Posts Tagged ‘Point Of View’

Point of View (POV) and Transparent Narrative


2010
05.07

Before you read this post, be sure to enter my contest if you haven’t already!

Now for the goods. I normally try to keep my posts short and snappy, but this one has to be long. Sorry 🙁 But if you hang in there, it’ll be worth it!

I was catching up on my daily blogs when I read a great post by Kristin Nelson about POV’s and which is best. I share her view that it depends on the piece, but I have more to add.

There are tons of POV’s to choose from. Really, tons! What? You think there are only two? Okay, time for a run down. For brevity (aka laziness), I am only going to cover the few that mostly pertain to fiction (not to mention that I covered them all, we’d be here all day):

  • First Person – Narrative told from the view point of a character. In this POV, the writer can only know what the character knows, and nothing more. It is very easy to *slip POV in this method, but this method also makes *transparent narrative easier to obtain.
  • Third Person Subjective – Narrative told from an outsiders view. Instead of “I said,” or “I did,” it’s “Chris said,” or “Chris did.” The “subjective” part means that it sticks to one person, and almost always that one person is the main character. When sticking to one person only, and never revealing anything more than the one character knows, it can be referred to as “Third Person Limited.” This POV also make *POV slips easy, and like first person, is an easier road to *transparent narrative.
  • Third Person Objective – Third person, like the last (“Chris said,” etc), but is not attached to any one person. In fact, the narrative may not jump into anyone’s head. No inner monologue, no inside view of emotion. Think of it like a camera that follows the story. It can only report what it sees, and nothing more. This makes for difficult *transparency, and as long as you remember to only report what you see, you are less likely to make a *POV slip.
  • Third Person Omniscient – Once again, third person narrative. This time, the narrator knows everything. And I mean everything everything. Consider it the “God” perspective. You can jump into anyone’s thoughts, motives or emotions. It is impossible to *slip POV, and *transparent narrative is moderately achievable.

Those are only a few of the points of view. There are several others (Second Person, Alternating, etc), but these are the most common in fiction today.

Within those confines, there is tense: past or present. I will discuss this further in a later post, but for now, know that my opinion is present tense is almost never a good choice. I would say never, but I add the “almost” because  Suzanne Collins has made me realize it can be done, and done well! (My friend Roh does a pretty good job too, but I still like her past tense writing better 😉 )

Okay, now on to my preferences. For me, there is only really two options: Third Person Limited (past) and First Person (past). Third Person Omniscient isn’t used as often any more (although it used to be the “bees knees”), and any version of the above in present is also a rarity.

I had asterisked (what a weird word!) a few terms above: POV slip and transparent narrative.

Transparent Narrative is what happens when your reader stops reading and starts seeing. They no longer read word by word, sentence by sentence, or paragraph by paragraph. Rather, they mindlessly flip pages, absorbing the story into their heads, unaware of the outside world and are completely immersed in the movie that is playing in their minds eye. This one thing, above all else, should be the goal of every writer. I know that I made comments about how POV affects transparency, but that is only one piece of the puzzle. Every thing else… I mean everything (character, plot, motivation, word craft, voice, pacing and rhythm, etc etc etc) will determine how transparent your story is. Once again, watch for a post about transparent narrative coming up.

POV Slips are major no-no’s. First, we need to identify the three types. The first type if slipping from either Third to First (or Second to Third, or First to Second, etc etc). The second type is actually a tense slip. Since tense (past, past past [more on “past past” at a later date], present, and even future) is part of the POV, is you slip that tense, you are committing a POV slip. Lastly, the third type of slip is when you break the rules of the POV, and get in characters head that you shouldn’t be in. These slips range from obvious (narrating inner monologue of a character other than the one you are attached to), to sly little devils (stating a characters feeling or motivation during action, other than the one you are attached to).

To illustrate obvious and not-so-obvious slips, consid For this example, Chris (me) is the main character. Ryan is not. I will be using Third Person Limited Past for my examples. :

Chris thought that Ryan’s joke was absurd. Ryan, however, thought that Chris was an imbecile and too stupid to understand his humor.

Obvious slip. Chris shouldn’t know what Ryan is thinking, therefore the narrator has slipped.

Chris threw a rock at Ryan’s head. Ryan dodged quickly, then frustratedly threw his rock at Chris.

Did you catch it? “Frustratedly” is an emotion that Ryan felt. The narrator shouldn’t know that. He could say that Ryan grunted, or cursed, or anything else that Ryan might have done to SHOW that he was frustrated, but the narrator cannot say he WAS frustrated, he can only assume, in which case, it MUST be clear. (Not to mention, that is a pretty gross adverb to use anyway!)

Chris through a rock at Ryan’s head. Ryan dodged, and apparently frustrated, he threw one back.

Still poor narrative, but at least it isn’t a slip. We can tell that the character is making an assumption, and therefore is not reading Ryan’s mind.  Please note that these modifiers (frustratedly, quickly, etc) are NOT something I would normally use, but they work for the purpose of the example.

Ok, that was long and detailed! Did you remember all of it? If not, here are the takeaway points:

  • Know, at minimum, what POV you are writing in and stick to it.
  • Choose the POV that works best for your piece, while considering the in’s and out’s and each POV.
  • Strive for transparency!
  • Unless you are willing to walk a difficult and lonely road, stick to past tense.
  • Enter my contest if you haven’t yet!

Thanks for hanging in there, my dear readers! I’ll post up the winners soon, then I will dive into the promises I made you.