Saturday, August 13, 2011

Point of View. How important is it really?

Hi, I am Herbert Grosshans. I am a writer. A couple of weeks ago we had a discussion about POV on the Melange Books group. Some writers thought POV was important, some didn’t. Here is my view on the subject:

POV…short for Point Of View. It is something most writers seem to struggle with; some have never heard of it, many don’t even understand what it means, and many don’t seem to worry about it.

Point Of View means a story is told from one character’s perspective. I’m not talking about writing in first-person, where the main character is telling how he (or she) is experiencing an event. I’m talking about when a writer  refers to the main character as he or she. Writing in third person seems more difficult, but it isn’t, as long as one remembers that only the character who is the main focus knows his own thoughts but not the thoughts of the other people, unless he is a telepath.

Revealing the thoughts of one character and then jumping to the thoughts of the second character in the same paragraph only creates confusion. No good writer should do that.

Here is an example:
*He ran down the street as he did every morning. It is a beautiful day, he thought. The driver in the car behind him thought, these stupid runners in the morning are a menace on the road. His wife, who sat beside him, still sleepy because she had to get up early, wondered why the man wore a black outfit, and hoped her husband wouldn’t hit him with the car. The daughter in the backseat could care less about the runner; her thoughts took her back to Sunday. That was a nice guy I met. He danced well. I wonder why he picked me. But then…she was a pretty girl. The old man on the bicycle felt sorry for himself for being so old, admiring the runner for his ability to run so fast.*

I admit I overdid it a little, but it is easy to see the jumble of thoughts in the story. The only way this little story makes sense if told by some impartial observer…an omniscient all-knowing entity. However, told that way is boring, because the reader cannot identify with any of the characters. To make the characters interesting, they need to have names, and the writer has to concentrate on just one of them.

If you want to tell the story from the perspective of the runner, chose him by giving him a name. Let him do the thinking and let the reader know how he feels. He will be aware of the bicycle driver and the car, but he won’t know their moods or thoughts. He won’t even be aware of the passengers until the car passes him, unless he has eyes in the back of his head. If the driver of the car is an important player in the story, make sure you signal the jump to the driver’s head by giving him his own chapter or a break between the paragraphs. Jumping to the thoughts of the passengers, even in their own chapter, will make for a long story or create too many ‘main characters’.

There are plenty of writers out there who practice ‘head-hopping’; some of the most successful writers are guilty of doing it. They get away with it because of their fame. Their editors wouldn’t dare suggest they are wrong, but that still doesn’t make it right. Just because a writer sells millions of copies, does not make him (or her) a good writer. It sounds like a paradox, because people will always associate making lots of money with being a successful skilled artist or artisan. Not so. I’m sure everyone wonders once in awhile about some of the singers, bands, painters, movie stars, or even writers, who seem to have no talent but are making megabucks. That’s how the world works. Sometimes it is hard to figure out certain things.

When I was writing for fun I didn’t really care about being morally or politically correct. I didn’t worry about sentence structure, spelling, plot, character development, or any of the other elements that make a story either a pleasure to read or just a bunch of sentences strung together. Until I started writing for publication, I had never even heard of POV. I began reading self-help books about writing and discovered I knew very little about the mechanics of writing a good story. The only thing I had going for me was a fertile imagination, and I knew how to spell…most words anyway.

Any craft will have to be learned. A good writer will never say, “I know how to write. As long as I tell an interesting story, that other stuff isn’t important. I mean…look at so-and-so; her last book sold millions, and she doesn’t follow any rules. Those rules are for other writers, not me.”

Perhaps they are. Perhaps some readers don’t care if there is a thin plot or all the characters are constantly thinking about their feelings or plans…every one in the same paragraph. I for one try to put some order into my writing by following certain rules, and Point Of View is one of those rules. I may not always be successful. I’m sure in my earlier stories I violated this rule many times, but I try to grow as a writer and, hopefully, I have managed to do that.

Herbert Grosshans
Science Fiction with a dash of Erotica

1 comment:

Mila Ramos said...

Great post Herbert! I've tried a couple times to do the male point of view to get the story going. At times I hit it right on the nail. Hell I've convinced the hubby I know what goes on in a man's mind. Other times, lol he looks at me and says "You've been watching PS. I love you again haven't you?" LOL

Great post! :)