Tag Archives: point of view

#amwriting: creating intimacy: Point of View

Narration is the use of a written or spoken commentary to convey a story to an audience. Wikipedia explains that a narrative consists of three components:

  • Narrative point of view: the perspective (or type of personal or non-personal “lens”) through which a story is communicated.

  • Narrative voice: the format (or type presentational form) through which a story is communicated.

  • Narrative time: the grammatical placement of the story’s time-frame in the past, the present, or the future.

We want to create a sense of intimacy, of being in the character’s head. One way to do that is to use stream of consciousness, a narrative mode that offers a first-person perspective by attempting to replicate the thought processes as well as the actions and spoken words of the narrative character.

This device incorporates interior monologues and inner desires or motivations, as well as pieces of incomplete thoughts that are expressed to the audience but not necessarily to other characters. Consider this passage from James Joyce’s Ulysses:

“A dwarf’s face, mauve and wrinkled like little Rudy’s was. Dwarf’s body, weak as putty, in a whitelined deal box. Burial friendly society pays. Penny a week for a sod of turf. Our. Little. Beggar. Baby. Meant nothing. Mistake of nature. If it’s healthy it’s from the mother. If not from the man. Better luck next time.

—Poor little thing, Mr Dedalus said. It’s well out of it.

The carriage climbed more slowly the hill of Rutland square. Rattle his bones. Over the stones. Only a pauper. Nobody owns.”

In this narrative mode, we see the POV character’s rambling thoughts, as well as witness their conversations and actions. This is a tricky device to do well, and the only time I have employed it was in a writing class.

When they want to tell a story though the protagonist’s eyes, many authors employ the first-person point of view to convey intimacy. With the first-person point of view, a story is revealed through the thoughts and actions of the protagonist within his or her own story.  The waves carried me, and I fell upon the shore, a drowning man, clutching at the stones with a desperation I had never before known.

I have used first-person, and find it easy to write. I prefer to read a third-person narrative so that is what I write in most often.

If you prefer, as I do, to write in an omniscient voice, the story is told from an outside, overarching point of view. The narrator sees and knows everything that happens within the world of the story, including what each of the characters is thinking and feeling. A way to convey intimacy when writing in third person omniscient is to use the third-person subjective.

Again, Wikipedia says, “The third-person subjective is when the narrator conveys the thoughts, feelings, opinions, etc. of one or more characters. If there is just one character, it can be termed third-person limited, in which the reader is “limited” to the thoughts of some particular character (often the protagonist) as in the first-person mode, except still giving personal descriptions using “he”, “she”, “it”, and “they”, but not “I”. This is almost always the main character (e.g., Gabriel in Joyce’s The Dead, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown, or Santiago in Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea). Certain third-person omniscient modes are also classifiable as “third person, subjective” modes that switch between the thoughts, feelings, etc. of all the characters.”

This mode is also referred to as close 3rd person. I like this mode and frequently use it. At its narrowest and most subjective, the story reads as though the viewpoint character were narrating it. This is comparable to the first person, in that it allows an in-depth revelation of the protagonist’s personality, but differs as it always uses third-person grammar. Because it is always told in the third person, this is an omniscient mode. I like reading works written in this mode as it is easy for me as reader to form a deep attachment to the protagonist.

Some writers will shift perspective from one viewpoint character to another, such as George R. R. Martin does. I admit I don’t care for that but occasionally find myself falling into it. I then have to stop and make hard scene breaks, because it’s easy to fall into head-hopping, which is a serious no-no.

Head-hopping occurs when an author switches point-of-view characters within a single scene and happens most frequently when using a Third-Person Omniscient narrative because the thoughts of every character are open to the reader.

Experiment with POV. Write a scene from one of your works in progress using a different narrative mode. You might be surprised what insights you will gain in regard to your own work.


Sources and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Narration,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Narration&oldid=777375141 (accessed May 7, 2017).

Quote from Ulysses, by James Joyce, published 1922 by Sylvia Beach

Wikipedia contributors, “Ulysses (novel),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Ulysses_(novel)&oldid=777540958 (accessed May 7, 2017).

