Saturday, March 15, 2014

Shfting POV

Writers should be readers, we’ve heard that before. Not only can  superb writing strategies be observed, we can see poor techniques to avoid. A book I read last summer I was told in third person POV. It was was quite good except for one glaring problem. Somewhere, a quarter or so through the tale, the author shifted POVs. We were in MC’s head along then a minor character takes over. The change was so jarring, taking me out of the story. I vowed never to shift POVs in anything I write.

Fast-forward to now and the current WIP faces same problem. The story is told mainly through MC #1’s POV, but there are times when he cannot be in the scene. MC #2 and #3 will have to narrate. What to do to make a smooth transition?

A cruise on the internet referenced two experts, Renni Browne and Dave King and their Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. I pulled out my copy and quickly re-read the chapter on POV. The whole thing gets rather involved. They say point of view is how you show who your characters are. It allows authors to convey emotions and readers to share a character’s concerns and to see the world as that character would see it. 

I became aware of point of view at my first WIFYR in an afternoon session. Can’t remember the speaker, but it was when the conference was held at BYU and she said writers need know who’s story it is and which character can best tell it. Most of us write in first or third person. There is also omniscient and others. 

Browne and King place first person on one end of a continuum with omniscient at the other. Third person falls in between. First person allows intimacy with your viewpoint character. In third person, intimacy is sacrificed in favor of a larger perspective of things going on around the MC. Omniscient widens the angle even more, allowing readers into the minds of other characters. Authors can vary the narrative distance and get in close to the character or not.

The best example I’ve seen of a use of an omniscient point of view was an MG book I used to read to my fifth graders called Bat 51. (I’m not sure of the author and a Google search won’t pull it up.) Set in the Olympic Peninsula in Washington after World War Two, it is about graduating elementary school girls preparing for an annual a baseball game against another town, this one in 1951. Each chapter is told by one of several girls who advance the story while adding backstory of their lives affected by the war in which some of them were interred in detention centers or had relatives killed by the Japanese. Each voice distinct and compelling.

I was concerned about shifting POVs in my story but Browne and King say it can be done. They present examples of point of view shifts done poorly as well as those of writers who have pulled it off successfully. A shift in POV is best down with a new chapter. The writer can also end the scene, insert a linespace, and start a new scene from the point of view you need. 

Point of view is a powerful tool and one of the most fundamental means for crafting a story, according to Browne and King. Effective writers learn to master POV.

On another note, registration is now open for WIFYR. Go here to learn about the options for attending this year’s conference.

(This article also posted at

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