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By: Darcy Pattison
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How does an author take a reader deeply into a character’s POV? By using direct interior monologue and a stream of consciousness techniques.
This is part 3 of a 3-part series on Point of View: Techniques for Getting Inside a Character’s Head. Read the whole series.
Going Inside a Character’s Head, Heart and Emotions
Omniscience.Jauss says, “In direct interior monologue, the character’s thoughts are not just ‘reflected,’ they are presented directly, without altering person or tense. As a result, the external narrator disappears, if only for a moment, and the character takes over as ‘narrator.’” (p. 51)
Here, “. . . the narrator is not consciously narrating.” In much of IVAN, he is consciously narrating the story. Sometimes, it might be hard to distinguish the difference because the character and narrator are the same, and it’s written in present tense (except when he is telling about the background of each animal). This closeness of the character and narrator is one reason to choose first-person, present tense. But there are still times when it is clear that IVAN is narrating his story.
But there also times when that narrator’s role is absent. In the “nine thousand eight hundred and seventy-six days” chapter, Ivan is worried about what Mack will do after the small elephant Ruby hits Mack with her trunk:
“Mack groans. He stumbles to his feet and hobbles off toward his office. Ruby watches him leave. I can’t read her expression. Is she afraid? Relieved? Proud?”
The last three questions remove the narrator-Ivan and give us what Ivan is thinking at the moment. The direct interior monologue gives the reader direct access to the character. With a third person narrator, those rhetorical questions might be indirect interior monologue; but here, because of the first person narration, it feels like direct interior monologue.
Or, in the “click” chapter, Ivan is about to be moved to a zoo:
The door to my cage is propped open. I can’t stop staring at it.
My door. Open.
The first two sentences still feel like a narrator is reporting. But “My door. Open.” feels like direct access to Ivan’s thought at that precise moment. He’s not looking back and reporting, but this is direct access to his thoughts.
A last technique for diving straight into a character’s head is stream-of-consciousness. Jauss says, “. . . unlike direct interior monologue, it presents those thoughts as they exist before the character’s mind has ‘edited’ them or arranged them into complete sentences.” (P. 54)
When Ivan is finally in a new home at a local zoo, he is allowed to venture outside for the first time. The “outside at last” chapter is stream-of-consciousness.
Bird. . . .
What the reader feels here is Ivan’s wonder at the great outdoors. It’s a direct expression of Ivan’s joy in being outside after decades of being caged. We are one with this great beast and it gives the reader joy to be there.
Or look at the “romance” chapter, where Ivan is courting another gorilla.
A final note: Sometimes, an author breaks the “fourth wall,” the “imaginary wall that separates us from the actors,” and speaks directly to the reader. This is technically a switch from 1st person POV to 2nd person POV. But it is very effective in IVAN in the second chapter, “names.” Here, Ivan acknowledges that you—the reader—are outside his cage, watching him. It was a stunning moment for me, as I read the story.
“I suppose you think gorillas can’t understand you. Of course, you also probably think we can’t walk upright.
Try knuckle walking for an hour. You tell me: which way is more fun?”
Do stories and novels have to stay in one point of view throughout an entire scene or chapter? No. Not if you are thinking about point of view as a technique to draw the reader close to a character or shove the reader away. You can push and pull as you need. You can push the reader a little way outside to protect his/her emotions from a distressing scene. Or you can pull them into the character’s head to create empathy or hatred. You can manipulate the reader and his/her emotions. It’s a different way of thinking about point of view. For me, it’s an important distinction because my stories have often gotten characterization comments such as , “I just don’t feel connected to the characters enough.” I think a mastery of Outside, Outside/Inside, and Inside point of view techniques holds a key to a stronger story.
In the end, it’s not about the labels we apply to this section or that section of a story. These techniques can blur, especially in a story like IVAN, written in first person, present tense. Instead, it’s about the reader identifying with the character in a deep enough way to be moved by the story. These techniques–such a different way to think about point of view!–are refreshing because they give us a way to gain control of another part of our story. These are what make novels better than movies. I’ve heard that many script-writers have trouble making the transition to novels and this is the precise place where the difficulty occurs. Unlike movies, novels go into a character’s head, heart and mind. And these point of view techniques are your road map to the reader’s head, heart and mind.
This has been part 1 of a 3-part series on Point of View: Techniques for Getting Inside a Character’s Head. Tomorrow, will be Inside: Deeply Inside a Character’s Head. Read the whole series
By: Darcy Pattison
Blog: Darcy Pattison's Revision Notes
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Partially Inside a Character’s Head: OUTSIDE AND INSIDE POV
How deeply does a story take the reader into the head of a character. Many discussions of point of view skim over the idea that POV can related to how close a reader is to a reader. But David Jauss says there are two points of view that allow narrators to be both inside and outside a character: omniscience and indirect interior monologue.
This is part 2 of a 3-part series on Point of View: Techniques for Getting Inside a Character’s Head. Here are links to parts 2 and 3.
These posts are inspired by an essay by David Jauss, professor at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, in his book, On Writing Fiction: Rethinking Conventional Wisdom About Craft. I am using Ivan, the One and Only, by Katherine Applegate, winner of the 2012 Newbery Award as the mentor text for the discussion.
Omniscience. Traditionally, “limited omniscience” means that the narrator is inside the head of only one character; “regular omniscience” means the narrator is inside the head of more than one character.
I love Jauss’s comment: “I don’t believe dividing omniscience into ‘limited’ and regular’ tells us anything remotely useful. The technique in both cases is identical; it’s merely applied to a different number of characters.”
He spends time proving that regular omniscience never enters into the heart and mind of every character in a novel. A glance at Tolstoy’s WAR AND PEACE, with its myriad of characters is enough to convince me of this truth.
Rather, Jauss says the difference that matters here is that the omniscient POV uses the narrator’s language. This distinguishes it from indirect interior monologues, where the thoughts are given in the character’s language. This is a very different question about POV: is this story told in the narrator’s language or the character’s language?
In IVAN, this is an interesting distinction because Ivan is the narrator of this story; it’s told in his voice. But as a narrator, there are times when he drops into omniscient POV. In the “artists” chapter, Ivan reports:
“Mack soon realized that people will pay for a picture made by a gorilla, even if they don’t know what it is. Now I draw every day.”
