Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: POV

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 5.35.06 PM
This is my Upside-Down-Face

P.O.V. is a word that throws many new authors into panic. What is THAT? Prisoners of Vietnam? Pets of Vegans? Pals of Viagra? P.O.V. stands for Point of View. Traditionally, I’ve not included this lesson in my teachings on structure, but I am amending that since P.O.V. will affect structure.

The structure of a novel written in first person is very different than a novel using multiple third-person P.O.V. characters. Scenes will need a different kind of balancing, so choosing a P.O.V. should not be taken lightly. Yes, often choice of P.O.V. will come from author voice, but not always. Sometimes genre might influence our decisions as well.

Thus, today, we are going to whiz through Kristen’s P.O.V. Spark Notes.

***Just a quick reminder though. Comment over at my new Dojo Diva blog and there is a separate contest for comments with better odds of winning my 20 page critique. We are talking about How to Be the Sheepdog. Not a wolf, not a sheep, but a sheepdog. Moving on….

Anyway…

We ALL know writing a novel is FAR from easy. We just make it look that way 😉 .

Today, I’m putting on my editor’s hat. Many of you decided to become writers because you love to write. Duh. I’ll even bet most of you, back when you were in school, also made very good grades in English. Thus, you might assume that you naturally know how to write a novel that is fit for successful publication.

Maybe you do. But, if you are anything like me when I started out? You might not know as much as you think you do.

Why?

Our high school English teacher didn’t care that we used 15 metaphors on one page. Why? Her goal was to teach us how to properly use a metaphor…NOT to prepare us for a career in commercial fiction. Same with college.

The single largest mistake I see in new manuscripts is the author does not understand P.O.V. and often this is why agents and people like me only need a page or two to know the manuscript/writer isn’t ready to publish.

This is an easy mistake to make, in that, as I stated earlier, formal education classes aren’t neccessarily there to teach us how to be great novelists. Some writers pick up on P.O.V. intuitively, but most of us need to be taught, lest we leave the reader feeling as if she is being held hostage on Hell’s Tilt-A-Whirl.

P.O.V. Prostitution (A.K.A. Head-Hopping)

Let’s step back in time to the days before we all made the decision to become writers. I would guess (hope) all of us were readers. We loved books, and books were a large part of what prompted our career choice. Ask yourself the following questions:

Have you ever tried to read a book, but eventually had to put it down because it was too confusing? You couldn’t figure out who was doing what, and you needed Dramamine to keep up with the perspectives?

Have you ever read a story that was so good you actually felt as if you had taken on the character’s skin? His success was yours, as was his failure. By the final page, you were sad to say good-bye?

P.O.V. used properly can create entire worlds, and breathe life into characters. Used improperly, it can make your reader feel like she’s been bungee-corded to Satan’s Merry-Go-Round—not good.

First, we have to know what P.O.V. is if we hope to use it to our advantage.

P.O.V. stands for Point of View.

Although this literary device is one of the most vital tools an author possesses, it is probably the number one style problem I encounter as an editor. I cannot count how many new writers (and, sadly, some not-so-new writers) give me a blank stare when I write P.O.V. in big red letters all over their manuscripts (and H.H., but we’ll get to that later).

The best way to describe point of view is to think of your story as viewed through the lens of the video camera. How many people (characters) are going to be permitted to hold that camera?

Image courtesy of Jon Gosier, via Flickr Creative Commons
Image courtesy of Jon Gosier, via Flickr Creative Commons

Is your camera going to travel with one main character through the entire story? Or, do others get a turn? Is “God” holding the camera? These are simple questions you can answer to help you select the point of view perfect for your story.

There is no wrong P.O.V., but we do have to be consistent. P.O.V. is a HUGE factor in determining our writing voice.

What are the types of P.O.V.? What are their inherent weaknesses and strengths? For the record, this is HIGHLY redacted for the sake of time.

A quick overview:

First-Person P.O.V—uses “I” a lot. Only one character (the narrator) has the camera.