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#amwriting: point of view

Xpogo_RioA young author recently asked me, “What is head-hopping and why has my writing group accused me of doing it?” Headhopping occurs when an author switches point-of-view characters within a single scene, and happens most frequently when using a Third-Person Omniscient narrative, in which the thoughts of every character are open to the reader.

It’s difficult to know whose opinions are most important when all your characters are speaking in your head as you are writing. They clamor and speak over the top of each other, making a din like my family at any holiday dinner. But you must force them to take turns speaking, and make a real break between the scenes where the speaker changes, or each rapid shift of perspective will throw the reader out of the story. But what is Point of View other than the thoughts of one or two characters?

Point of view is a common literary term which some authors are a little unclear on. Remember, books, stories and literature in general, are a window through which readers look at the world. The way they see through that window, is though the eyes of the narrator: the point of view.

Writers direct their readers’ attention to the details, opinions, or emotions they want to emphasize by manipulating the point of view of the story, writing the narrative in one of three different ways: first-person, second-person, or third-person.

First-person point of view is fairly common, and is told from one protagonist’s personal point of view. It employs “I-me-my-mine” in the protagonist’s speech, allowing the reader or audience to see the primary character’s opinions, thoughts, and feelings. Remember, it is told from the view and knowledge of the narrator, and not of other characters. You ,as the author, must remember that no one has complete knowledge of anything. Thus, your protagonist cannot be all-seeing and all-knowing. The reader will find out the information as the protagonist does, which can be engrossing.

So I know I am right not to settle, but it doesn’t make me feel better as my friends pair off and I stay home on Friday night with a bottle of wine and make myself an extravagant meal and tell myself, This is perfect, as if I’m the one dating me. ~~ Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

Second-person point of view, in which the author uses “you” and “your,” is rarely found in a novel or short story. It is, however, commonly used in guide books, self-help books, do-it-yourself manuals, interactive fiction, role-playing games, gamebooks such as the Choose Your Own Adventure series, musical lyrics, advertisements.

For an author attempting to use it in fiction, it’s tricky to get right, so it doesn’t come off like a walkthrough for an RPG and for this reason, authors rarely speak directly to the reader in this way. However, it can work well, if the author is smart and really understands what they are writing. Successful use of Second Person POV can be found in: Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City (1984)

“You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy.”

Third-person point of view provides the greatest flexibility to the author and thus is the most commonly used narrative mode in literature. In the third-person narrative mode, each and every character is referred to by the narrator as “he,” “she,” “it,” or “they.” Third-person point of view is that of an outsider looking at the action, an invisible third person describing the events.

  1. The writer may choose third-person omniscient, in which the thoughts of every character are open to the reader, or third-person limited, in which the reader enters only one character’s mind, either throughout the entire work or in a specific section.
  2. Third-person limited differs from first-person because while we see the thoughts and opinions of a single character, the author’s voice, not the character’s voice, is what you hear in the descriptive passages.
  3. The Flâneur (idler, lounger, loiterer.) This is traditionally a form of third person POV, but I like to think of it almost as a fourth POV. Many of you have heard of it as third-person objective or third-person dramatic.

James Wood, author and literary critic, discusses this in the New Yorker (Books section Feb 28, 2011) in his review of Teju Cole’s Open City. Wood writes: …we also need a flâneur to see interesting things in the city, and to notice them well, and (Teju) Cole’s narrator has an acute, and sympathetic, eye. Sometimes he is witty and paradoxical, in a way that recalls Roland Barthes. Watching a park full of children: “The creak-creak of the swings was a signal, I thought, there to remind the children that they were having fun; if there were no creak, they would be confused.”

The flâneur is a voice that observes and comments but without actually becoming a character, a witness to the events. There is a downside to using the flâneur as your vehicle to convey your narrative:

  • He is not reliable—he has his own personality, offering subtle judgments and unconscious opinions on the behavior of the characters. Therefore, just as in a first-person narrative, the reader cannot be sure he is telling the unbiased truth.
  • The narrator  tells the story without describing any of the character’s thoughts, opinions, or feelings; so the reader can only guess at character motivations, and must assume the objective observer truly is objective and has told the truth in that regard.
  • It separates the reader from the intimacy of the action and slows the pace down.