Ivan tells the reader what Mack is thinking (“soon realized”) and even what those who purchase his art are thinking (“even if they don’t know what it is”). Then, he pulls back into a dramatic reporting of his daily actions. Notice, too, that he makes this switch from dramatic POV to omniscient POV within the space of one sentence. And the omniscient POV dips into two places in that sentence, too.
Because Mack is Ivan’s caretaker and has caused much of Ivan’s troubles, the reader needs to know something of Mack’s character. This inside/outside level is enough, though. The author has decided that a deep interior view of Mack’s life isn’t the focus of the story. It’s enough to get glimpses of his motivation by doing just a little ways into his head.
Indirect Interior Monologue
Another technique for the narrator and reader to be both inside and outside a character is indirect interior monologue. Here, Jauss says that the narrator “translates the character’s thoughts and feelings into his own language. “ (p. 45) The character’s interior thoughts aren’t given directly and verbatim. This is a subtle distinction, but an important one.
Interior indirect monologue usually involves two things: changing the tense of a person’s thoughts; and changing the person of the thought from first to third. This signals that the narrator is outside the character, reflecting upon the character’s thoughts or actions.
They are all waiting for the train. (dramatic)
They were all waiting reasonably for the train. (Inside, indirect interior monologue)
The word “reasonably” puts this into the head of the narrator, who is making a judgment call, interpreting the dramatic action.
Interior indirect monologue most often seen with a third-person narrator reflecting another character’s thoughts. But in Ivan, we have a first-person narrator. Applegate stays strictly inside Ivan’s head, except for a few passages where Ivan reports indirectly on another character’s thoughts. Because the passages are already in present tense, she doesn’t have that tense change to rely on.
Here’s a passage that could have been indirect interior monologue but Applegate won’t quite go there. Stella is an elephant in a cage close to Ivan.
“Slowly Stella makes her way up the rest of the ramp. It groans under her weight and I can tell how much she is hurting by the awkward way she moves.”
By adding “I can tell. . .” it stays firmly inside Ivan’s head. He tells us that this is true only because Ivan makes an observation. The story doesn’t dip into the interior of the other characters.
But there are tiny places where the interior dialogue peeks through. This from the “bad guys” chapter. Bob is Ivan’s dog friend; Not-Tag is a stuffed animal; and Mack is Ivan’s owner.
“Bob slips under Not-Tag. He prefers to keep a low profile around Mack.”
Ivan can only know that Bob “prefers” something, when he, as the narrator, dips into Bob’s thoughts.
But indirect interior monologue is also used by a first person narrator to report his/her prior thoughts. When the first person narrator tells a story about what happened in his past, he is both the actor in the story and the narrator of the story. Ivan tells the story of his capture by humans over the course of several short chapters. It begins in the “what they did” chapter:
“We were clinging to our mother, my sister and I, when the humans killed her.”
While Ivan’s story is most present tense, this is past tense because Ivan is reporting on prior events. Even here Applegate refuses to slip into interior indirect monologue. Instead, she just presents the facts in a dramatic manner and lets the reader imagine what Ivan felt. It’s interesting that withholding Ivan’s thoughts here evoke such an emotional response in the reader.
On the other hand, in “the grunt” chapter, Ivan tells about his family. Again, he is the narrator telling about a past event when he was a main character of the event:
“Oh, how I loved to play tag with my sister!”
This could be called direct interior thought, but because he’s narrating a past event, it’s indirect interior thought. Otherwise, he would say, “Oh, how I love to play tag with my sister!”
Or from the “vine” chapter, where Ivan talks about his thoughts after being captured by humans:
“Somehow I knew that in order to live, I had to let my old life die. But sister could not let go of our home. It held her like a vine, stretching across the miles, comforting, strangling.
We were still in our crate when she looked at me without seeing, and I knew that the vine had finally snapped.”
If this was direct interior, it would be:
“Somehow I know that in order to live, I must let my old life die.”
Applegate could have chosen to stay inside Ivan, but here, she pulls back so the reader isn’t fully inside this emotionally disturbing moment. She uses indirect interior monologue, instead of direct.
As Jauss says about a different passage, but it applies here, “This example also illustrates the extremely important but rarely acknowledged fact that narrators often shift point of view not only within a story or novel but also within a single paragraph.” (p.50)
This has been proclaimed a mistake in writing point of view, but Jauss says it’s a normal technique. We dip into Mack’s point of view, but then pull back to a dramatic statement about what Ivan is doing.
Indirect interior monologue often includes “rhetorical questions, exclamations, sentence fragments and associational leaps as well as diction appropriate to the character rather than the narrator. “ (p. 49) In one of my novels, I used a lot of rhetorical questions as a way to get into the character’s head and an editor complained about it. Now, that I know why I was using it (as a way to manipulate how close the reader was to the character), I could go back and use a variety of techniques. Knowledge of fiction techniques is freeing! Tomorrow, we’ll look at how to go deeply into a character’s head, heart and emotions.
This is part 1 of a 3-part series on Point of View: Techniques for Getting Inside a Character’s Head. Join us tomorrow for the final part of the series, Inside: Going Deep into a Character’s Head.
This has been part 2 of a 3-part series on Point of View: Techniques for Getting Inside a Character’s Head. Tomorrow, will be Inside: Deeply Inside a Character’s Head. Read the whole series.
A story’s point-of-view is crucial to the success of a story or novel. But POV is one of the most complicated and difficult of creative writing skills to master. Part of the problem is that POV can refer to four different things, says David Jauss, professor at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, in his book, On Writing Fiction: Rethinking Conventional Wisdom About Craft.
This is part 1 of a 3-part series on Point of View: Techniques for Getting Inside a Character’s Head. Here are links to parts 2 and 3.
Definitions of Point of View
- Your personal opinion. You might say, “From my point of view, that’s wrong.”
- The narrator’s person: 1st, 2nd, or 3rd.