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There are three disadvantages to this P.O.V.

1. This P.O.V uses a lot of “I” which can become repetitive to the point of distraction.

2. The reader can only see and hear what the narrator knows. This limits the flow of information. Probably good for a mystery, but if you aren’t writing a mystery this may not be the right P.O.V for you.

3. First-Person P.O.V is a bugger when it comes to tense. Why? Because First-Person breaks into two camps.

There is the I Remember When camp and the Come Along with Me camp.

One is in past tense, a recollection. “I remember the day my father and I were attacked by a pack of Mary Kay ladies gone feral….”

The other is in present tense, and the reader is along for the ride. “I walk these streets every morning, but today I am just waiting for something to go wrong….”

Note of Caution: It is extremely easy to mix the two camps together. Tense can be problematic…okay, a nightmare.

The benefit of First-Person? First-person P.O.V. adds an intimacy that no other P.O.V. can, and is useful for stories where we might want to withhold information from the reader.

Third-Person P.O.V—is when you, the writer, permit one or more of the characters to lug the camera through your story.

Third Person Locked allows only one character access to the camera. The entire story is told through what that particular character can experience through the 5 Senses. So, if your character’s eyes are “shining with love,” then she’d best be holding a mirror, or you are guilty of head-hopping.

Third Person Shifting allows more than one character access to the camera. Here’s the rub. Your characters must to play nice and take turns. Only one character with the camera at a time. When the next character wants a turn, there has to be a clear cut.

Think of the director’s clapboard ending one scene before shifting to the next. It is usually a good idea to limit one P.O.V. per scene. When we switch perspectives inside the same scene, that is called head-hopping, and it will confuse and frustrate our readers.

There are advantages to Third-Person Shifting:

1. It can add additional depth and insight to your story.

2. It can allow you (the writer) to hold back information and add to suspense.

3. Third-Person Shifting can allow other characters to take over during emotionally volatile points in the story.

For instance, if your protagonist walks in on her brother lying dead in a pool of blood, the emotions experienced are realistically too overwhelming to be properly articulated by your protagonist. In this scenario, First-Person P.O.V might not be the best fit. The scene might be more powerful if told from someone watching this protagonist react to discovering a deceased loved one.

Ah, but there are also inherent problems with Third-Person Shifting.

1. Your characters must play nice and take turns. Otherwise, your reader will likely become confused and eventually frustrated.

2. It is best to permit camera access to key characters only. The reader has to stay in one head long enough to feel connected. Too many perspectives can easily become overwhelming and dilute the strength of your characters.

Omniscient P.O.V is when “God” gets to hold the camera.

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Oh stop mucking it up and give Me the camera…

This P.O.V is like placing your camera up high over all of the action. The narrator is omnipresent and omniscient. “If Joe had only known who was waiting for him outside, he would have never left for that pack of cigarettes.”

Joe cannot experience anything beyond the 5 Senses (third-person). So, unless Joe is actually Superman and possesses X-Ray vision, it takes an omniscient presence to tell us someone bad is lurking outside waiting to do Joe harm.

There are advantages to Omniscient P.O.V.

1. Omniscient can relay information that would be far too overwhelming to describe if limited to the 5 Senses. Epic battle scenes are a good example.

2. Omniscient can give information critical to the story that the character doesn’t have to personally know. For instance, in NYTBSA Bob Mayer’s Area 51 Series (which I HIGHLY recommend), he relays a lot of factual and historical information that is critical to understanding the plot. But, it would really seem bizarre to the reader if his characters just started spouting off the history of the pyramids like an Egyptologist.

To avoid this jarring scenario, Bob used an omniscient presence to relay the information so the prose would remain remain nice and smooth and the fictive dream could stay in tact.

There are disadvantages to Omniscient P.O.V.

1. Third-Person P.O.V. and Omniscient P.O.V. are VERY easy to tangle together.

2. Omniscient P.O.V. and Head-Hopping are not the same, but are easy to confuse. I’ve edited many writers who believed they were employing Omniscient P.O.V. In reality, they were just letting every character in the book fight over the camera simultaneously, leaving me (the editor) feeling like I was trapped in the Blair Witch Project.

