18 April 2011

Cheryl Grey on What is point of view and why should I care?

Welcome to The Heart of Romance Cheryl, please will you tell us a little bit about yourself before you talk about POV (point of view).
J. Gunnar Grey has never wanted to be anything except a novelist, so of course she’s been everything else—proofreader, typesetter, editor, nonfiction writer, photographer, secretary, data entry clerk, legal assistant, Starfleet lieutenant commander, stable manager, dancer—and no, not that kind of dancer. Her long-suffering husband is just excited she’s actually using her two degrees, one from the University of Houston Downtown and the MA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. Gunnar writes novels that are mysterious, adventurous, and historical, but all sorts of other stuff can leap out of that keyboard without warning. She lives in Humble, Texas, just north of Houston, with two parakeets, the husband (who’s just as noisy as the birds), a fig tree, a vegetable garden, the lawn from the bad place, three armloads of potted plants (make sure it’s past tense), and a coffee maker that’s likely the most important item she owns.

What is point of view and why should I care?

You hear a lot about point of view these days, often abbreviated to PoV. (That’s spelled out, by the way, pee-oh-vee, not pronounced pov.) While it’s always been a part of writing fiction, dating back to Shakespeare’s days at least, it seems as if it’s becoming more important as a part of the craft. My personal opinion is, what editors want is changing, and so it’s being discussed more frequently, which makes it seem more important than it really is.

PoV is the perspective from which the story, or a part of the story, is told. Some how-to manuals advise writers to pretend there’s a camera on one character’s shoulder, recording which she sees, which is then processed by her brain and relayed to the reader.

This technique works for a more distant PoV (and we’ll talk about distance in a bit). But for a closer perspective, consider magically implanting that camera behind your character’s eyes.

Different strokes
You know the different types of PoV, right?
• First person: I wondered what she wanted.
• Second person: You wondered what she wanted.
• Third person: He wondered what she wanted.

Nothing complicated there, right? First person PoV was the big fashion in the 1990s, but it seems less popular now although you still see it. (If you’re thinking that’s a reason to avoid first person, remember Amanda Hocking uses it in her Trylle series.) Second person has been trying to make a splash, but too many readers find it artificial and artsy, even when it’s combined with present tense verbs (You wonder what she wants).

This leaves third person PoV, which remains the most commonly used of the three. But there are also three types of third person:

• Omniscient,
• Shallow, and
• Deep.

Omniscient PoV allows the camera-on-the-shoulder to shift from character to character within a section. The classical example of this technique is Nora Roberts, and it’s difficult to argue against her success. But while the omniscient PoV was popular in the 1980s, when she first started her career, it’s fallen out of fashion recently and is now disparagingly termed head hopping. If you’re not Nora Roberts, editors don’t want to see it.

Shallow PoV plants the camera on one character’s shoulder and we observe the story or section through his eyes without changing shoulders, although the camera can also back off some and give us a look at the character himself. It’s a great technique for certain types of comedy. (“Alyssa had no way of knowing that, just as she was walking into Wal-Mart via one door, Terry was walking out the other,” and so on.) But deep PoV, the one that’s becoming increasingly popular among editors, lets the reader experience the story through that character, which is another level of reading entirely.

In deep PoV, the camera and sometimes even the character fade from the reader’s attention. Instead, the reader becomes the character, thinking her thoughts and vicariously taking her actions, without paying attention to her movements or facial expressions, whether she crosses her arms or plants one hand on her hip. Unless the character is thinking about something, the reader doesn’t know it’s there, but can only imagine it.

Think of deep PoV this way. You can’t see your own face. You may be frowning and not know it (while you consider the fascinating implications of this technique) unless someone or something brings it to your attention. That’s the way it works. Unless someone asks the character, “What’s that frown for?” or unless she’s standing in front of a mirror or suddenly realizes how ugly that expression must be, she won’t even know she’s frowning.

First person is a deep PoV by definition, because the reader spends quality time with a single character, getting to know his thought processes intimately. (And that’s why it can be difficult to write well; not every character is sufficiently complex to carry first person.) Some writers learn the third person deep technique by first drafting a scene in first person and then rewriting it in third, but that seems like an awful lot of busy work to me, at least. My opinion is, if you want to learn third person deep, it’s worth the effort to train your inner editorial ear to recognize it. When it’s right, you’ll know it.

For more information visit: Cheryl's blog HERE
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Stephy Smith said...

Awesome advise Cheryl. I need to remember this. Thank you.
Stephy Smith

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Stephy. Hope it helps.