Thinking about POV

My fiction writing group meets once every two months, as part of the Attic’s Athenaeum program. During the last meeting we discussed POV, its importance, what POV to use and so on. Our next meeting will be sometime in early February, and we have planned to talk about short story versus the novel. I’m really looking forward to this topic since I am currently working on a novel, but I would like to work on some short stories, and there is a technique and a craft that is unique to each.

In the last meeting, as I had mentioned we had talked over POV. I don’t remember a lot about the conversation but one of the teachers had e-mailed us all a link to Steve Almond’s 2008 article on the POV as written in the Writer’s Digest, and it is worth the read. It isn’t mind-blowing insightful, but he does give some important pointers to think about while deciding your POV.

One thing he mentions is that it is not as important as you would think. What is important is knowing and understanding who your protagonist is and why you are telling the story. What emotional posture is the author taking toward his characters what is the narrative latitude (His words not mine)? I think he brings up important questions. I know that I may spend too much focus on the POV without asking myself why the focus of POV on what character is important to my story to the telling of the story. What character has the most at stake who is closest to the action and the turmoil?

Almond also points out common POV mistakes, like switching POV around which rarely works and creates a distance from the characters. The readers may not care about any particular character. The one example he used of a successful switching of POV is in the story The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien (one of my favorite short stories) but O’Brien’s use of the moving POV is crafted. Almond points out that O’Brien is creating the collective fear of the soldiers, but unless you are painstakingly crafting some collective sense, it is probably better to steer clear of the POV switch up.

The other common mistake is the wrong POV, and how do you choose the wrong POV? It means you have chosen the character that has the least at stake, the least to lose. Readers are not as interested in the one whose life is fine and will probably stay the same at the ending as they are at the beginning. Readers like to see change.

Lastly, he mentions a POV character telling the readers something they couldn’t possible know. I have a close example of something similar to this happening with me. My character Annabelle gives a beautiful detailed description of what her friend Marco looks like, his height, his weight and so on. My mentor told me that this read like she had never seen him before that it was the description of seeing someone for the first time. Annabelle has known Marco for years, she wouldn’t even think about his weight and height unless he had grown taller or gained weight. I hadn’t thought of that as I was writing it because I was being the writer not the character and I had stepped out of her head and forgot what she would actually be thinking, since the POV is from Annabelle, then I need to be writing what she is thinking. It can be kind of surreal when you get down into thinking about the craft.

If you are curious you should read the article for yourself, he has listed some exercises to help you work with the POV. All great tips for helping you to become the best writer you can be.

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