Proper use of P.O.V. takes a lot of practice to master. It is very easy to shift from one type of P.O.V. to another, or what I like to call “P.O.V. Prostitution” or “Head-Hopping.”

Key Points to Remember:

In First-Person—Come Along with Me stories can easily turn into I Remember When stories (or vice versa). Tense is a big red flag. Do you shift from present to past or past to present? Pay close attention to verbs.

In Third-Person (Locked & Shifting)—Characters will only play nice and take turns if you, the writer, force them to. Make sure whatever is happening in a scene is something that could be filtered through ONE character’s 5 Senses.

In Third-Person (Locked & Shifting) —“God” is really bad about grabbing your character’s camera, so keep an eye on Him. If there is suddenly information your character has no way of knowing through the 5 Senses, that is a big clue the Big Guy snagged your camera. Just remind Him nicely of commandment number eight, and ask Him to give the camera back.

In Omniscient—“God” is in charge. Be careful your wide-lens isn’t zooming in and out and making your reader dizzy in the process.

P.O.V. is one more reason it is critical for writers to read if they hope to become great authors. Read, read, read. Read all kinds of books by all kinds of authors using different P.O.V.s to see how it is done well.

EXAMPLES:

Veronica Roth brilliantly employs the first-person Come Along With Me in her Divergent trilogy. Her choice of P.O.V. gives an intimate feel no other P.O.V. can, and, since it isn’t an I Remember When story, Roth is able to maintain reader suspense.

Stephen King does a great job of using first-person in an I Remember When style in The Green Mile. King chose this P.O.V. for a very specific reason, which I will not say so as not to spoil the ending even though y’all have had like, TWENTY YEARS to read it.

Dennis Lehane does an amazing job of employing omniscient in Mystic River. If you think you might want to use omniscient, I’d recommend reading him.

James Rollins uses third-person shifting very well in The Doomsday Key. Third-shifting is generally a great P.O.V. for thrillers in that it helps manage/reveal a lot of information that the protag may or may not know.

I would recommend Jonathan Maberry’s Patient Zero: Joe Ledger Series.  I HIGHLY recommend Iron River by T. Jefferson Parker. Both these authors mixed third-limited and first-person and the effect is impressive.

P.O.V. when used properly can take a story to a whole new level. Read, experiment and practice. I know I just touched on a handful of suggestions, so feel free to add your thoughts, expound, ask questions.

Also, if you want to meet me and author and Hollywood TV/Film Producer Joel Eisenberg, we will be in Boaz, Alabama on June 15th. Joel will be doing a workshop called, “Catching Your Muse: How to Claim Your Artistic Spirit” and I will be there to help any of your social media angsts. We can also plot global domination using a weaponized Bedazzlers and trained hamsters….so REGISTER HERE.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JUNE, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Remember, for MORE chances to win and better ODDS, also comment over at Dojo Diva. I am blogging for my home dojo and it will help the blog gain traction.

Both winners will be announced next blog. We just came in from assessing flood damage at our ranch and I haven’t had a chance to tally the winner. So stay tuned!

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

Orignal image via Wikimedia Commons
Orignal image via Wikimedia Commons

For the past several years, I’ve always begun the New Year with predictions of what the publishing industry would or wouldn’t do in the year to come. But this year? I’m being a rule-breaker and taking a different perspective—one I believe has greater impact and longevity. Algorithms rise and fizzle, publishers go out of business, change paths, or change rules. Heck, Amazon changes its mind more than my mother trying to pick a restaurant. So…eh. Not going there this year.

Unlike the days of early artists, we live in a light-speed society where something can fall flat or catch fire in an instant. This is an exciting time to be a writer.

We are in a New Age of the Artisan. When I give advice to young people about a future career, I simply want them to ask these simple questions. Can what I do be outsourced to a low-wage worker in another country? Can it be broken down into a procedure/manual and reproduced? Can it be done by a computer? Can I do/produce something consumers WANT that ONLY I can do, and do it really well?

