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BrainPick How do you approach POV?

Discussion in 'Café Life' started by Rich., Oct 9, 2017.

  1. Rich.

    Rich. Guardian Staff Member

    Morning everyone,

    I'd like to pick your brains on the subject of point of view. Do you have a favourite when writing? Is it the same when you read?

    When writing, are you strict about maintaining POV, or do you allow yourself some freedom as and when you see fit (moving from limited omniscient to limited subjective after setting a scene, for example)?

    I ask cos I'm interested, that's all.

    Cheers, m'dears!
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2017
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  2. Katie-Ellen Hazeldine

    Katie-Ellen Hazeldine Venerated Member Founding Member

    I love the wide landscape, reading the omniscient voice. When it comes to first person POV, it depends on what that voice is like. I feel mean saying so, a bereaved boy, and very likeable, but Holden's voice, in the The Catcher In The Rye, I find so dull; too full of tics. Claustrophobic being inside his head.

    I sent off a novel to a publisher who expressed disappointment at the use of past tense and third person/omniscient POV. They found it distancing, they said, and I rewrote it first person POV, present tense but with past tense flashbacks. It's both limiting and liberating, first person. I know authors do get away with jumping about, having a chapter called X's story and the next is Y's story, and it can work very well, but I'm not risking that myself, aiming at maintaining consistency, not to disrupt the tone, or break the flow, given that there are flashbacks,
     
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  3. Howard

    Howard Active Member

    If a book is written wholly in First Person, I find it difficult to swallow. First person works to add immediacy, sure, but it also requires the complete suspension of logic. How is this story being told in a physical world? No human could cogently narrate dramatic action sequences as they happened around them, therefore I find it jarring and unreal when writers try to make them.
    The Hunger Games is a good example of this. While I enjoyed the character of Katniss, having the entire thing filtered through her thought processes was supremely weird and detracted from the book very badly.
    Having a lead characters perspective delivered in first person but then cutting away to third person when required works much better for me (The Martian is the example my un-caffeinated brain comes up with right now).

    That being said, I much prefer third person, present tense. It delivers a much more believable narrative, as though we are watching the scene unfold around us.
     
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  4. Katie-Ellen Hazeldine

    Katie-Ellen Hazeldine Venerated Member Founding Member

    I like it too for the same reasons. Sometimes though, you, writing your story, might want logic suspended. It always has to be anyway, in human matters. The hero or antihero is always an 'unreliable narrator', so if you want that ambiguity, then you'd go with first person.

    I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

    Call me Ishmael.

    The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.
     
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  5. MaryA

    MaryA Well-Known Member

    Close 3rd person POV is my standby. It lets me get really up close and personal with a key character so that I can build character from within, show how this person is noticing, responding, having flashbacks and memories, struggling emotionally.
     
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  6. Katie-Ellen Hazeldine

    Katie-Ellen Hazeldine Venerated Member Founding Member

    Here's a contender for the Not the Man Booker prize, written from the POV of a .....5 year year old.

    I salute the author. I absolutely do, but how much do I fancy that read? Um.
     
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  7. Howard

    Howard Active Member

    Yikes! Do not want.
     
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  8. Robinne Weiss

    Robinne Weiss Venerated Member

    I've now written two books in first person, and I find there's something stimulating about the restrictions it imposes on me. (Damn...I want to show the action over here, but my MC isn't there! How can I creatively get her there, or have her find out about what went on?) With that said, I'm always more inclined toward close third person, and I tend not to care for first person YA (who in their right minds wants to be inside a teenager's head?). I'm not at all fond of reading omniscient viewpoint when it's jumping from head to head--I'm happy to be the fly on the wall, watching the action from a bit of a distance, but don't put me inside everyone's head.

    But, of course, a masterful author can pull off any POV and make me like it.
     
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  9. Carol Rose

    Carol Rose Guardian Founding Member

    Romance novels were traditionally written in deep third person, past tense until the two last decades or so. Now, just as many are written in first person past tense, or first person present tense, as are written in third. Readers do miss the other POV, though, when the book is told only from the heroine's POV. Rarely are they told from only the hero's POV. It's a reader preference. A skilled writer can still give enough insight into the non-POV character that first person can work.