Authors know what every character they are writing is thinking, and sometimes feel compelled to write from every character’s viewpoint. First we’re in Joe’s head, and then we are in Mary’s–rather like watching a tennis match. It’s critical that we don’t jump from head to head within a scene, as that will knock the reader out of the narrative and we don’t want that.

Joe’s experience can be explored and Mary’s can too, but make a solid break, or begin new chapter before you switch to Mary’s viewpoint. If a different character has something to say that is important to the narrative, I give them a separate chapter, even if it is a short one. That way my readers are not too confused about who is making the observations.

Remember, we avoid head-hopping and mental whiplash by not changing characters and point of view mid-scene.

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The Flâneur ~ the 4th POV

In a literary fiction seminar  I attended at a recent convention in Seattle, University of Washington  professor, Scott Driscoll, discussed  a fourth point of view I had heard of in college, that of the detached observer.  I had forgotten about it, and Driscoll gave it a name I’d never heard of: the Flâneur (idler, lounger, loiterer.) Many of you have heard of it as third-person objective or third-person dramatic. I see it as a completely separate way to show a story.

elegat wits and grand horizontalsWriting in 1962, Cornelia Otis Skinner said that there is no English equivalent of the term,  flâneur,  “just as there is no Anglo-Saxon counterpart of that essentially Gallic individual, the deliberately aimless pedestrian, unencumbered by any obligation or sense of urgency, who, being French and therefore frugal, wastes nothing, including his time which he spends with the leisurely discrimination of a gourmet, savoring the multiple flavors of his city”.

paris spleenThe French author, Charles  Baudelaire, characterized the flâneur as a “gentleman stroller of city streets.” He saw the flâneur as having a key role in understanding, participating in and portraying the city. Thus, in the narrative, a flâneur plays a double role by existing  as a present, but ignored, member of society who remains a detached observer of all that occurs within the story.

Having the option to use this point of view in the narrative of genre fiction opens up many possibilities for originality an author may not have considered:

  • he is NOT omniscient as in having complete or unlimited knowledge, awareness, or understanding of the fictional universe–he doesn’t know everything–but he does know what he sees.
  • he sees more than the individual characters do because his random travels take him all over town regularly, and he observes most of the tale as it unfolds.
  • Because he only knows what he sees, some information crucial to the resolution of the final events will be revealed to him at the last minute–a surprise to him too. When the last pieces of the puzzle are put together, his commentary summarizes the fall-out and final outcome of the characters involved.

Men without WomenIt is a POV used in classic french modernist literature to describe the story of certain social scenes in the city, but I can see this as a useful way to relate the events on a space-station, or indeed in many traditional genre fiction social settings.

Now for the downside of using the flâneur as your vehicle to convey your narrative:

  • He is not reliable—he has his own personality, offering subtle judgments and unconscious opinions on the behavior of the characters. Therefore, just as in a first-person narrative, the reader cannot be sure he is telling the unbiased truth.
  • The narrator  tells the story without describing any of the character’s thoughts, opinions, or feelings; so the reader can only guess at character motivations, and must assume the objective observer truly is objective and has told the truth in that regard.
  • It separates the reader from the intimacy of the action and slows the pace down.
  • It could become voyeuristic, if one writes graphic love scenes. {eeew.}

255px-On_PhotographyThe POV of a flâneur is also a vehicle used in in art, and in street photography.  Susan Sontag in her 1977 collection of essays, On Photographydescribes how, since the development of hand-held cameras in the early 20th century, the camera has become the tool of the flâneur:

The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitering, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes. Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flâneur finds the world “picturesque.”

Susan SontagOn Photography, pg. 55

I don’t see myself using this style of POV for an entire novel, but I can think of a thousand ways to use it in short-stories. Come November, when NaNoWriMo begins, I may give it a whirl, just for practice. Writing is a craft and I love finding different ways to express it. A fresh point of view to write from can only stretch my writing skills.

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Setting inspiration ablaze

225px-Author_james_rollins_2008Last Thursday I was privileged to hear James Rollins speak at the opening of the 2014 Pacific Northwest Writers association conference in Seattle, Washington. He’s quite hilarious, and down to earth. He is still actively working a s veterinarian, which is a profession that would keep anyone humble, I  think.