I believe the future belongs to the artists and the rebels.

So….

Breaking rules. We all want to do it and, to be blunt, we should. I’ve dedicated most of the craft posts on this blog to teaching fundamentals, why they are important. If we don’t understand the rules, then we aren’t taking our profession seriously.

We can be Rebels with a Cause or Rebels Without a Clue 😉 .

First, to be a really GOOD rebel, it helps to study successful rebellions of the past. This is all highly redacted because this is a BLOG, but I hope it will educate and inspire you…

The Old Way

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

In the era before the Impressionist artists we now adore so much, artists could only live (survive) by being commissioned by wealthy patrons. Unlike today, paintings and images were extraordinarily rare. A human could live out an entire lifetime without ever seeing a painting.

Most regular people only saw paintings/images in churches or cathedrals. Visual art was planted almost exclusively within the realms of royalty and the very wealthy.

Thus, if an artist wanted to be PAID, he would paint what consumers wanted. Portraits were super popular (since Selflies hadn’t yet been invented). Artists would paint grand horses, breathtaking and realistic landscapes, religious pieces, etc. Why? Because YES it was art, but it was art that made money.

The Impressionists who are now so famous were actually very revolutionary, and at times? Extremely unpopular, ridiculed, and destitute. Though classically trained under the masters of the time, they wanted something fresh…different.

Thus, artists like Monet, Renoir, etc.  began playing with color and light. Instead of something so realistic it might be a vision witnessed in person, they sought the haze of unreality, perhaps the look of lilies floating on water in a dream instead of life.

Another CRAZY notion these rabble-rousers had was to paint things that were very ordinary—women washing clothes in a river, landscapes of the docks with ships unloading wares, a peasant girl guiding geese along a path.

THE HORROR! Who would want to look at these fuzzy images of peasants and docks and REGULAR PEOPLE?

Manet 1874 via Wikimedia Commons
Manet 1874 via Wikimedia Commons

Well, apparently a lot of people, just not immediately.

Artists back then aren’t so different than today. If we want a “surer” bet for making money? We write what people want. The trick, though (especially for The Digital Age Author) is to write what people don’t yet KNOW they want.

We’ll talk more about that later.

Learning “Rules”

Picasso painted in the accepted classical style before he reinvented art as people knew it (and if one studies his work, it is clear he built in Impressionism and Post-Impressionism).

Hemingway learned how to write the “accepted” way (journalism) before he harnessed his training as a reporter and used it to strip fiction down to the bare form he’s now renowned for.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Elvis sang in church before becoming the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Even Ludvig Von Beethoven broke rules. He continued to maintain the basic Classical traditions of form yet he infused much more melody, rhythm and harmony, thus stretching the musical “vocabulary” of competing composers of the time.

The point I’m making here is READ. Read craft books. Understand the basics and fundamentals so much they are a part of you, then? Have some fun. Break some rules.

We Take Rule-Breaking for Granted

Writing Forms and POV

The novels we now enjoy DID NOT exist until roughly the 18th century. Even then, we wouldn’t particularly recognize them or like them. But, then again, storytelling has been evolving for thousands of years.

Stories were originally communal story-telling, expressed around a campfire, committed to memory or a cave painting, and handed down orally.

Image via Wikimedia Commons
Image via Wikimedia Commons

Later, humanity experienced the rise of the epic poem (works like The Odyssey or even Beowulf). Fast-forward and lots of religious writing, including works like Paradise Lost or Dante’s Inferno. 

Then we see an explosion of poetry, plays and the invention of sonnets (an Italian guy named Pertrarch) then later that version of the sonnet reinvented into the Shakespearian Sonnet, which includes three quatrains (set of four lines, every second line rhymes) and a closing couplet (set of two rhyming lines).

Shakespeare, that rebel.