- The narrative techniques: “omniscience, stream of consciousness and so forth”
- “. . .the locus of the perception (the character whose perspective is presented, whether or not that character is narrating)” (p. 25)
The first definition is a personal, not a literary one, so it doesn’t apply here. The second definition (the narrator’s person) is perhaps the most widely discussed, but Jauss says it isn’t helpful to a writer as s/he approaches a story. In fact, what often happens is these definitions collide and the generally accepted wisdom is that you must stay in only one POV, you can’t use some techniques in some POVS, and the narrator is a side-issue. These conventional rules, though, conflict with actual practice, says Jauss. Further, they prevent writers from controlling one of the most important aspects of fiction: how close the reader feels to the characters. (p. 26, 36)
I love the idea that point of view is a technique: it is one of the tools in our writer’s tool box that we can pull out as needed to accomplish something in a story. I love the idea that point of view allows you to pull the reader closer to the characters or to shove them away from the character. Right away, Jauss has me. And it only gets better from here. More complicated, but better.
Let’s discuss point-of-view, and use Ivan, the One and Only, by Katherine Applegate, winner of the 2012 Newbery Award as the mentor text for the discussion.
Traditional Point of View
Jauss points out that traditionally point-of-view is discussed in terms of person, and defined by the pronouns used.
First person uses I, me, my, myself and so on; the story is told from inside the narrator’s head and the reader is privy to all the narrator’s thoughts and emotions.
Third person uses he, she, they and so on; the story is told as if there was a camera above the narrator’s head and the reader knows only what the narrator sees. A close third person allows the narrator’s thoughts and emotions to be conveyed to the reader.
Second person is seldom used and talks directly to the reader using you as the main pronoun.
POV techniques include the omniscient POV, which dips into different character’s heads to give the reader a look at the thoughts and emotions of multiple characters; the camera can change from one reader’s head to another, as the story demands.
Point of View as Technique for Getting into a Character’s Head
Point of view, according to Jauss, should be classified by how far into the character’s heads the reader is allowed to go. He proposes a continuum from fully Outside POV, to a POV that is both Outside and Inside and finally a POV that is fully Inside.
Outside, Outside & Inside and Inside. That’s the three new categories of POV. Jauss gives examples of these POV from what we would traditionally call first-person and third-person POV; I’ll be giving examples from the “first-person” book, Ivan, the One and Only. Ivan is undoubtably written in what most would call 1st person POV. The silverback gorilla, Ivan, is narrating the entire story. As such, it has a simple vocabulary and uses simple sentence structure to match the intelligence of an animal; but this animal has a big heart and that’s where technique allows the writer to manipulate how close the reader comes to the character.
OUTSIDE POV: What the Reader Infers about Character
Dramatic. Jauss says, “There is only one point of view that remains outside all of the characters, and that’s the dramatic point of view. . .”
Jauss defines this as a story in which the narrator is telling a story from outside all the characters AND uses language unique to the narrator. Notice that for Jauss, the narrator is an important part of distinguishing the POV technique used.
Dramatic storytelling is the the traditional show-don’t-tell kind of storytelling, where some insist that you must show everything and the reader should understand the action and emotions simply from what is shown.
In the “Bob” chapter of IVAN, we find an example of this, where a small dog interacts with the gorilla:
“He hops onto my chest and licks my chin, checking for leftovers.”
Even though the narrator is Ivan and he is including himself in the action, it is still dramatic action. Nothing in this statement gets inside of Ivan’s head; it’s purely dramatic. In fact, most of the “Bob” chapter is dramatic telling from Ivan’s point of view. He dips into his own feelings (indirect or direct interior dialogue—see discussion later) a few times, but it’s mostly dramatic.
One common demand for a dramatic POV is that the reader understand the character’s emotions only from the actions. If angry, a character might tighten his fists, or his brow might furrow, or he may bare his teeth. Jauss says “the story that results is inevitably subtle. Careless or inexperienced readers will often be confused by stories employing this point of view.” (p. 40)
What a breath of fresh air! Some writing teacher emphasize this Show-Don’t-Tell to the extreme and yet Jauss says the results are “inevitably subtle.” Because I write for kids, I must question whether “subtle” is what I want! I’ve long thought that the Show-Don’t-Tell is more a plea for stronger sensory details than for implied emotion, and have modified it to say, Show-Then-Tell-Sometimes. What I mean is that the sensory details should put the reader into the situation; but after you’ve done that, sometimes you must interpret the actions for the reader.
“Jill slapped Bob, leaving a red palm print on his cheek.”
That uses sensory details; it shows, and doesn’t just tell. But we don’t know WHY Jill slaps Bob. Did she do it to wake him up after he passed out?
“Desperate, Jill slapped Bob, leaving a red palm print on his cheek.”
That word, “desperate,” pulls the sentence out of a strictly dramatic telling and starts to drill down into Jill’s emotions. However, we need that word in order to understand the story.
This technique isn’t used extensively throughout IVAN, but here’s one example. The small elephant, Ruby, is watching the older elephant Stella do her tricks with Snickers the circus dog.
“Ruby clings to her like a shadow. Ruby’s eyes go wide when Snickers jumps on Stella’s back, then leaps onto her head.”
We aren’t TOLD that Ruby is scared of the dog; instead, “Ruby’s eyes go wide.” The reader must infer Ruby’s emotions from that bit of action. And here, it works well. We don’t need an extra adjective for interpretation. Applegate does an amazing job of walking this fine line and keeping the action strictly dramatic.
Dramatic storytelling is like watching a play on stage, or watching a movie. We can never go deeper into a character’s point of view, because the camera can’t go inside a character. The closest we can come is the constant monologues that are a technique of reality TV, where a character talks to the camera and interprets a sequence of actions or explains their thoughts during a sequence. Even that doesn’t take you inside the character like the next techniques can. For the Outside/Inside techniques, join us tomorrow.
This has been part 1 of a 3-part series on Point of View: Techniques for Getting Inside a Character’s Head. Tomorrow, will be Outside/Inside: Partially Inside a Character’s Head
My current WIP novel has a subplot of a chase, which is one of the 29 possible plot templates. Chase Plots are pretty straight forward. There’s a person chasing and a person being chased, the Chaser and the Victim. It’s an action plot, not a character plot (though always, character should be as strong as possible.)