    I've written in both now, and while I don't have a preference for writing either one, first person is LOT more intimate. I really enjoyed it once it got going. But, because I also enjoy writing both the hero's and heroine's points of view, most of my books will be written in deep third.
     
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  10. Paul Whybrow

    Paul Whybrow Venerated Member

    Simply understanding how POV works is enough to cause confusion, and, I think that there are slightly different terms used depending on geographical location. This link provides a useful guide to POV, with examples from literature:

    Different Points of View: Definitions and Tips | Now Novel

    I've written most of my flash fiction, short stories, novellas and novels in the third person limited (or 'close'), though my first Cornish Detective novel was constructed in third person multiple POV. I wrote this way to conceal that the murders taking place were the work of two killers. Although this involved some complicated tricksiness, I actually found writing a story from many characters' viewpoints easier than solely through the eyes of my protagonist.

    This might be an indication of my own schizoid personality, :eek: but with multiple POV it's easier to give a more rounded portrayal of a character's personality, as well as set up misunderstandings. Also, with multiple POV, the storytelling is all 'show' and only a little 'tell'. One of the fundamental bits of advice is to do just that—show the action happening, not tell how things occurred at a later stage. When I returned to third person limited/close for the other crime novels, it meant having my Chief Inspector protagonist getting his officers to report to him about their questioning of witnesses and suspects. Of course, this is what would happen in real life, but from my creative stance, it was frustrating to write, coming across as tittle-tattling reportage in a "he said, then she said and I thought" way.

    I found it difficult not to slip into multiple POV, if only briefly, just to show how the supporting characters were reacting to my detective protagonist.
     
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  11. Rich.

    Rich. Guardian Staff Member

    Thanks folks, interesting stuff. I love hearing how other writers do things. Where I live, there are precious few fluent English speakers, much less writers of fiction.

    --

    Oh, yes! I spent three months pretending to like this book while helping a student who was studying it at high school. Claustrophobic indeed.

    What about first person past tense? Then you can imagine the person is telling you the story, over a coffee perhaps, or a campfire.

    Mine too. But do you break out occasionally (to describe the character, for example), or are you strict with yourself about remaining subjective and inside the character's head?

    This drives me mad as well. I read Dune for the first time a couple of years ago (how late to the party am I?) and Frank Herbert head hops with abandon, drove me clear out of the story over and over again.

    It certainly is. For some reason I've yet to fathom, I'm comfortable writing shorts in first person, but I can't imagine writing a novel that way. If ever figure out why perhaps I'll be a much better writer!

    This is my preferred style for long form work when I'm writing. Though as a reader I'm open to anything (bar that old-fashioned head hopping mentioned above – unless we're talking Virginia Woolf).

    --

    Another question, for those of you who favour limited third in your writing: how do you get around not being able to directly describe your POV character?
     
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  12. Howard

    Howard Active Member

    Not immediately repellent, but its of limited use, I find. It makes it clear that everything you are about to hear has already happened, and that can lessen the tension. It can work: Lovecraft wrote everything in that style, just about, but I think it sounds very dated now.
     
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2017
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  13. Katie-Ellen Hazeldine

    Katie-Ellen Hazeldine Venerated Member Founding Member

    ....how do you get around not being able to directly describe your POV character?


    Same as with first person POV? Via the reactions of other characters in the story to that MC, and then let the reader supply their own image.
    While avoiding the shaving in the mirror scene, and other mirror cliches.
     
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  14. Carol Rose

    Carol Rose Guardian Founding Member

    There's no reason any writer *has* to master a particular POV, and I don't believe being comfortable writing in multiple ones makes anyone a "better" writer. :)

    You do it through another's character's eyes, when you're in that person's head. :) That way you avoid the dreaded "She looked at herself in the mirror, staring back with blue eyes, and brushed her long, auburn hair." ;)
     
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  15. Kitty

    Kitty Distinguished Member

    Choose the POV that feels comfortable to you and to your story, but most important - be consistent! I would suggest you avoid headhopping and keep POV changes to scene or chapter breaks. Other than that - experiment and have fun!

