Thursday, October 16, 2014

Point of View - one key element

It is Point of View including Perception

Point of View

Most fiction writers learn early-on that they have to understand P.O.V. Grasping it fully can take time. Using it appropriately is yet another step.

I heard about P.O.V., I attended workshops on P.O.V. and I read about P.O.V. for years and I still did not "get" P.O.V. Then, one August night, reading by flashlight in my sleeping bag in an Anchorage campground, I got it!

The book was One More Valentine by Anne Staurt. The trigger? One paragraph at the end of Scene One. (Page8)

Damn, he was cold. His feet were freezing, the wind was whipping through his old overcoat and he had no gloves. He shoved his hands into his pockets, shivering, reveling in the physical sensations. He was hungry. He was cold. He was horny.

On its own that paragraph might not work for everyone. But for some reason it unlocked P.O.V. for me, and everything I'd read and heard fell into place.

 Point of View is seeing the story through the character's eyes, hearing it through their ears, feeling it through their touch and coloring it with their perceptions.

1) Author perception gives us great details, but risks missing character perception thus keeping the reader at a "listening" distance.
The day it happened, she came home from band practice early and found her father counting money. A lot of money. Stacks of money. Bundles of money. Stacks covered the coffee table and end tables. Piles stretched away into the shadows like some weird domino set up. The lamps cast insufficient light to see how far the money went.

 2) Strict character perception occurs when writing in the first person, dedicated third person, or when having a character relate events through dialogue. Character voice overrides author voice. Perceptions are revealed through vocabulary and sentence structure and the reader is drawn in, becoming one with the character.

 "Band practice was cancelled and I came home early. Dad was in the living room counting money. I mean, not just, like, the grocery money but stacks of cash. Bundles of it all over the place. On the table, on the floor. Man, I had a weird flash of a domino set up ready to do that fall and tip thing."

 3) Other characters have their own perceptions. Even if you are not writing in their P.O.V. you can show their reactions based on their perceptions.
Jeff raised his eyebrows and blew a raspberry. Didn't he believe her? OR
Jeff leaned in, nodding and gesturing for her to continue.

When in P.O.V. you can show reactions, internal thoughts revealing opinions and subsequent actions. All of which arise from their perceptions.

Jeff raised his eyebrows. Stacks of money? Was she making this up? He stood, ready to walk out.

As the author, those are the perceptions you know, the ones you can control, the ones based on your character sketches. Knowing what perceptions your characters bring to their P.O.V. you can use those perceptions to ground the reader in your character's story. There is no room for author intrusion or for manipulating the details to fit the author's idea of plot. The story is not yours, it is your character's.

4) Your readers will also have perceptions based on their personal histories. Those perceptions you don't know. But by being aware of, and using, character perception and solid P.O.V you can draw the reader into the story and help them 'live' the story with your characters.

Do you know your character's perceptions? Do you know what has colored their choices, their beliefs? Once you do, you have a rich pool of material to enhance your writing.


  1. I finally got POV when I was told to write my story in first person than give the person a name. It only took a few paragraphs to understand. But like you - I couldn't grasp the concept as easily as it sounded. Of course she can see he's angry why can't I just say he was angry? Good, enlightening article and you tie perception in very well. Because maybe he wasn't really angry - she just felt/thought he was.

  2. Excellent post on POV! I am most comfortable with third-person. While reading, I struggle with authors who hop from one POV to another. There's definitely an art to multiple POVs. For the time being, I'll stick with one.

  3. It took me sometime to grasp the P.O.V. when I first started writing, but then so did lots of things! But thanks for this, no harm in refreshing the mind about such things. x