The Chase plot has one major imperative: The Chaser must constantly catch sight of the Victim and the Victim always escapes by the narrowest margin. Otherwise, it’s boring. This subplot must tantalize the reader with the possibility of Chaser actually catching Victim.
My first draft of chapter one completely omitted the Chase subplot, so the first revision I did was to revisit the idea of a Chase Subplot. Yes, the story still needs it. Then, I had to decide how to add in the Chase subplot in an exciting way. What could I add that would give the Chaser a glimpse of her target? My twist on the Chase Plot is the Chaser doesn’t always recognize the Victim. So, I gave Chaser a smart phone app that identifies the Victim. Now, Chaser walks up to a table where Victim is sitting and the app starts to go off, but. . .Chaser is interrupted.
The Car Chase is a staple of Chase Plots. You can choose any form of chase, though, and still up the tension of your story.
Victim is almost caught and only escapes by chance. Because the story is in Victim’s point of view, this works because Victim realizes the danger he was in. Chaser is still clueless, of course, but that’s OK, because it’s not her POV.
Having a chance escape also works this initial time, because the scene introduces the rules of the Chase scene. But now, Victim KNOWS there’s a smart phone app and will have to use his ingenuity to stay out of range of that app. It will, of course, be easier said than done.
The whole scene has upped the stakes in the story as a whole. The other subplots are now free to carry on as needed, because at the right moments the Chase Subplot will be there to add to the story’s tension. Will Chaser actually CATCH Victim? Who know? Stay tuned!
What subplot(s) are you adding to you story to keep the tension high?
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Question: How do you tell a story and make sure that both sides get heard?
Answer: This is a time when switching point-of-view might be helpful.
The default for telling a story is 3rd-person point-of-view. You tell it like you are recording from a camera that sits right above the point-of-view (POV) character’s head. Usually the POV character is the main character, but it can be a friend or some other character. The key is the pronouns: you use he, she, they, them.
If the camera is above the character’s head, you can’t tell what the character is thinking. That’s 1st person POV, which uses I, me and my pronouns. There is a close 3rd person POV which lets you imply the character’s thoughts.
1st: I sift through photos until–I stop and hold up THE photo. It shows me, sitting on my Dad’s lap. I was just five and it was the day before he disappeared.
3rd: She shifted the photos, one by one. Then she held one up and shifted to let the light fall on it better. Yes, it was Dad and she was sitting on his lap. She remembered that day because it was the day before her Dad disappeared.
Which do you like better? It’s a personal thing in some respects and also a question of which one serves your story better.
But back to the question: How do you make sure both sides get heard? Usually, you’ll create a story with two POV characters, one the hero(ine) and one the villain(ess). POV switches typically happen at chapter breaks, that is you’ll have one chapter from the Hero(ine)’s POV, then a chapter from the Villain(ess)’s POV. You can alternate as needed and you don’t have to make it evenly split between the two POV.
The advantage of this is that you can explain the deep issues that each character has from their POV. The difficulty of this is creating two characters that the audience will truly care about and will root for. You want the audience to like the characters. Is your villain a likeable sort? Or at least a sympathetic sort?
Also, consider what the audience will know if you use this strategy. The reader will be in on every nuance of the villain’s plans. How will you create surprise? You can build suspense, which is slightly different. For suspense, the reader knows something will happen and hopes against hope that the character will avoid the problem. That sort of thing will work with an alternating chapter strategy.
Sometimes, the POV switch will take place within a chapter, but usually, the sections are set off somehow, maybe an extra space or asterisks or other visual cues that something has changed.
What rarely works is changing within a paragraph.
In the end, how do you know if alternating chapters will work? You try it out.
The final category in my series on designing principles is the storyteller.
Who is your novel’s storyteller?
At the outset, it might not seem like the point-of-view or the narrator you chose to tell your story would have a large impact on its structure, but it does. Imagine if how differently the The Usual Suspects would be if it wasn’t told from the POV of Kevin Spacey’s character sitting in a New York City police station. Or imagine how the design of The Book Thief would be different if it wasn’t narrated by death. Or how the structure of The Hunger Games changes when you move out of the first person narration of Katniss’ mind in the book, to the omniscient eye taken in the movie? The choices of what is put where, and why, changes.
Additionally, consider the design effect of having multiple POV narrators as done in the book Will Grayson, Will Grayson which has two narrators, or Jumped which has three, or Tangled which has four, or Keesha’s House which has eight. How does one move from POV to POV? By alternating chapters? By telling the whole story of one and then the whole story of another? Or maybe weighing the POV of one over another?
The storyteller of your book is going to affects it pacing, its linearity, its patterns of repetition, and the breadth of knowledge and experience the storyteller has access to. It has ramifications in all your other design choices and shouldn’t be chosen lightly.
Hopefully, these six categories have helped you to think about how to structure and plot your own novel in a way that is organic, instead of plugging your characters in to a pre-designed template. Have fun exploring all the alternate plots and structures at your fingertips, and remember that using them should come organically from your premise and characters!
I know this has been a long series (thanks for hanging in there with me). I’ve only got a few final notes before wrapping it all up.
Up Next: Structural Layering (because yes, you probably won’t pick one structure and be done!)
Want to know more about designing principles? Try these links:
By: Darcy Pattison
Blog: Darcy Pattison's Revision Notes
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2013 GradeReading.NET Summer Reading Lists
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You know you should try writing your story in first v. third point of view, but for some reason, you put it off. Why? Because you’ve gotten a first draft of a scene or chapter and you just want to keep going.
It’s exactly the feeling that elementary school children have: “Why do I have to revise?”
Your answer is straightforward: because you are a professional writer. Revising will help you write a book.
You must find the right way to tell this story. I often say that the purpose of a first draft is to find the story, but the purpose of all other drafts is to figure out the best way to TELL that story. Pros experiment, play, explore.
Here are some explorations of character that you can complete in an hour. Just set a time for 5-10 minutes and write something on each of these. If the prompt reveals nothing, drop it. But if it strikes a chord—keep going!
- 1st v. 3rd. Write a scene using first person point of view and then rewrite it using third. If you want to play with present tense, feel free. Play!
