Thursday, July 19, 2018

POV or Writer Intrusion?


What is you favorite book? Why? Who's your favorite author? Why? What qualities in a book draw you to its story? If it's fiction, do you relate to the characters or their situations or both? What makes any book memorable for you?

When a writer—first time or with decades of experience—sits down to apply words to paper or hard drive, he or she begins a journey that often travels many roads before reaching its destination of publication. Is there a shortcut? Almost always. Should a writer take that shortcut for the sake of expediency or for any other reason? Definitely not. Why?

Writing a book demands the creation of a life or, more often, several lives. Just as in the real world, this doesn't happen overnight. Characters in a story must be as three-dimensional as those we see walking down the street, those who live next door, as family, friends, and, yes, enemies. This realism must resonate with our reader to such an extent that the reader can step into the story and walk side-by-side with any given character. This may sound easy, but it requires considerable effort in a number of areas and careful adherence to some of the dos and don'ts of good story writing.

Now let's consider POV with some definitions.

First Person POV (I): The author and the character become the same. The tale, therefore, has a single, biased viewpoint.

Second Person POV (You): This rarely used POV assumes the reader to be the POV character and writes the story accordingly. "You" might also be an intended recipient of a letter, in which case that person becomes the POV character.

Third Person POV (He, She, occasionally an animal or an inanimate object): One or more characters narrate the story or a portion of it. The reader not only sees what that character does and hears what he says, but also is often given a glimpse into his/her thoughts. For greatest effectiveness, only one character at a time should be in the POV position. More than one POV character in a scene may confuse a reader or push her away.

Limited POV requires the thoughts, etc., of other characters not be available in this variation of third person POV. In a later scene, another character may become the focus, and the same restriction applies.

Objective POV shows rather than tells a character's feelings. This one takes some practice because the writer must show those feelings only through dialogue and action.

Omniscient POV is godlike in that it sees and knows all. The reader can be clued in about future or past events unknown to one or more characters and may even be addressed by the narrator (author) as was done in a number of Victorian era books. Unfortunately, this POV often removes the reader's need to keep turning pages to find out what's going to happen.

Shallow POV: Here we have the "he-said she-said" scenario. While these dialogue tags may be necessary in scenes involving discussion among more than two people, they tend to pull the reader out of the story, particularly when only two are speaking. See examples below.

"I don't believe you," she said.
"I told you I did it," he said.
"Nobody imagines you would do such a thing," she said, scowling.

"I don't believe you." She pretended to straighten the books on the shelf.
"I told you I did it."
 Scowling, she turned to face him. "Nobody imagines you would do such a thing."

Other examples of shallow POV include such phrases as he thought he saw, she felt like, she knew what she wanted, he hoped he could find, and many similar phrases.

Deep POV makes the POV character's thoughts, words, and actions the focal point. Nothing that character cannot see, hear, feel, or know is allowed. Dialogue tags are kept to a bare minimum or removed altogether. Sounds easy, but writing well in deep POV takes practice. The reward lies in the superior finished product, which is well worth the effort.

Here are some examples:

He thought he saw a bird fly out of the bush. (shallow) Was that a robin that flew out of the bush? (deeper - reader knows he's in this character's POV and understands it's his observation; no need to say "he thought").

She felt like she was going to faint. (shallow) Lights dimmed. The music faded. Her knees shook. (deeper - this pulls the reader into the heart of the scene while the shallow one simply makes a statement).

We could go on with examples, but the point has been made that shallow POV distances the reader from the story while deep POV pulls the reader in.

One final word about deep POV: The POV character is telling the story, showing the action, sharing her thoughts and fears. The reader stands next to her. The writer has left the building.

Speaking of leaving the building—or not—let's devote a moment to writer intrusion and why it's detrimental to great story-telling.

Writer intrusion wears a variety of faces. A few are listed below.

  • POV character seems to know something he can't unless he has eyes and ears detached from his head or is clairvoyant. 
  • Overabundance of research info shows up in unlikely or unbelievable dialogue.
  • POV character becomes a mouthpiece for writer's social, political, or religious views.
  • While typically not stupid, neither do characters have unusual insight. They can't know too much too soon.
  • A scene is hurried through and the emotional impact diminished because something big is about to happen, and the writer can't wait to get to it.
The list could go on and on, but no need. The point is made that it is the characters' stories and lives that grace the pages of the book. If we, as authors, want to indoctrinate readers with our views, we should write an autobiography. If we want to engage our readers with a fabulous story told by our characters, we should let our characters speak freely and with heart—unless, of course, they digress too far. But that's another article.

Narrator Intrusion Part 1 by Diana Hurwitz

Narrator Intrusion Part 2 by Diana Hurwitz

Tips for Deep POV by Terry Odell

What is Deep POV? by Heidi M. Thomas

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Her novels fall into the literary category because they are character driven rather than plot driven, but their quick pace reminds the reader of genre fiction. They also contain elements of romance, mystery, and suspense. You can contact her through her websites: LSLaneBooks.com and DenverEditor.com.

7 comments :

  1. The book I am reading at the moment catches me when I see the words "here," "now," "today," etc. when the narrative is written in past tense. It's a subtle snag, but a snag nevertheless.

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  2. What a great post, Linda. I'm going to make a copy for later use.

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  3. Thanks for a helpful post Linda. I was not aware of some of the varieties of POV you mentioned, such as Shallow POV, so I was happy to learn a new term. However, the two examples you gave of shallow vs deep POV seemed as much about "showing not telling" as POV issues. Maybe I'm just a bit confused. That happens easily. LOL

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    1. Telling rather than showing contributes significantly to shallow POV, so you are correct. The terminology is different, but it is essentially the same thing. Thank you for pointing that out because I failed to mention that connection. :-)

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.