Today is Tuesday, February 5th. And as it’s a Tuesday, it’s time to have a little chat about writing technique. Gather around. (um, let me apologize ahead of time to you experienced writers for this…honestly, I’m sorry. You can skip the indented bits if you’d like. New writer…yes you, read below and try to figure out what’s wrong with this…other than being terrible)
I sighed. This was not the day to be talking about point of view. “It’s Tuesday for shits sake. I’ve got far too much to do today while Madeline locks herself in her office and plays solitaire.” I mumbled under my breath. Or I thought I did. My boss glared at me with contempt. She was so sick of my shitty attitude about Tuesdays and my opinion about her serious lack of work ethic. She paused and thought of the most wretched menial work to give to me. Then she thought about the trip she needed to book for her week off coming up. “I’ll get you my pretty, and your nice new manicure too.” She thought, playing her best Wicked Witch impression in her head.
You have filing to do, Betty. Go make yourself useful.
She grinned, quite satisfied with the punishment meted and walked back into her office.
I groaned. “Fucking Tuesday!”
Point of View. It can mean many things to many people but to writers, Point of View (POV) is the vehicle in which our thoughts are translated through characters and into the minds of readers. It IS our characters and how they interact in the world we’ve carefully crafted for them. It’s also the single most important item new writers must learn to manipulate or else flounder until they do.
I’ve critiqued stories for a wide range of writers, from fresh on the chopping block new to experienced authors with dozens of highly popular books under their belts. And what I see as one of the fundamental differences between new and old is how well POV is manipulated and applied to the characters. New writers (or the experienced “underdeveloped” authors who’ve taken a pot of gold up their arses) head hop like sons’ of bitches. They’re so inconsistent that the POV can change within each paragraph, and they have NO idea it’s happening. When confronted about it, more often than not, they’ll try one of two things: feign ignorance or claim an attempt at something clever. But no matter what their excuses might be, unless they’re really, really lucky (to the nth degree) their work will never make it out of the slush piles.
Experienced, professional authors are consistent in their POV. They do not head hop. They do not waver. They pick a POV that suits the story, that suits their characters and the situations in which they must move, and they stick with it.
The indented example above is something a new writer would typically think is writing gold. A job well done. There was tension. There was a character dynamic most of us face in the real life, so yeah…the reader will totally dig it. Right? Gawd, I hope not. The biggest problem (other than it being drastically horrid) is that it head hopped BIG TIME. It starts off in 1st POV, then abruptly transitioned into 3rd POV, and into 2nd, then back into 3rd, then back into 1st.
Hold on I need aspirin after that.
Most cases of head hopping isn’t quite that bad or that obvious. Most. But that doesn’t let the more subtle offenses off the hook. Even if you’re even a little inconsistent with your point of view, your readers, the submission editors, agents, and publishers WILL notice. and the later three will send your manuscripts to slush pile purgatory for it…forever.
I struggled with POV at first as most writers do. I ended up having to read quite a bit into it, fairly often and even subjected myself to exercises to get the concepts to stick in my head (as every writer should), and eventually I got it. The hardest bit to learn was the variations on 3rd person of course. First and second POVs were easy.
But, even after I understood the concepts of point of view, I couldn’t figure out why in the world it was such a struggle for me to learn it. Why does this seem like a hard lesson for most writers to get?
I have a theory. Naturally, we experience our existence in the first person point of view. We are privy to our own thoughts and feelings but can only guess at those of others. Thus we communicate: I went…I thought…I felt…it hurt me…I was so happy when… you get the point. We communicate with others in the second point of view: you do this, you file that, can you call, put on your pants one leg at a time, etc.
But as none of us actually have any experience what-so-ever as gods, we have not real experience in the minds, thoughts and feelings of others at the time in which events happen. Could this be why it’s so hard to learn to write with consistent POV at first? Because we have no actual experience what life would really be from this god-like perspective?
What do you think? What’s your perception on writing Point of View?
Thanks for reading through my ramblings. For being such a good doobie, I’ll leave you with this video of one of the songs I was listening to while writing this. Enjoy.
Bonus Question: How does this song relate to this article?