- Attitude. Choose a scene and look to see what attitude your main character has. Maybe, s/he comes in arrogant, sad, discouraged, or excited. At the top of your page/file, write the opposite attitude and write the scene again, working to make the character’s opposite attitude work.
- Setting. Choose a scene and change the setting. If it’s in the kitchen, send your characters on a picnic. If it’s set on a spaceship, move the story to a cruise ship on the Mediterranean.
- Write a Letter. Give your main character a reason to write a letter to someone. It could be written to a family member or to a Congressman. Let your character vent, rant and cry on paper.
- Put something in your character’s hand. Put a physical object in your character’s hand. Perhaps a mother goes into a grown son’s room and picks up his old baseball glove and sits in a rocking chair and oils the glove and remembers something important about her son. Or, a grandmother is in the kitchen and getting ready to cook and pulls out an iron skillet. Write a couple paragraphs or a scene putting the object in the forefront.
- Cubing is a way of exploring a topic by looking at it from different angles. I’ve chosen just four ways, but you can think of others.
- Describe. Using the character’s voice (your choice of POV, tense, etc) describe something important in your story. Repeat with a different POV, tense, etc. if you have time.
- Compare. Using the character’s voice, compare something in your story. Maybe you want to compare what the character thinks about his/her current situation with where s/he was ten days ago. Or compare two characters. Or compare today’s supper with yesterday’s supper. Any type of comparison that makes sense for your story is grist for this mill.
- Associate. When your character thinks of roses, what does s/he think? This prompt asks you to enter your character’s point of view and make some associations. While most of your writing in a scene should be pointed, there are places where you can slow down and give the reader a glimpse of how the character’s mind works. When faced with X, s/he thinks of Y or Z.
- Analyze. What will your character do next? Stop and let him/her analyze what has just happened, thinking about the ramifications of the actions or conversations. If s/he goes this direction, what will it mean for the rest of the story? What is an alternate direction and why should s/he choose that alternate? Analyze, then let the character decide on a plan of attack for the next section of the story.
Take the time to explore your story and your storytelling choices early in your drafting process. It will probably mean fewer drafts—and a stronger story. Great trade-offs for a mere hour of work.
Back we go to finding our story, which is, you'll remember, something that happens to somebody and its significance. Ideas frequently come in segments, scenes, or situations rather than a fully realized story, so a writer may not know right away what is happening to whom and its significance. In that case, you can search out information to use in building a story by first developing basic story elements. We've talked about doing this with character and setting. This week we're hitting point of view.
There are a number of points of view, but for simplicity's sake we're only going to talk about two, first person and third person limited omniscient.
First Person: The "I" person. A character is actually telling the story. This is often the main character, but not always. (Think Dr. Watson in the Sherlock Holmes stories or Brandon in the Hannah and Brandon stories.) First person narrators are in every single scene. Everything that happens is filtered through their minds. It's very easy to develop a voice with a first person narrator.
Third person limited omniscient: A "he/she" narrator. We think of third person narrators as being all knowing (omniscient) and being able to move from character to character, but the moving-from-character-to-character thing isn't used a great deal nowadays and is difficult to do without appearing confusing and as if the writer is jumping all over the place. Writers will sometimes try to switch to different characters in different chapters, but that can stop the forward movement of a story.
What is easier to do is a third person limited omniscient narrator, something that is also known as a "point of view character." You have one main character who appears in every scene and through whom everything is filtered, just as with the first person, but there is a storytelling type voice telling the story and referring to this character as he or she. Michael in Saving the Planet & Stuff is a point of view character or third person limited omniscient narrator. With third person limited narrators, the storyteller voice can actually know more about the point of view characters than first person narrators often know about themselves.
One thing writers can do while trying to determine what their stories are is write a scene twice, once in the first person, as if the chosen character is talking him- or herself and once in the third person, as if a storyteller is at work. You should find yourself coming up with different material from each voice, giving you some ideas about what could happen to these people.
Another thing you can do is try different characters as both the first person narrator and point of view character. Even if you end up sticking with your original choice, writing about other characters in different ways may give you ideas you can use.
Yes, point of view can be a lot of work.
I am always a little taken aback when I see newly published writers offering workshops on writing. To me, a person who has published only one book is inexperienced and probably doesn't have a lot of knowledge to impart to others. This attitude on my part is why I have been such a satisfied martial arts student for the past decade. The "maintain the mind of a beginner" business, in which you assume you don't know much so that you're always open to new knowledge, is popular in martial arts training. I embraced it eagerly.
After I wrote and published my first book, I certainly didn't know much. It's a very good thing that I accepted that because when my editor, Kathy, pointed out that my use of a third-person narrator in my second book left something to be desired, my mind was open to the possibility that she was right. I have obsessed on the third person for the last fifteen years or so, and wrote only one book with that kind of narrator. And Saving the Planet & Stuff used a point-of-view character, which is like a first-person narrator but different.
Recently I happened to read several books written in the third person, books that did not use a point-of-view character but shifted points of view among several characters. Here are a couple of problems I saw with the situation:
1. First and foremost, it's difficult to maintain narrative drive if the author keeps stopping the action to allow still another character to dwell on what's happening or even tell a story that doesn't appear to have much to do with anything. Some writers can switch point of view and have the new character drive the action of the story along. Some can't. Or maybe they don't know they're supposed to.
2. It's hard to commit to a protagonist if other characters are given too much face time. Or maybe it just seems that they're getting too much face time if those other characters aren't carrying the story along in terms of plot or interacting with the protagonist enough.
3. Martin Millar can create a whole universe of characters who are entertaining enough that readers will want to stay up late to read portions of a story from their various points of view. It seems that not every writer can do that. I can't believe that I'm the only reader who goes, "Oh, shoot. Him again" when confronted once more with the thoughts of a particularly dull secondary character.
None of the books I'm talking about were dreadful. They were just strikingly off because the third-person narrator was so awkward. Would I have recognized that fifteen years ago when I was still an inexperienced writer? Would I have recognized it now if I hadn't continued to study point of view ever since?
By: Darcy Pattison
Blog: Darcy Pattison's Revision Notes
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It’s a basic question: what is point of view and when do you use which point of view (or POV) in a novel?