    If a POV is done well the reader will barely notice it and it won't jar. Some are easier to master - 2nd person is hard but once you nail it, it can be very effective.
     
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  16. Rich.

    Rich. Guardian Staff Member

    Sorry, I didn't phrase my question very well. I meant how do *you* do it – any particular tics or quirks you've developed over the years, specific tools in your box, things you avoid – other than the hackneyed old mirror? [for example, I seem to have a preference for revealing physical details in action: Dave steepled his fingers, knowing full well they were longer than most – clunky example, but you get the idea]
     
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2017
  17. Robinne Weiss

    Robinne Weiss Venerated Member

    I don't worry about describing my MC. Eventually it comes out. The character can't reach something in a high cabinet, so we know they're short. They envy someone else's long dark hair, and we know theirs is short and light...To be perfectly honest, I rarely have a set idea of what my characters look like anyway--I know who they are, and sometimes that indicates a little about what they look like, but I'm not the sort of writer who draws their characters or casts famous actors as their characters. I'd much rather the reader put their own selves into the place of my MC, and if I draw too exact a picture of the MC, readers who don't look like them will have a harder time imagining themselves in that role. (or maybe I'm just lazy...;) )
     
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  18. Amber

    Amber Active Member

    Mostly because I didn't know I did it I have a story where the first section is in omniscient and the rest of it is in first person. No one noticed, including me.

    I'll read anything. I don't have a favorite. I used to say my favorite was third person. I didn't know what I was talking about. My favorite author wrote in first person and he has always been my favorite author -- Heinlein. Also, Jacqueline Carey.

    I used to be afraid to write in first person. I kept trying out my stories in first, then third. My friends shook their heads when I wrote in first. So, I'd switch it back. Besides my own lack of confidence, I can sometimes easily be swayed by the people around me. But I wasn't the only one who didn't know what they were talking about.

    Most of the time I write in first person. Not because I have had great success in doing so but because I like it better.

    Reading second person fiction is usually uncomfortable but its probably uncomfortable to write too. Which might be a clue as to what POV to choose. Everything might turn out better if we're comfortable with the POV we choose.

    Mostly, none of us know what we're talking about, do we?
     
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  19. James Marinero

    James Marinero Venerated Member Founding Member

    I was never aware of the POV technicalities until I actually sat down and started to write (in 2004). I didn't study the theory, I just realized that there was an issue for me to address. So I wrote in the POV of the writers/stories I liked - mostly third person (not sure which variant).
     
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  20. MaryA

    MaryA Well-Known Member

    One reason I like to stay in sustained single POV across chapters is that it lets the reader stay very close to a character and identify with the character. Dialogue allows me to have a number of voices and perspectives but one dominant consistent viewpoint.

    This use of single POV creates a certain tension if the POV character is an unreliable narrator (and that is a whole new topic!). You as reader get to chapter seven or so and your main character, someone you trust and identify with who has told you all about her lousy marriage and difficult childhood and longing to reconcile with the husband she left years before, suddenly admits she has lied about something. Or another character, her sister or the former husband, says something to or about your character that shows her up in a less pleasant light. She's wrong about something, she's duplicitous, she isn't who she told you she was. And then you begin watching the other characters for clues about whether or not you can take what your key character says as truthful or insightful. This is a dynamic I have found exciting in novels (Christopher Priest for example) but it isn't easy.

    The choice of POV relates to the kind of fiction we want to write: as @Rich noted, 1st person is easier to sustain in short fiction rather than a novel. I find that inner unbroken monologue can get tedious. Third person close or deep lets me bring in other remembered voices and changes in tone more easily. I do find with a cast of larger-than-life characters that a number of differing POVs can create tremendous energy and complexity for drama. I did a short fiction once that worked really well (unexpectedly well) with 2nd person POV in which the narrator talks to her sister who has gone missing. It wasn't something I'd do except in a short fiction because the 'you' wasn't the reader and there was no possibility of dialogue or the sister speaking back.
     
