, in a critique session, if fellow critiquers say you changed POV midstream, unless you changed from third-person to first-person, or vice-versa, they really mean you changed “perspectives.”  Third-person is third-person, whether the focus is on Helga or Swen.  For instance, in a third-person POV book, if a new chapter begins inside another character’s mind in third-person, the POV is the same. The perspective has changed. Perspectives can change throughout a book with each character sharing what he or she is thinking, planning, and feeling. Only when authors switch from First Person (I) to Third Person (He, She, They) does the book’s POV change.  Have I said that enough?
One novel that masterfully changes the novel’s POV is William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, which consists of First Person and Third Person POVs. Best-selling author James Patterson also does this well.
In short, it’s not in “whose POV is the story written,” but in “what POV” is the story written.
What’s important is to keep your characters “perspectives” from crowding the same paragraph or chapter in your novel. Give each character space by separating each “perspective” with a new chapter or extra spaces and four asterisks.
Here’s a helpful suggestion. Imagine a big room. In the center are five chairs spread out into a wide circle, like what you’d imagine for a group session. 
Imagine that room as your manuscript. The chairs represent different parts of your manuscript, either a new chapter or a section set off by four asterisks. One character is allowed to sit in each chair because, well, there’s only room enough for one.  Now, during “group,” you, as the leader, must keep your characters on the issue at hand, which is the plot, allowing only one character to share their “perspective” at a time.
By doing this, your readers obtain necessary facts and information from several different characters without getting confused as to who is feeling what, when, where and how. And there is much more opportunity to end each chapter/section with a “hook.” But we’ll save that for another blog!
Point-of-view and perspective can be tricky, but knowing the “tricks of the trade” will keep you from falling victim to the trickster.
Well…that’s my point of view.

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