Point of view refers to the basic outlook of your story, who narrates it.
First-person POV is firmly in a character’s head and told as if the character was narrating the action. It uses “I, me, my, myself” to indicate the narrator. Another description is to consider the placement of the story’s camera. Here, the camera sits firmly behind the character’s eyes. What the narrator thinks, the reader knows.
I am scared to try back handsprings at the football game tonight because I haven’t practiced enough.
Second-person POV uses “you” as it talks directly to the reader. It’s considered an awkward POV for most fiction, although there are, of course, exceptions. Camera placement here would be above the narrator’s head, pointed at the reader.
You will notice that the cheers will come out with a series of aerials, including back handsprings.
Third-person POV uses “he, she, it, they” pronouns as it refers to people and events. For this POV, we often speak of how “close” it is to the narrator. Close 3rd person POV puts the camera directly above the main character’s head and the camera placement tells the reader about what the character is paying attention to, what s/he is thinking. It is different from the 1st person POV, in that, we don’t know the narrator’s thoughts directly, but only indirectly. Sometimes, the Close 3rd gives information and the reader assumes the character thought that, said that or did that.
She hesitated, then with a burst of energy, she sprinted then threw herself forward into a back handspring.
The 3rd person POV can also draw back and be more detached, a recitation of a narrative from a more objective POV. The nicest thing is that this POV can change focal length at will, drawing back to describe a football field, then zooming in to the cheerleader as she does a back handspring and feels a muscle tear.
Her hands pushed off the grass and she catapulted over, a perfect back handspring, until—oh, no! Just as she landed, her ankle, it gave way. Pain shot through her foot and she collapsed.
Omniscient POV puts the camera on the ceiling looking down at everyone. It dips in and out of character’s thoughts and gives a comprehensive look at anything and everything the author wants. It’s difficult to pull off, too, because the reader is uncertain where to focus. If done badly, the reader may try to identify with too many characters and fail to really care about any of them.
Bored, her Mom glanced up from her text message in time to see Betty sprint for the handspring. Would this game never end?
Oh, no! Pain shot through Betty’s foot. Mom, she thought, Mom. Where are you?
Notice that this is a discussion of point of view, not verb tense. You can write in 1st person, present tense or 1st person, past tense:
1st person, present tense: I walk across the football field.
1st person, past tense: I walked across the football field.
The difference in verb tense definitely affects the overall tone and voice of your novel, so you should consider it, too, when you write.
Use this photo and try writing from the POV of the climber, from each of the observers, and from an omniscient POV. Each POV will include and
I see everything from my own “special” (Mom calls it “twisted”) point of view. Three things I see very clearly are:
1. Furniture is really FURniture. It’s supposed to be covered with my fur.
2. Old toys do not deserve my attention. New toys are the best.
3. Food found on the ground is delicious, even if it’s not really food. I should be allowed to eat all the goose poop, birdseed, orange peels, Doritos, and candy wrappers I find.
My point of view is crystal clear to me.
Point of view is important in stories, too. Mom brought her Dragon Sandwich story to her writing group named DavidLaurieandOtherDavid. Everyone liked it, but they were confused about the point of view. They said, “Is it the princess’s story, the chef’s story, or the dragon’s story?” Mom said, “How should I know?” and “I’m just the author…” and “Who wants to see a picture of Cupcake in her sailor dress?” (Nice try, Mom….)
Now she is working on the dragon story again. She still isn’t sure whose story it is. She said, “I’m leaning toward Chef Edward.” (That sounds safer than leaning toward a scary dragon!) and “I need to think and mind-write for a while.” and then my favorite words of all, “Who wants to go to the park?”
Park! Yay! I hope somebody spilled some Doritos!
by Melanie Faith
It’s so easy to slap a subject down and jump ahead to the snazzier adjectives and dynamic verbs. Yet, point of view can make an enormous difference in a poem’s development and also impact the way readers approach your work. Let’s look at the three points of view—1st, 2nd, and 3rd—and how each pronoun choice molds your poem.Of all the pronouns, I is most immediate.
Since an author’s personal experiences often trigger the rush to the page, it is only natural that many poems have their genesis with an I speaker and continue in that vein. The Confessional School of poets in the 1950s and 1960s, a la Sylvia Plath and her one-time teacher, Robert Lowell, freed the way for ample use of I in lyric and narrative poetry. It is worth noting, however, that even poems with a first-person narrator may not 100% reflect the experiences of the writer, but may include as much fiction as a third-person point-of-view. An example of a first-person narrator removed from the poet’s experience would be a female poet crafting a poem from the perspective of a father. As a creative artist, it is within your skillset to assume a persona. Advantages of Ist person:
it is compelling and has the power of a strong personal or character voice. Draw-backs:
can sometimes become self-indulgent, and it is difficult to create enough distance from the material to pick which images, similes, or metaphors should or should not be included.Second person, you, may be read several ways.
A you subject may address the audience directly. Or it may be used like “one,” to note universal human experience. Also, the you might be an unnamed, absent character who receives the unstated questions and actions of the poem, such as when an employee addresses her boss, “you always made me work/ overtime,” or when a friend addresses another friend who has betrayed him. Advantages of 2nd person:
great for drawing readers into the poem’s action. A comfortable form for most writers, especially for comparing or contrasting two characters’ behaviors. Draw-backs:
with certain themes—political topics, religion—may alienate readers by having too accusatory a tone. “The advantage of the third person is
that it gives both the poet and the reader some personal space from the action of the poem....This can create breathing room to write things you might not otherwise feel comfortable expressing,” Sage Cohen notes in Writing The Life Poetic
. It is difficult, if not impossible, to write objectively about a painful or joyful personal experience. Third person narration encourages honesty as well as trimming unnecessary phrases and lines. The obvious drawback, however, is that the third person may appear too dispassionate or dull. Try this exercise:
swap one pronoun for another in a draft. How does that affect the poem’s tone or theme and your approach to it? Switching pronouns may inspire new ideas and make it easier to edit parts of the poem which are not as compelling.
