Thanks for Writing; now go away: the importance of selecting and maintaining POV

Back View of Jane Austen, Watercolor
Image via Wikipedia

An author should neither be seen nor heard but his presence felt. This has always been my opinion of good fiction.  Joseph Warren Beach once wrote: ”  . . ., the one thing that will impress you more than any other is the disappearance of the author.” Have truer words ever been written? I think not. The most disappointing stories in my opinion, are those in which the author keeps appearing either due to some degree of arrogance or poor writing skills. In any case its annoying. Selecting and sticking to a point of view is one of the most important elements of telling a story. Even the most accomplished of authors have occasionally made mistakes in this regard but never fear: it ain’t easy being invisible.  For an author to separate himself from his work is difficult and should be approached as a critical element of telling the story that must be told.

The common POVs in fiction are the first person and the third person. Novice writers tend to start with the first person POV because it’s easier. They feel close to the main character and the reader gets close to the main character. However it may be difficult for beginners, even after writing for some time, to change POVs. They tend to get stuck in the first person.  Why is that?

The first person POV is that view in which the story-teller (narrator) is the “I” or “We. The reader gets all the information from that person. While this is a safe view from which to write, it’s also very limiting. The reader does not know what’s going on in the minds of the other characters. This can work out just fine but writers should always experiment with writing from a different POV to prevent falling into a familiar pattern.

vbd_9780099428251__53164_zoom.jpg The third person POV is the view from which the story-teller relates all happenings. We tend to see a lot of “he said”, “she said”. A classic example of a writer effectively using the third person POV is Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen used this style in most of her writings. The third person POV also can be omniscient or limited. Depending on how much control the writer wants over the individual characters, decisions regarding which third person POV must be made. My favorite example of correct usage of third person point of view is The Swimming Pool Season, Rose Tremain. The story is brilliantly told and Tremain is able to control the characters in a way which makes it quite easy for the reader to understand the movements, thoughts, and feelings of the characters. She does this so well; she, the author disappears completely.       I‘ve experimented with writing from several different POVs and admittedly, the first person is an easy trap in which one could easily fall. Also, it’s sometimes difficult to stay in the proper point of view because of a rush to tell the story. This usually becomes painfully obvious during the editing process. For those who may want to experiment, a neat little tool I use is Oneword.com. I don’t always do the exercise from the website but I do use the word and try to use it in a very short story told from different POVs. Check it out. What POV do you prefer and why? Have you experimented with any other POV? Let me know your thoughts.


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