Friday, February 5, 2010

Creative Writing Tips - Point of View

What is. Point of View?

The term, 'point of view' is used to describe who is telling the story or which characters point of view the story is being seen through. I will deal with just the two most popular here.

First person narrative:

The main character is the narrator and the story is only told from their point of view.

Let us look at how a scene would look from the, first person narrative:

The scene is based on John coming home to find Jane has only just got in and there is no tea ready for him. He is angry. Jane has prised up a floor board in the bedroom to hide her momentos of her outings with Phil, her lover. Amongst the hotel receipts, pressed flowers and restaurant bills is a locket given to her by Phil. It contains a picture of each of them. If found it will betray her. John has stepped on the floor board and in his temper cannot stand the way it creaks any longer. He is attempting to rip it up. Jane is the narrator throughout the novel.

I held my hands clenched in balls so tight my nails dug into my palms. Oh God! Don't let him find the locket!

I must distract him... 'John, it doesn't matter for now. Leave it until later. I thought we would go out...'

His look shrivelled me. His hand raised. An ugly hatred crossed his face. I stepped back and put up my hand to stave off the blow, but reeled and fell to the floor as the viscious swipe caught the side of my head. I sank into a black hole.

This narration can be the best to choose for a first novel as it keeps you focused and helps to keep an active voice going. But, it is hard to sustain if the story is to be long and intricate as everything has to be seen through the one pair of eyes or told to that character for them to narrate it.

Third Person:

Most novels are told in the third person, which means the author uses the characters to tell the story through their eyes.

More than one character can be chosen to have, a point of view. In the third person the above story lines from Janes point of view would read:

Jane held her hand clenched in balls so tight her nails dug into her palms. She watched John struggle to prise up the floorboard, Oh God! Don't let him find the locket!

'John, it doesn't matter for now. Leave it until later. I thought we would go out...'

His look shrivelled the hope she'd held of distracting him. He stood, his hand raised. The expression on his face, ugly and full of hatred for her. Jane stepped back but knew she could not avoid the blow. The viscious swipe caught the side of her head. She fell to the ground and sank into a black hole.

Using the third person gives the author a wider canvass for the novel. Scenes can take place where some of the characters are involved and not others. Many angles can be explored and intricate plots woven around the players, and then, using the players can be brought together to form a conclusion.

What you must avoid is, Head Hopping - using all the characters in the scene- giving them all a point of view.

Each scene should be told from one point of view only.

For this novel, which is about a failing relationship, the husband is a domineering, violent character who must be obeyed. The wife feels trapped and afraid to break away, but is in a passionate affair with a man who is her true love, the author could use both of these characters and also the lover to tell the story giving a wide range of scenes. Each could be used to weave the plot, and yet, not having to have all three characters present. As long as one of them is present when something is happening. But, at all times, the one chosen to have the POV should keep it.

We have had some of the scene in the example of third person from Jane's point of view. If the author decides this is the best way for the scene to work, then the point of view must remain with Jane. The reader should see and feel it all through her eyes.

If the author makes the mistake of head hopping, the scene would become disjointed and the reader confused as to which one to empathise with. There would be no reader involvement. Let me give you an example of, head hopping, using the same scene.

Jane held her hands clenched. John felt his anger rising. I'm sick of coming in to a cold house and no tea, he thought. Jane saw his anger rising, her fear deepened.

'That bloody floor board!' John transferred his anger to the creaking board, he'd had enough, he'd rip it up. The wood gave way easily.

'Leave it, John, I thought we would go out...' Jane hoped she could distract him, she felt her heart pounding. Don't let him find the locket.

John turned. His anger was consuming him. Jane recoiled from his look. etc...

Can you see how difficult it is as a reader? Your empathy is going between one and then the other. You cannot identify strongly with either of them. It is like eavesdropping on an argument between two people you care nothing about. A novel told in this way will soon bore you.

A reader needs to engage with the characters. Feel what they feel. Like or dislike them. Root for them or hope they get their come uppance. The only way to achieve this kind of empathy is to allow the reader to get into the skin of the characters. If you head hop, you deny them this.

So, remember to have each scene or better still, whole chapters, shown through only one of your chosen POVcharacter's eyes, ears and feelings.

If it is essential to change a point of view during a chapter always mark this change of direction by inserting an extra space and having three central asterisk in this space. The reader will then know they are taking a different direction.

How many characters should have a point of view?

This depends on the length and the intricacy of the novel. For long complicated stories, up to five characters is acceptable, but two or three is more general.

How is the choice made of which characters should have a hand in telling the story?

Obviously the main two characters are chosen. After that the choice should be made from the other main players, those who have an impact on the story and are important to its resolution.

Never give a point of view to a, bit player, a walk on character. For eg:

A woman walking by the house hears Jane screaming. She is going to be important for about three or four lines as she calls the police. Her point of view must be seen through either Jane or John's eyes whichever is holding the point of view for the scene.

Let us see what happens when we expand the scene to include the woman (a bit player) and give her a point of view. We have been in Janes head up to the moment she is knocked out and our next paragraph reads:

Mrs Thompson pulled, Fido's lead tighter. They were at it again! That young couple at number four, always rowing. Oh dear, she's screaming. 'Oh, Fido, we'll have to call the police this time. Come on, let's hurry home. Mrs Thompson was out of breath when she reached her door...etc..

Who cares about Mrs Thompson or her dog Fido? She is a bit player. Kind and concerned and the saviour of Jane as she is, we don't want to be taken away from the main scene to follow the thoughts and feelings of someone we may never meet again. It is a distraction. It takes us away from the drama.

Far better to have a new paragraph with Jane coming round to hear the police sirens and seeing John bent over in the agony of remorse begging her forgiveness. The reader will know the lady, seen by Jane, was the one to call the police. They may register a moment of being grateful to her, but that is it.

So, how can we bring in Mrs Thompson without going into her head?

To demonstrate we will keep the POV with Jane, but we would need to change the end of the paragraph to include her seeing Mrs Thompson:

The vicious swipe sent her reeling towards the window. Just before she sank to the ground Jane saw Mrs Thompson, a neighbour from a few doors away, hovering by the gate. Her mind registered the shock and concern on the woman's face. Help me...Help me...

Her inner cry drowned in the blackness that took her into its depth.

Something penetrated the blackness. A sound. A police siren!

Jane opened her eyes. John, the loving, caring John, she had fallen in love with held her close to his cheek. His tears wet her face.

'I'm sorry, forgive me, my darling. I promise it will never happen again... I love you...'

I hope these examples have helped you in some small way to come to grips with point of view and what an important tool it is in crafting a novel.

Contact me at: if you want any help with your manuscript in progress or a final polish edit.

You can see from my paypal drop list what I charge for this service. For a full MS, I will give you an estimate when you let me have the wordage. Best wishes, Mary

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