Monday 28 February 2011

Point of View

Regular readers know that I’m currently busy with an on-line Creative Writing Course, presented by author Jo-Anne Richards and script-writer Richard Beynon. I’ve reached the half-way mark in the course—Module 5—and am finding the course challenging, interesting and, most importantly, practical.

My favourite module so far? It’s hard to choose as each module brings something new to the table and I still have more to come. But the module I’ve learnt the most from is Module 4, which deals with POINT OF VIEW (POV).

Any writer knows there are three narrative points of view: first person, second person and third person.

First person is when the author writes from the character’s perspective. “I went down to the sea today and...” The only details available for the author to use are those from the ‘I’ character’s perspective. Anything the character himself cannot see, smell, hear, touch or know is out of bounds.

Second person creates the illusion that the reader is a character in the story by having the narrator directly address him. “You went down to the sea today and ...” This is an uncommon form and a difficult one to manage successfully.

Third person narration has an objective narrator tell the story using the pronouns he/she/it/they. “She went down to the sea today and…” The perspective can be either omniscient (where the narrator knows everything there is to know, including that which the character doesn’t know) or limited/attached (where the perspective is attached to one character and limited to that one character’s perceptions).

If all writers know at least the basics about POV techniques, why did I find this module so useful? Because as Jo-Anne Richards, my supervisor for this module, points out, it’s a difficult, but vital, skill to master and even the most astute writers often err when using different POV techniques.

Below are two excerpts from the assignment I completed at the end of this module. The brief was to write about an incident in a child’s life in third person attached from the child’s POV. You’ll see from Jo-Anne’s comments in red just how easy it is to slip out of a character’s authentic POV. 

EXCERPT 1:  Soft. Fluffy. Ma said if she could catch it, she could hold it. Lovely. With, at first, nervous steps, then with an eager rush, she chased the rabbit. The strange chortle of laughter, Be a little careful of what she notices here – and vocab and voice. Small children are the very hardest perspective characters (in either first or third person) that always seemed to catch in the back of her throat and come out like a snort, burst from her as she ran around the garden after the pet.

I wrote about a real-life
incident involving a
disabled child and her bunny.
Would she refer to the rabbit as “the pet”? Sounds a little removed from her, closer to an observing narrator. How old is this child? I don’t think you’ve quite captured her voice and style of thinking. It’s really just a matter of a few words, so don’t despair.

 EXCERPT 2: It hopped here, past her feet. Then it hopped there, under the bush Ma was so proud of, the one with the purple flowers that Ma dried and she crushed, so that Ma could sew them into little cushions to put in her clothes drawers. Lovely. Perfect. The sun, hot and burning, brought a faint sheen of sweat on her forehead. Oh no, now this won’t really work. A small child wouldn’t notice a “faint sheen of sweat”. She might notice that her head felt a bit wet.

I hope you’ve learned as much from these examples as I learnt from the assignment. In the writing I’ve done since completing this module, I find myself more aware of POV. I’m becoming better at catching myself when I unconsciously slip out of POV. And I can already see the improvement in my writing, which is what makes this Creative Writing Course so useful!

Free Image from ClipArt


Bish Denham said...

Boy! You are lucky to be taking this class! POV is hard!

Damaria Senne said...

Thanks for sharing I'm going to bookmark this and reread it when I'm unsure of my POV. When I tell a story, I tend to start out with first person POV and still struggle with third person. I've never used second person POV.

CA Heaven said...

Great examples, with your text and the supervisors comments.

Personally, I prefer to write 3rd person, as a like to keep some distance to the protagonist. 1st person fells more like diary to me >:)

Cold As Heaven

Glynis Jolly said...

My first draft is usually full of POV mistakes. My daughter told me that she was adviced to write in 1st person until most other changes are made and then go into 3rd person. I think I'm going to take this advice to make writing a little more flowing while I'm in process.

Frances Garrood said...

As someone else said, I think you are fortunate to have this tutor. What she says seems spot on,and constructive,too. I love first person beecause the point of view is straightforward even if the "voice" can cause problems! I have often read novels where the POV suddenly switched, and wondered how they author got away with it!

Marilyn Brant said...

This sounds like a really wonderful and helpful course, Judy! I find POV to be one of the most fascinating elements of a story -- thank you for sharing your writing examples with us. ;)

Claire Robyns said...

Thanks for sharing this, Judy. Never thought about the fact that POV is more than just he/she/I/you but it's really about staying true to the character whose POV you're in

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

I’m back from holiday! Did you miss me? From all the unanswered comments I can see that I’ve been away too long.

BISH: POV is hard, but this course has made it a lot easier for me.

DAMARIA: I’ve never been able to face using second person either. This week I read my first ever story written in second person. Wow. It was intense. But it must have been very difficult to write.

COLD: Glad you enjoyed the comments. If you want the whole exercise then email me off list and I’ll send you the whole story with the supervisor’s comments. I prefer 1st person POV; 3rd always feels as if there’s a distance between me and my characters, I can’t get deep enough into them. I write it, but am mostly unhappy with those scenes/stories.

GLYNIS: My first draft is usually full of mistakes. Period. Interesting idea to write a draft in one POV and then change it. I wonder how difficult it would be to make sure that the POV is consistent in the second draft?

FRANCES: My tutor is excellent. She is very constructive and knows her stuff (she is a well-regarded multi-pubbed author in South Africa). I love POV, but in my e-book that I’ll be self-publishing soon (more on blog later) I’ve use a multi POV (three women) Two were in first person, and one in third, but I kept them separate by keeping each chapter in one character’s POV.

MARILYN: POV is a fascinating and complex writing skill. So easy to slip out of the correct POV.

CLAIRE: Absolutely! If one can maintain a character’s integrity, then the POV is probably correct.