***Melanie Faith is a poet, essayist, and photographer who holds an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte, NC. Her writing most recently was published in
|by raramaurina www.flickr.com |
A very common mistake writers make in their first drafts is to head hop, or change point of view, between the characters in a scene. This is usually not done on purpose. Here’s an example:
Eleanor wondered what could possibly be in Harold’s box. “That’s a really small container. I thought you were bringing all your old office supplies.”
“I am,” Harold said, laughing to himself. Eleanor was such a busybody. He would teach her to mind her own business.
“So, this is some kind of joke, then?” She asked, knowing Harold didn’t have a very good sense of humor.
In this scene, we are clearly in the minds of both characters. The scene has more than one point of view.
So, isn’t this omniscient point of view then? Can’t the narrator know what both characters are thinking? Some may argue yes. But omniscient point of view isn’t used much today; and when used properly, it has to sound all knowing—the narrator has to know everything about everyone. That’s not happening in this short scene. There’s definitely head-hopping going on.
Why does it matter?
Readers want to connect with the main character in a story. One of the best ways for writers to accomplish this connection is to reveal his or her thoughts and feelings—not just action and dialogue. Most readers love character-driven novels, so writers should strive to create a character that readers want to follow through an entire novel. Filter the story through this character’s eyes, so readers experience life like him or her.
How do you fix head-hopping?
To fix the above scene, pick a point of view character and filter everything through that character’s eyes and mind. Pretend to be that character. You know you can’t read another person’s mind. You can only recognize body language, tone of voice, and dialogue. Your characters are the same way. So, try this:
Eleanor wondered what could possibly be in the box Harold carried. “That’s a really small container. I thought you were bringing all your old office supplies.”
“I am.” Harold smirked and shook the box.
“So, this is some kind of joke, then?” She asked, knowing Harold didn’t have a very good sense of humor.
Since I’m exploring point-of-view right now it seemed like it would be a great idea to stick to theme with this week’s quotes:
“The third person narrator, instead of being omniscient, is like a constantly running surveillance tape.” – Andrew Vachss
“The choice of point-of-view will largely determine all other choices with regards to style, diction, characteristic speed of sentences and so on. What the writer must consider, obviously, is the extent to which point-of-view, and all that follow from it, comments on the characters, actions, and ideas.” - John Gardner
“View point must always serve as filter for the voice that is revealing the story.” - Uma Kirishwami
“Consider the difference between the first and third person in poetry… It’s like the difference between looking at a person and looking through their eyes.” – Diana Abu-Jaber
“I like to write first-person because I like to become the character I’m writing.” - Wally Lamb
To continue with my series on Point of Point-of-View, I thought I’d explore the pros and cons of writing your novel using the first person perspective. In this post I’ll lay out the strengths of using the first person point of view, and reasons why you might want to choose it for your book.
Again, using the first person point-of-view means the story is told directly through the eyes (and thoughts) of the protagonist. Whatever your main character sees, thinks, and feels, the audience is a part of. The first person perspective will use the pronoun of “I” and it will give the audience the experience of being inside the character’s head.
Five Pro’s to using the First Person Point-of-View:
1) Immediacy and Connection with the Protagonist. Because the audience is given the experience of being “inside” the protagonist’s head, there is a direct link between protagonist and the audience. Emotions don’t become filtered through the distance of a third person narrator, instead the emotions happen in the moment, as the protagonist feels them. As the protagonist reveals his/her thoughts and fears to the reader an intimacy and connection is created. It is as if the protagonist is confiding in the reader, telling them their innermost secrets like they would a best friend. A lot of young adult novels use first person for this exact reason, it creates an immediate connection with the reader.
2) Believability. Due to the connection created with the reader mentioned above, there is an inherent believability that is created through the first person perspective. In addition, a story told in the third person has a “narrator” and the audience (on some level) will always be aware that they are being “told a story.” The first person perspective breaks down that barrier and the reader has a sense that they are getting a direct account of the events from a primary source. Readers have a tendency to give a first person voice more authority when they hear it.
3) Helps to Develop Character. Since the only view-point of the novel is the protagonist’s the reader is able to spend a lot of time with one character and get to know them. The protagonist is directly telling the story, therefore the “voice” of the book is directly related to the voice of the character. The first person perspective allows for opportunities to show if the protagonist is funny, or philosophical, hyper, or laid back? The author has the choice to share these traits through word choice, sentence structure, and diction. In a way, the first person perspective allows the reader to see how the character thinks and experiences the world around them.
4 Comments on Five Reasons to Write in the First Person Point-of-View, last added: 3/15/2011
Exploiting Point of View to Make Characters Come Aliveby Diane O’Connell
Remember the last time you read a great novel? What was it that stood out the most, that stayed with you long after you closed the last page? Chances are it was the characters. But more than that, it was the way those characters thought and viewed the world around them. In other words, it was their point of view.
POV is — I believe —the most important, yet least understood element of fiction writing. Too many novice writers never go beyond simply deciding whether to use the first person or the third person. They don’t understand how to really use POV to make their characters come alive for the reader.
Ask these five questions to help you exploit your use of POV:1. How does my character view the world?
Is your POV character an innocent naïf or a bitter old man? An unrepentant alcoholic or a genteel housewife? A slick con artist who thinks nothing of screwing an elderly couple out of their life savings, or a public defender who believes in justice for all? Each of these characters will see the world in a very different way. And how they see the world affects every interaction they have.2. What does my character think about?
No one knows what’s really in another person’s mind. But when you fully exploit POV, you invite your readers into the place where your characters feel most at home — their thoughts. And because people’s thoughts are uncensored, this is where you really are telling the truth in a deep way that connects with all of human nature. 3. What are my character’s inner drives?
Suppose your POV character is a vigilante. Just having him take the law into his own hands isn’t enough motivation for readers to fully connect with that character — even if he seems to be justified. You need to determine what drives him deep down inside, whether it’s to “protect the innocent from the scum of the earth” or — as in the case of Batman — to “avenge the brutal murder of his parents.” Readers can forgive a character nearly anything if they understand what drives him.4. How does my character see herself?
A character who sees herself as a helpless victim or hopeless loser will act very differently from the character who believes she’s smarter than others or deserves only the very best that life has to offer. That self-POV determines her actions and relationships. Remember: villains always see themselves as being right.5. What words would my character use to describe what he sees?