But each generation learned what was HOT during their time, then built their own visions atop the old. Pamphlets, shorts, and serials were actually the precursors to the novel (think Sherlock Holmes).

If one reads early novels, psychic distance was VERY…distant. Almost everything was written in omniscient POV. In my opinion, this was reflective of the age. People didn’t travel. They waited months for letters. News of a war came often after the war was over and the dead buried. It took months or years to travel to distant places, and the world was very disconnected.

This is why many early novels are guided by a God-like narrator.

Come with me, Dear Reader….
Come with me, Dear Reader….

Also, since many writers were paid by the word, novels were padded more than a freshman term paper (War and Peace). There was LENGTHY and tedious description because it was necessary. People didn’t have the kind of access to information we now take for granted.

People who had enough education to read and enough money for books also had A LOT more free time.

LONGER=BETTER

Additionally, the Image Revolution (brought about by the invention of film and photography) had yet to happen. Unless one spent a hundred pages describing a whale, no one (aside from those living on the coast) would know what the heck the writer was talking about.

This is also why we see authors like Mark Twain writing some characters’ dialogue in pure vernacular. Someone in England would have no clue what someone from Mississippi sounded like.

During the Industrial Revolution, we had an explosion of technology. Photographs, newspapers, telegraphs, trains, steamships, etc. connected humans more than ever, thus writers once again broke and rewrote rules. They began closing the psychic distance and leaving out now-common details.

In the 1800s third-person shifting hadn’t yet evolved. It wasn’t until radio, film, and later television accustomed audiences to shifting scenes that we see can the distinctive rise of third-person. First-person also became far more popular.

Because humans were more connected and closer, they wanted to be CLOSER to characters as well.

Writers like Hemingway stripped away the excess down to only necessary words. He broke rules of overwriting, believing that all the “superfluous” details took away from the essential human story.

As we progress into the 20th century, we see the rise of close-third. Today, close-third and first-person are very popular. Why? We are a Reality TV Generation. We’re spoiled with intimacy. Omniscient would feel alien and cold to many of us.

Breaking Rules of Genre

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All early sci-fi, gothic, fantasy writers broke the rules of what people wanted to read. Like painters who no longer wanted to create works of reality, these authors dove into unreality. Jules Verne, Mary Shelley, Tolkien? All rule-breakers.

Genre, to be blunt, was invented by those who sold books. When physical books started appearing in bookSTORES, book SELLERS needed a way to know where the heck to shelve a story to help potential customers locate what they might want to read.

Genre was also highly political.

Horror was a VERY popular genre until the slasher films and gore-porn of the late 1970s and then the 1980s tainted the entire genre. Then we began to see horror “disappear” and labeled under other “genres.” “Supernatural” for instance.

****But, as an aside, gore-porn like Texas Chainsaw Massacre also broke rules. We were a nation reeling from Vietnam. The rules of horror before had been, “Wait until daylight and you’re safe.” TCM threw that away. We were NEVER safe EVER.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Speaking of breaking rules, I bet this is the first blog you’ve read that talks about Beethoven, Renoir, Hemingway AND Texas Chainsaw Massacre. 😀

Moving on…

What to Do With The Digital Age

In The Digital Age, humans consume more information in a week than our early ancestors did in a lifetime. We are connected globally 24-7. We’re exposed to all kinds of ideas, information, myths, cultures, subcultures, etc.

Image via Pink's Galaxy Flickr Creative Commons
Image via Pink’s Galaxy Flickr Creative Commons

Strict genre is blurring as brick-and-mortar stores give way to digital bookshelves. Writers also have access to new audiences and emerging markets.

When we study the works of artists of before and even today, we can see areas where we might try something new. Since we are no longer chained to making it through Gatekeepers of NYC? We have a lot more freedom to be artists.

Now, I will say that breaking rules, while fun, has a price. People might not “get” it for a while. We need tough skin. We also need to make sure we are being artists and not amateurs. All art still has structural rules that need to be followed to maintain integrity. Rules are meant to be a foundation, not a straight-jacket.