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  21. Carol Rose

    Carol Rose Guardian Founding Member

    I usually do that through another character's eyes. Not through internal thought because who sits around thinking what color their eyes are, etc.? What you've described isn't really through action because the "knowing" part is internal thought. The action is steepling his fingers.

    Here's an example of what I mean, not involving an exchange between a hero and heroine, but still describing the heroine's eye and hair color, without having to resort to her "thinking" it or "knowing" it:

    Sally came out of the dressing room and stood in front of the mirrors, still not certain about the pattern on the dress.

    "Oh, that is perfect on you!"

    "Are you sure?" The woman was there to sell her clothes, after all. She'd say anything.

    "With your dark hair, yes. It's stunning. And the blue brings out your eyes."


    Quickie example I just made up, but in this way, there is no internal thought about what dark hair she has, or how blue her eyes are, that reads as if it was put there on purpose to let us know what she looks like. We get that information without it being isolated, hanging out there in space as an add-on for no discernible reason. Instead, it's something another character says, tying it into Sally buying a new dress. But it has a purpose. She's telling her why she thinks the dress is perfect on her. And of course, we don't see this here in the example, but buying the dress is part of the overall story. There's a reason she's in the shop, worried over what the dress looks like. It's not merely an isolated incident with no bearing on anything else in the story.

    Everything in your story needs to have a reason to be there. You want to avoid filler for the sake of jacking up the word count, as much as you want to avoid dropping in describing the character's looks merely for the sake of getting the information in there. You want to be careful of having characters describe their own appearance by isolating the detail. You don't want it hanging out there in space, not connected to anything, because then it's an obvious device. A person tenting or steepling their fingers, for example, is fine as an action, but it's odd to toss in that they would be thinking about how long those fingers are in relation to everyone else's. There's no real reason for this, unless of course his overly long fingers have some significant bearing on the story. :)

    Hope this helps. :)
     
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2017
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  22. Rich.

    Rich. Guardian Staff Member

    Me neither!

    Less and less each day.

    This is exactly how I began as well. I only started 'studying' POV when I found myself writing sections that qualitatively didn't fit with what had gone before. 'Why's that? says I. 'Oh! they call it POV,' says umpteen scholarly sources.

    Sure. Gone Girl, anyone? Biggest splash of recent times, I'm sure. While researching UK agents earlier this year, I was struck by the number who claim interest in unreliable narrators – height of fashion at the mo'.

    Right, tossing anything into a story without reason is questionable. My long-fingered chap would only reflect as he did if there were some compelling reason for him to do so. What I took from your post was that you prefer to address the issue externally – through dialogue and character exchanges – rather than having your characters internalize too much. Do correct me if my inference is wrong. What I'm really interested in is getting inside other writers heads and understanding their process. If you work in an office, it's easy to spin round and compare notes with a colleague about the best way to schedule a meeting. But writing is inherently solitary. I often wonder how much I'm reinventing the wheel every time I develop a bit of craft. And I find the subject of craft inherently fascinating, for it's own sake – hence this thread. It's a joy to discover new ways of thinking!
     
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  23. Carol Rose

    Carol Rose Guardian Founding Member

    Too much internal narrative/monologue is well, boring. :) It's a lot more interesting as a reader to discover things about one character through another character's interactions with that person. That's how we learn about people, after all. We talk to them, we listen to them, we touch them, we smell them, and I suppose at times we taste them. LOL!!

    For example, when a character is mulling something over and struggling with a decision, it's acceptable to have them think it through, but I wouldn't go on for pages and pages like this, either. They may also talk it over with someone, but even when we talk things over with others in real life, we don't tell them everything. Some stuff we hold back. That's the good stuff you can give your readers through internal monologue. :)

    When we learn things about one character through another, it reduces the distance that too much internal monologue or narrative can create. It's perfectly appropriate at times to have that kind of monologue, but only when it serves the story. I once tried to read a story that was nothing except the lead character walking through a forest or something, carrying on a conversation in her head with her mythical beast companion. This went on for something insanely interminable like three chapters. I gave up at that point (can't believe I bothered to read that much, to be honest!) because not only was it so incredibly boring I couldn't stand it, but there was no actual story. Nothing happened. Just some chick talking to a unicorn or something about utter nonsense.

