“Isn’t this everyone’s Point of View?” asked Tock, looking around curiously.
“Of course not,” replied Alec, sitting himself down on nothing. “It’s only mine, and you certainly can’t always look at things from someone else’s Point of View. For instance, from here that looks like a bucket of water,” he said, pointing to a bucket of water; “but from an ant’s point of view it’s a vast ocean, from an elephant’s just a cool drink, and to a fish, of course, it’s home. So, you see, the way you see things depends a great deal on where you look at them from.”
Norton Juster: The Phantom Tollbooth
Who’s gonna tell this story? That’s the burning question that causes many writers such angst as they pace up and down wearing tracks in the floorboards for all the world like an expectant father of olden times, listening out for the first squawk announcing the safe birth of their newborn son or daughter. But that’s actually an image that doesn’t go nearly far enough. Replay; only this time you’re not just involved in the conception of that baby but also its delivery. No wonder the weight of responsibility can be crushing. First person, second person, third person, multiple POV – oh my gosh, there’s just too much choice, someone direct me to the nearest couch in a darkened room so I can just forget about it all.
But there’s no getting away from it – at some point a choice has to be made. Let’s look at the line-up in a little more detail. First person is always a strong contender, and it’s easy to see why. After all, who can resist the temptation of stepping into someone else’s skin, seeing through their eyes, experiencing their sensations and thinking their thoughts? But hey, wait a moment, what’s happened on page 311? How can you possibly know that Arthur has a cyanide pill in his pocket when you weren’t in the room to see him put it there? It’s a rookie error and one you want to watch out for.
Second person is much rarer and when a story is told from this unusual viewpoint there is often an underlying sense of menace – think Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney. However, third person is right up there in the batting order. If first person is the lead actor role where all the action of the play is experienced through one central character and how it impacts him/her, third person is the equivalent of sitting in the Director’s Chair. This POV gives a broad overview not only of the main protagonist(s), but every other character on the stage plus scenery and props.
The main danger here is flatness – with first person there is an immediate connection with the reader – the ‘I’ who narrates the story is talking directly to ‘you’, the reader, and in the process of sharing their secrets can quickly become your new ‘best buddy’. But when a story is told in third person the greater breadth created by being involved in the stories of more than one character has a flipside. It’s the difference between a magnifying glass and a telescope, and, in books at least, distance doesn’t always add enchantment to the view. The writer needs to work much, much harder to keep levels of engagement high. Otherwise, the reader will simply cease to care, or even, worst case scenario, abandon your book altogether.
But there are ways round this. One tried and tested formula to add extra depth and texture to a third person narrative is by opting to tell the story using multiple POV. This is a challenging but exciting way of writing as each POV has its own unique character, causing the story to shift direction as we perceive the action from different perspectives. Another real plus of multiple POV is that it allows the writer to play with the narrative in order to plant surprises and shocks for the unsuspecting reader – huge fun, providing you don’t allow yourself to get completely carried away!
Just to take it right back to basics, here’s an example of each.
I saw the ship tossing on the waves in the storm and felt afraid.
You see the ship tossing on the waves in the storm and you feel the fear.
Melissa saw the ship tossing on the waves and felt her chest tighten with fear, thinking of Jamie on board.
Multiple POV(also note multiple POV in the quote at start of blog)
David watching from the cliff saw the ship tossing on the waves and got out his phone to alert the coastguard.
Jamie saw the tossing of the waves as he lurched towards the side of the boat and vomited his dinner over the side.
TIPS FOR POV SUCCESS
- What sort of story do you want to tell? If you’re not sure which POV to use, try writing different versions of one scene from each type of viewpoint. Reading it aloud will help you work out which one fits your story best.
- Get inside your characters’ heads – who are they really? What are their character flaws? Look through their eyes, not your own – you might be surprised at what happens next!
- With multiple POV, generally two or three is best – more can be confusing for the reader.
- Never switch viewpoints during a scene.
- Make your storyteller compelling – an unreliable narrator, the storyteller coming at the story from an unexpected viewpoint, e.g. an observer.
Illustration: Mountains ©RamonChorques (pixabay.com)
#Carry on the thriftiness
When you won’t buy anything unless it’s on a buy one, get one free basis, you know Christmas is looming on the horizon!
#Edit my book & write more short stories…
The book is getting cold-shouldered by other work, but I have enjoyed adding new text to link sections together. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the cutting process which is causing me a lot of pain – I struggle to walk the fine line between letting go of too much which can stunt the story, and being too generous in what I allow to remain which has the same stodgy effect as settling for a second helping of pudding when you really know you shouldn’t. Third story to People’s Friend has had a good initial response and been put forward to the decision stage – here’s hoping it’s a yes! Trying to think of an idea for the next one now…
#Do up the bathroom & loos (on a shoestring budget!)
So now we’re into forward planning and getting to grips with the bathroom layout so we can make a final list ready for when we hit the shops in the January sales. Black Friday had some hugely tempting offers, but we had to walk away as we had nowhere to store any of it. Our families are pretty accommodating but, even so, there are limits and I don’t think any of them would be overjoyed at the prospect of sharing a room with a bath/loo/sink etc over Christmas!