It was a wonderful speech, and I was completely entertained, laughing so hard I had tears at one point. Jim kicked it off, but over those four days of immersion in the craft, 4 presenters in particular impressed me and rekindled my drive to write good novels.  Over the next weeks I will be blogging on the elements of the craft that each of these four speakers were able to convey.

scott-driscoll1The first to pique my interest and steal my literary heart was Scott Driscoll,  whose  novel, Better You Go Home , has been receiving high praise. I am in the middle of reading it now, and it is compelling work. I’ll be blogging at length about all the books I purchased at this convention.

Anyway, Scott gave 2 talks and I attended both of them  The first was on the arc of the scene, developing a rhythm for each scene that grips the readers attention, takes him through all the emotional points you want him to experience, and then sets the platform for the next scene.   The second was on literary fiction, which is my secret addiction.

In some ways I already understood the arc of the scene, but he was able to really get it across in an entertaining and concise way, and emailed me a wonderful handout to tape next to my computer. In his literary fiction seminar Scott Driscoll also discussed  a fourth point of view I had heard of in college, but forgotten about,and gave it a name I’d never heard of: the Flâneur (idler, lounger, loiterer,) which we will be discussing next week. Charles  Baudelaire characterized the flâneur as a “gentleman stroller of city streets,” he saw the flâneur as having a key role in understanding, participating in and portraying the city. Thus, a flâneur plays a double role by existing  as a present, but ignored, member of society who remains a detached observer of all that occurs within the story.

jason blackThe second speaker to really grab my interest was Jason Black. A well-known structural editor, Jason also writes middle-grade novels.  His discussion on steering your story where you want it to go was really pertinent to a problem I’ve been wrestling with in one of my current works in progress. I will be writing on his suggestions and putting them to work  for me.

One of the things that Jason jarred loose in my head is how I need to proceed with deploying information about a certain evil character while not revealing too much at the outset. He reminded me of the the concept of asymmetric information–A situation in which one party in a transaction has more or superior information compared to another. This often happens in business and stock transactions where the seller knows more than the buyer, although the reverse can happen as well. Potentially, this could be a harmful situation because one party can take advantage of the other party’s lack of knowledge.

In novels, not everyone in the scene knows everything, and those plot points are driven by the those characters who do have the critical knowledge. Applying this to my current plothole will be key to resolving it.

Lindsay Schopfer book signing PNWA 2014Then I was assisted by fantasy author, Lindsay Schopfer, in identifying character motivation. Sometimes it’s hard to understand why characters do the things they do–and Lindsay boiled how to identify it down to simple manageable chunks. Now I think my problems with the one evil character I am trying to flesh out will be resolved, because he now has clear motivations for his actions. I will be writing like a banshee for a week, anyway!

Lindsay’s characters leap off the page, and that is what we all want for our own work.   I really enjoyed The Beast Hunter and Lost Under Two Moons, and have reviewed both of them on Best in Fantasy.

Terry PersunAnother seminar I went to that really pushed my current work into focus was given by Terry Persun,  the award winning science fiction and fantasy author.  He was discussing point of view, the ubiquitous POV we sometimes struggle with, should we be omniscient, 3rd person, or first person? And what do they mean? Of course, I have a grip on that, but it was his side comments and sense of humor that jump-started my my brain. He managed to help me bring into focus the way to end the final bit of misery that is my current work in progress.

He made the point that the only POV a reader can really trust is the ‘omniscient’ as it is not told from any one character’s point of view and is therefore unlikely to be a lie. However, that said, he’s  written novels in every POV, because it’s more interesting for him as an author. I bought 4 of his books–just sayin’.  Can’t wait to get into Doublesight. I can smell a book blog review!

And while I was there, I finally met Janet Oakley in person. She is a long-time friend, an author I have known for several years, and whom I met through the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards Contest–but we only have known each other through the on-line community. She is an awesome person and her books, Timber Rose and Tree Soldier  have been winning awards right and left!

Janet and I met up with local author Don Harkcom, who writes thrillers, and who is now being courted by several agents. Don actually lives not far from me, and we spent a lot of time discussing everything from gaming to politics. All in all, it was a great conference and I am already looking forward to next year!

Me, Don Harkom, J.L. Oakley -Janet - PNWA 2014

Me, Don Harkcom, & J.L. Oakley at PNWA 2014

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