    It's easy for authors to get carried away with internal monologue. I've had to check myself plenty of times on it. All that thinking should serve a purpose. It should have something to do with the story. With the conflicts of the story, ideally. Hope this makes sense, and hope it helps. :)
     
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  24. Kitty

    Kitty Distinguished Member

    The trick is to try to make the clues you give, either through action or through the reaction of other characters, work on more than one level, and leave it to the reader to fill in the gaps.

    For example, if I write:

    Sam smoothed his combover back into place.

    That shows you more about the character than just his hairline :)
     
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  25. James Marinero

    James Marinero Venerated Member Founding Member

    Am tempted to suggest that a flash fiction topic should be about 'A man and a chair in an empty room. No other characters present in the room'.

    That would flush out a lot of POV approaches. I have a sneaking suspicion that Pinter or Bennett wrote a play along those lines (or maybe Joe Orton)? I'm sure that there are others.
     
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  26. Paul Whybrow

    Paul Whybrow Venerated Member

    I realised that most song lyrics are written in the first person—at least, mine are—for a sense of immediacy that makes the listener relate to what's going on.
     
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  27. MaryA

    MaryA Well-Known Member

    @Rich, there's nothing new or even trendy about 'unreliable narrators', we studied them in 18th-century picaresque literature at varsity ages ago and this angle has been done by many authors wanting to create instability or heighten suspense. Then you have the wonderful but difficult writer Lydia Davis who writes short fictions in which the narrator seems disconnected from the characters described, someone whom we don't get to know and whose discomfort is never explained. Choice of POV isn't always a pragmatic decision and I try to remember that.
     
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  28. Rich.

    Rich. Guardian Staff Member

    This is a sterling idea! @Sea-shore, what do you think?

    Nothing new for sure, but they're definitely trendy at the moment, at least in commercial fiction in the US and UK. Books as successful as Gone Girl start trends by definition. 'Give me more, the same but different!' cry a thousand hungry publishers.
     
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  29. NickP

    NickP Active Member

    Personally, I think POV is the key issue of a narrative - effectively you are deciding the voice you are going to write in, and whether that voice will be one of the characters, spiced by different characters, or if you are going to be God, what does his/her voice sound like?

    Stories about characters with problems to solve - and sometimes they don't know the true problem, and others they are desperate to conceal or deny the Truth because if is the deep, dark mirror they don't want to look in, will do anything but look in. How are are you going to introduce these characters - who will tell the reader about them? How will we share the experience?

    One of my favourite questions to ask is - here's the opening of one of the most popular series of recent years:

    "Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much."

    Whose POV is that? The Dursleys? Privet Drive itself? JK Rowling?
     
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  30. Rich.

    Rich. Guardian Staff Member

    @NickP, interesting points, and that Potter sample gets to the heart of the matter, I think. I have the feeling that the whole issue of POV is really one of emotional distance to your characters, and that once you've internalized the standard POV definitions, you're free to play around. When you get an ambiguous passage like the opening above, it proves the point that rigid definitions have their limitations.

    To quote from John LeCarre's A Delicate Truth, we start with this:

    On the second floor of a characterless hotel in the British Crown Colony of Gibraltar, a lithe, agile man, in his late fifties restlessly paced his bedroom.

    But by the end of the scene a few pages later, we're into this:

    ... he scowled upward through the grimy net curtains at Gibraltar's legendary Rock which, sallow, wrinkled and remote, scowled back at him like an angry dowager. Yet again, out of habit and impatience, he examined his alien wristwatch and compared it with the green numerals on the radio clock beside the bed.

    As the scene progresses, there's a gentle narrowing of focus until we're deep inside the protagonist's head (there are also flashbacks woven into this scene that happen in present tense). We'd need a bunch of the rigid definitions to describe the POV here – from omniscient all the way in to close third subjective.

    It works though. Brilliantly.
     
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