Friday, August 1, 2008

Some thoughts on POV

I've recently joined GoodReads and have started contributing to some of the online discussions.  After writing this post about Point of View in writing, I thought it might be of interest to others.


Some good comments on POV from the group here.  A couple of important things to note, though:

1) A master of a craft can break the rules when s/he wants, but you have to learn the rules before you can break them.  Starting authors should stick to learning the rules and abiding by them.  Doing so will make their writing better -- and help them make sales as well.

2) Switching POV used to be the norm in the days of Edgar Rice Burroughs and many other classic authors.  Today, though, that style is seen as old-fashioned and even naive.  Today's editors want and expect stories to be told with a "strong" and "consistent" POV.

That means sticking with _one_ POV per chapter/section.  If you have to break from that POV, you should use an obvious device (usually 1-3 asterisks) to set off the change in POV.  (Often, those asterisks are changed to line breaks in a printed book.)

If you're writing a chapter or a short story and you see lots of asterisks on your page, chances are you're using too many POV shifts.  At that point, you need to ask yourself which of those shifts -- if any -- you actually need.  Then go back and rewrite to eliminate the unnecessary ones.

Most modern editors _hate_ unnecessary POV shifts.    They will spot the only place you've (accidentally) done it in an entire story and unfailingly flag that paragraph for revision.

And rightly so.

Strong and consistent POV helps your readers to buy into your world and characters.

One of the best examples of this in today's market is the Harry Potter series.  The books are told entirely from Harry's POV, with very few exceptions (the "villain chapters" that appeared, usually as prologue, in the later books).

In HP, everything we see, hear, and feel is filtered through Harry.  When Ron and Hermione have a fight, we _don't_ know what they're thinking (unless they tell Harry), but we know what _Harry_ thinks they're thinking.  That's one reason we buy into the boy wizard and his problems.  (Excellent plotting is another.)

So, to sum, up...

Beginning authors should learn to write from a single POV in their work, and also learn how to indicate to their readers when they're switching POV.  Doing so will avoid confusing readers.

And, as we all know, a confused reader is much more likely to stop reading your work.

We don't want that!

Good luck!

-- Steve Sullivan

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