“From a dog's point of view, his master is an elongated and abnormally cunning dog.”~Mabel L. Robinson
This quote only loosely illustrates our subject today, but it struck me as funny, so I’m sharing it.
If you’re a fiction writer, you’ve heard the term POV. It’s an acronym for point of view, which is shown through a story’s characters. Three basic points of view exist within the context of a narrative.
- First person – Story is told by the main character with words like I, me, and mine.
- Third person – Story is told from the perspective of the main character driving the scene. Short stories are typically told from the main character’s POV. Novels often utilize more than one character’s POV, though never within the same scene. (More about that in a moment.)
- Omniscient – Story is told from an all-knowing perspective. The author gives information the characters don’t know because events and/or their limited interaction with each other haven’t revealed the information yet. Sometimes authors slip into omniscient POV without intending to.
Here’s an omniscient example from Self-Editing for Fiction Writers:
“In small South Carolina towns, most houses are built in the shadow of tall trees. Each autumn, the children charged with the yard care curse the leaves that seem to multiply on their way to the ground…One such tree, a tall oak, stood in the front yard of the house Coral Blake rented from a man who had long ago moved his family north.”
Here’s the switch to third person from the same book:
“Coral Blaze mopped the gritty sweat out of her eyes and gazed up at the dusty green underside of the oak. The dog days of August had settled in, it seemed, and like most folks in Greeleyville, South Carolina, she took cover from the sun on her front porch under that grandfatherly tree. My, how she hated that tree in the autumn.”
The difference between the two scenes is stark. One is distant, omniscient. The other draws the reader into the story.
Recently, I read about a contemporary author whose latest book has mixed POV, meaning a switch between first and third person. I’ve not read the book, but it’s not the norm. It’s also not something you want to try as an unpublished author, or you’ll likely stay unpublished. Select your voice and stick with it.
However, the beauty and freedom of third person is you can change whose POV the reader will see. This must be done with scene changes.
When an author changes POV within a scene, that’s referred to as head-hopping, which is a no-no in the literary field. In the past, legendary writers like Larry McMurtry, author of the Lonesome Dove series, have utilized head-hopping and have done so effectively. Believe me, you and I are not in his league—yet. You might as well put a banner on the cover of your manuscript that says “newbie,” if you intend to try it to find out.
I used this scene in a previous post about tag lines. It also serves well to show POV.
“Have some juice.” John extended the orange juice pitcher.
Brenda didn’t want juice. In fact, she didn’t want to be sharing a table with someone who had betrayed her. Besides, she hated orange juice. And he knew it. Probably the reason he offered it. “No, thank you.”
John thumped the pitcher on the table, sloshing the juice over the top.
“Now you’ve done it.” Brenda reached for a dishtowel. “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a million times.”
“You’ve told me what?” John scowled over his forkful of eggs.
“Clumsy.” Brenda returned his scowl and picked up her fork. If she tried hard enough to ignore him, maybe he’d take the hint and disappear. For good.
The POV in this scene is obviously Brenda’s. As a writer, I can show John’s mood or nature without showing you his thoughts. I do this by his clumsiness, scowling, and apparent disregard for Brenda’s feelings. He doesn’t seem to have a clue as to what makes her tick. Yet, I’ve not revealed his thoughts. While we might assume John’s thoughts, he would be scene-stealing to interject them here. However, in another scene, I could switch POV, and we’d learn what he really thinks about Brenda.
A writer must guard against slipping into another character or omniscient POV. I mention the proofreading/revising stage of a manuscript almost weekly. This is another item to put on your checklist when proofreading.
If you have any questions or would like to comment about POV or another writing subject, please do so in the comment section below. I’d love to hear from you.