Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Point of View and Painted Corners

Back in 2012 I wrote an essay on POV. I thought I’d revisit the topic and see if my thoughts on the topic have changed.

When sitting down to write your brilliant novel or novella, give some serious consideration to the point of view (POV) you are going to use. As writers we are familiar with the options such as the first person, where one character narrates the action, or the third person, where the author sits back and tells all from an omnipotent point of view. There are also more unusual styles such as in the form of letters, journals, or a diary. Each method has its pluses and minuses, especially as to how deep you wish to get inside the heads of your characters, or how wide-ranging you want to describe an event in the story, especially one where your protagonist may not always be in attendance.

You also want to remember that old chestnut, show, don’t tell. Does the format you’ve chosen best lend itself to that for your particular story?

Many books on writing will tell you to limit the number of character=s heads you get inside of to tell your story. More than one or two and you risk confusing both the reader and the writer. In one of my very earliest efforts I think got into the head of at least a dozen characters. I was told in no uncertain terms by my editor to cut that out and not to do it again.

The advantage the personal POV is being able to both look at what the characters say, and what they are thinking at the same time, and gives the author the ability to have some fun and create often unreliable characters, while warning the reader of that fact.

I have written a series of fantasy novellas, the Housetrap Chronicles. They are all narrated through the eyes and POV of the main protagonist, a private detective. For this type of tale, where the action swirls around the hero, we want the reader to come across the discoveries at the same time as he does. The format works well in this case.

When I found myself working on my first trilogy, the sequel(s) for The Dark Lady, my first published novel, I discovered the problem often found in using a single POV. The original book was written from the POV of the protagonist. I found ways to keep her the center of the action in the original novel. As I got further into turning out the sequels, I found I had distant events I wanted to drag the reader into, but couldn’t, because that would break the format I followed to that point. Certainly, there were ways around the dilemma, such as having written reports to read, or characters who come dashing in and spin the heroine a tale. But when using those writer=s tricks you must beware of the deadly information dump that can overwhelm the reader. I prefer to trickle out the information gradually over time, rather than flood the reader all at once.

In a trilogy, about the North Americans discovering Europe first, I decided I would tell this complicated tale through the eyes of three different characters. That way I could legitimately have three different points of view. To keep POVs simple for the reader, I decided to alternate the viewpoints in turn, dividing each chapter into three storylines. One benefit is that I could look at the same event through different eyes if two or more of my narrators were present. It also allowed me to expand the scope of what the characters could bring as personal experiences. You could use the same format and grant each of your characters a separate chapter.

Don=t paint yourself into a corner when you are laying down the outline of your next great novel. Give some thought as to what format would be best to tell this story, and if you are diving into POVs, decide who is the best character to tell it. I personally like digging around inside the heads of some of my characters. Too much excavating however, can delay getting on with the action, but then, so can too many mixed-up metaphors.


The Dark Lady Trilogy (Volume 1,2,3)
The Queen’s Pawn (Volume 1,2,3)
The Housetrap Chronicles (Volumes 1 to 8)
Alex in Wanderland,
Knight’s Bridge
We’re Not in Kansas
Toltec Dawn Trilogy (Volume 1, 2, 3)

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