Imagine a spring morning in a park. A person mourning over a lost lover might notice the lilacs bending under the weight of the morning dew and think of them as “lugubrious.” A woman desperately longing for motherhood might focus on the apple tree, “pregnant with blossoms.” A man who has just had an argument with his wife over his whereabouts the previous evening might zero in on the ivy that’s “threatening to choke the life out of a tree.”
By exploiting POV, your story will engross your readers. They will become emotionally invested in your characters and will feel a personal stake in what happens to them. Your characters will come alive as real flesh-and-blood people — with strong inner lives that connect to your readers.
In my last post I discussed five reasons to use the first person POV for your writing. This post will explore how that choice might limit you. Please refer back to my first post the point of point-of-view to learn all about the different points-of-view available!
Six Limitations of the First Person Point-of-View:
1) It Imprisons You In One Character: In the first person POV the reader hears all the protagonists thoughts and everything is filtered through their perception. The reader only gets one interpretation of events. John Gardner writes that “first person locks us in one character’s mind, locks us to one kind of diction throughout, locks out the possibilities of going deeply into various characters’ minds, and so forth.” (The Art of Fiction). Is it important to understand other character’s motivations in your novel? If so, first person may not be the right choice. Remember all events will be distorted by the protagonists perception of them.
2) It’s Narcissistic: Again, I’m going to quote Gardner here (who had an uncanny loathing for first person POV) in his book The Art of Fiction he states that the first person POV “can achieve little grandeur. It thrives on intimacy and something like gossip. It peeks through a keyhole, never walks through an open field.” He continues to say that the first person is claustrophobic and creates narcissists of us all. In some ways this is true. We are trapped in one perception constantly saying “I did this,” “I felt that,” “I,” “I,” “I”! The first person POV is introspective and explores only a single character’s experience. It is very limited in scope. First person POV might not be the right for you if you are writing a grand epic.
3) What Gender is Your Narrator? Writing in the first person POV can make it difficult for the reader to know the gender of the protagonist. When one writes in the third person the pronouns of “he” and “she” quickly identify gender. In first person, however, the narrator has to specifically mention their gender or relate themselves to someone of the same gender (or compare themselves to the opposite gender) in order for the reader to be clued in. Have you ever read a first person POV book and you were certain the main character was female, only to find out on page 15 that they are male? I have. Of course this could also be used to one’s advantage. The book Written On the Body by Jeanette Winterson never identifies the first person narrator’s gender, and thus the story becomes an interesting reflection of the reader’s concepts of what actions they deem as male or female.
To continue my series on the point of point of view lets take a look at the use of the third person omniscient POV. In previous posts we discussed the pros and cons of using the first person, now lets consider the use of third person.
There are multiple types of third person POV including:
**Note: There’s also Third Person Objective or Dramatic POV. But I’m going to talk about that later in another post.
Were going to focus on the omniscient POV for this post, which is when the author is “God-like” and can see everything that is happening and is no longer limited to the POV of a single character. Some distinct advantages to this type of point-of-view include:
Five Advantages of the 3rd Person Omniscient POV:
1) It’s Traditional – Once upon a time there was a… Most of the stories we were told as children were created in a third person point of view. There was a narrator and he/she told the story. Therefore it seems very natural to hear a story told in the third person. It harkens back to our deepest concepts of storytelling.
2) Getting to Know Multiple Characters – Third Person Omniscient POV allows the author the freedom to get out of the “claustrophobia” of a single POV and expand our scope. An omniscient POV is able to get inside the minds of multiple characters and delve deeper into emotions and relationships. We move away from a limited filter of a story (remember everyone will tell the events of a story differently) and are able to see how multiple characters react/interpret the events. John Gardner (an advocate for the omniscient POV) says: “In the authorial omniscient, the writer speaks as, in effect, God. He sees into all his characters’ hearts and minds, presents all positions with justice and detachment, occasionally dips into the third person subjective to give the reader an immediate sense of why the character feels as he does, but reserves to himself the right to judge.” (The Art of Fiction).
3) Authorial Voice – One of the draw backs of first person POV is that the voice of the text is the voice of the character. Using the third person, however, allows the authors voice to take the front seat. Marion Dane Bauer says: “There are no limits to your language in third person. You can write about a three-year-old or about a lion
Are there limitations in writing in the Third Person Omniscient point of view? After all the author is “God” and has full reign over the story! Could there possibly be any reason not to use this point of view? Of course, every point-of-view choice comes with its advantages and disadvantages, omniscient does as well. I published a post earlier about the advantages of using the third person omniscient POV, so lets look at look now at some of its limitations:
Issues One Might Run Into Using Third Person Omniscient POV:
1) Transitions: When the author has free reign over their whole world they have a lot of information at their disposal. It can become tricky to decide when to show action and when to transition into the mind of a character (and which character’s mind for that matter). In What’s Your Story by Marion Dane Bauer, she states that “often, writers learning to use third person have trouble moving inside the main character to reveal thoughts and feelings. More stories fail because the writer’s don’t get inside their main character than for any other reason.”
2) Moral Heavy-Handedness: When a writer opts to use a God-like perspective in a novel, they may start to offer God-like judgement for their characters. Beware! Too much “narrative” judgement can turn off a reader and cause them to feel like they’re being preached to.
3) Who’s Story is This? With the ability to pop in and out of multiple character’s thoughts and feelings it may be hard for the reader to know who the protagonist of the story is. Perhaps that’s the point, maybe one is writing an ensemble piece. But be aware that it may take extra care to let the reader know who’s side (if any) they should be on.
4) Distance: The omniscient POV can often be the most distant from the reader. First person offers intimacy, where third omniscient creates a distance. A skillful writer can still get inside a character’s head and offer emotions and feelings, but some writers find this difficult (this relates back to the first limitation of transitions). Distance can also be created through the omniscient voice as well as the narrator voice that tells the story.
What limitations have you found while using the Omniscient POV? What about as a reader? Do you prefer this POV or do you like one that’s closer? Why?
3 Comments on Limitations of Writing in the Omniscient POV, last added: 4/15/2011