For instance, architecture is art, but it must merge with rules of engineering or all we’re left with are pretty but deadly bridges, injuries, lawsuits, mold problems, and leaky, unsafe roofs.

The roof of Daniel Libeskind’s Westside Shopping Center in Bern, Switzerland has collapsed twice since its completion in 2008, the second failure injuring three people and narrowly missing a small child (refer to hyperlink)...
The roof of Daniel Libeskind’s Westside Shopping Center in Bern, Switzerland has collapsed twice since its completion in 2008, the second failure injuring three people and narrowly missing a small child (refer to above hyperlink)…

Aesthetics are fabulous, but architects are commissioned to build a bridge that cars can safely traverse…not a billion-dollar sculpture. As writers, we produce books, so we must still have a story or we don’t have a book.

Next time, we’ll explore some more contemporary rebels and maybe even brainstorm some ideas about how we can reshape our art and bring fresh new ideas to our readers. We’ll even talk about the writing business, because business must also be creative and evolve or it will die.

Remember, if artists HADN’T broken rules, we’d all still be memorizing stories and painting on cave walls 😉 .

What are your thoughts? What “artistic” rebels do you admire and why? Do you like it when a writer defies conventions and surprises you? What are some artistic ideas that have fallen flat and why? Did they confuse you? Bore you? Deviate too far? The ones you liked, what was different that intrigued you?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JANUARY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

I will announce December’s winner later (probably next blog) when I have had some SLEEP.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

Geiko Caveman.
Geiko Caveman.

Monday, we talked about the Three Acts of a Writer’s Journey. The first hint we might be tipping into The Apprentice Phase is we hear the word P.O.V. and panic. What is THAT? Prisoners of Vietnam? Pets of Vegans? Pals of Viagra?

We ALL know writing a novel is FAR from easy. We just make it look that way 😉 .

Today, I’m putting on my editor’s hat. Many of you decided to become writers because you love to write. Duh. I’ll even bet most of you, back when you were in school, also made very good grades in English. Thus, you might assume that you naturally know how to write a novel that is fit for successful publication.

Maybe you do. But, if you are anything like me when I started out? You might not know as much as you think you do.

Why?

Our high school English teacher didn’t care that we used 15 metaphors on one page. Why? Her goal was to teach us how to properly use a metaphor…NOT to prepare us for a career in commercial fiction. Same with college.

The single largest mistake I see in new manuscripts is the author does not understand P.O.V. and often this is why agents and people like me only need a page or two to know the manuscript/writer isn’t ready to publish.

This is an easy mistake to make, in that, as I stated earlier, formal education classes aren’t neccessarily there to teach us how to be great novelists. Some writers pick up on P.O.V. intuitively, but most of us need to be taught, lest we leave the reader feeling as if she is being held hostage on Hell’s Tilt-A-Whirl.

P.O.V. Prostitution (A.K.A. Head-Hopping)

Let’s step back in time to the days before we all made the decision to become writers. I would guess (hope) all of us were readers. We loved books, and books were a large part of what prompted our career choice. Ask yourself the following questions:

Have you ever tried to read a book, but eventually had to put it down because it was too confusing? You couldn’t figure out who was doing what, and you needed Dramamine to keep up with the perspectives?

Have you ever read a story that was so good you actually felt as if you had taken on the character’s skin? His success was yours, as was his failure. By the final page, you were sad to say good-bye?

P.O.V. used properly can create entire worlds, and breathe life into characters. Used improperly, it can make your reader feel like she’s been bungee-corded to Satan’s Merry-Go-Round—not good.

First, we have to know what P.O.V. is if we hope to use it to our advantage.

P.O.V. stands for Point of View.

Although this literary device is one of the most vital tools an author possesses, it is probably the number one style problem I encounter as an editor. I cannot count how many new writers (and, sadly, some not-so-new writers) give me a blank stare when I write P.O.V. in big red letters all over their manuscripts (and H.H., but we’ll get to that later).

The best way to describe point of view is to think of your story as viewed through the lens of the video camera. How many people (characters) are going to be permitted to hold that camera?

Image courtesy of Jon Gosier, via Flickr Creative Commons
Image courtesy of Jon Gosier, via Flickr Creative Commons

Is your camera going to travel with one main character through the entire story? Or, do others get a turn? Is “God” holding the camera? These are simple questions you can answer to help you select the point of view perfect for your story.

There is no wrong P.O.V., but we do have to be consistent. P.O.V. is a HUGE factor in determining our writing voice.

What are the types of P.O.V.? What are their inherent weaknesses and strengths? For the record, this is HIGHLY redacted for the sake of time.

A quick overview:

First-Person P.O.V—uses “I” a lot. Only one character (the narrator) has the camera.

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 7.35.04 AM

There are three disadvantages to this P.O.V.

1. This P.O.V uses a lot of “I” which can become repetitive to the point of distraction.

2. The reader can only see and hear what the narrator knows. This limits the flow of information. Probably good for a mystery, but if you aren’t writing a mystery this may not be the right P.O.V for you.

3. First-Person P.O.V is a bugger when it comes to tense. Why? Because First-Person breaks into two camps.

There is the I Remember When camp and the Come Along with Me camp.

One is in past tense, a recollection. “I remember the day my father and I were attacked by a pack of Mary Kay ladies gone feral….”

The other is in present tense, and the reader is along for the ride. “I walk these streets every morning, but today I am just waiting for something to go wrong….”

Note of Caution: It is extremely easy to mix the two camps together. Tense can be problematic…okay, a nightmare.

The benefit of First-Person? First-person P.O.V. adds an intimacy that no other P.O.V. can, and is useful for stories where we might want to withhold information from the reader.

Third-Person P.O.V—is when you, the writer, permit one or more of the characters to lug the camera through your story.

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 7.39.44 AM
Um…YES.

Third Person Locked allows only one character access to the camera. The entire story is told through what that particular character can experience through the 5 Senses. So, if your character’s eyes are “shining with love,” then she’d best be holding a mirror, or you are guilty of head-hopping.

Third Person Shifting allows more than one character access to the camera. Here’s the rub. Your characters must to play nice and take turns. Only one character with the camera at a time. When the next character wants a turn, there has to be a clear cut.

Think of the director’s clapboard ending one scene before shifting to the next. It is usually a good idea to limit one P.O.V. per scene. When we switch perspectives inside the same scene, that is called head-hopping, and it will confuse and frustrate our readers.

There are advantages to Third-Person Shifting:

1. It can add additional depth and insight to your story.

2. It can allow you (the writer) to hold back information and add to suspense.

3. Third-Person Shifting can allow other characters to take over during emotionally volatile points in the story.

For instance, if your protagonist walks in on her brother lying dead in a pool of blood, the emotions experienced are realistically too overwhelming to be properly articulated by your protagonist. In this scenario, First-Person P.O.V might not be the best fit. The scene might be more powerful if told from someone watching this protagonist react to discovering a deceased loved one.

Ah, but there are also inherent problems with Third-Person Shifting.

1. Your characters must play nice and take turns. Otherwise, your reader will likely become confused and eventually frustrated.

2. It is best to permit camera access to key characters only. The reader has to stay in one head long enough to feel connected. Too many perspectives can easily become overwhelming and dilute the strength of your characters.

Omniscient P.O.V is when “God” gets to hold the camera.

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 7.33.18 AM
Oh stop mucking it up and give Me the camera…

This P.O.V is like placing your camera up high over all of the action. The narrator is omnipresent and omniscient. “If Joe had only known who was waiting for him outside, he would have never left for that pack of cigarettes.”

Joe cannot experience anything beyond the 5 Senses (third-person). So, unless Joe is actually Superman and possesses X-Ray vision, it takes an omniscient presence to tell us someone bad is lurking outside waiting to do Joe harm.

There are advantages to Omniscient P.O.V.

1. Omniscient can relay information that would be far too overwhelming to describe if limited to the 5 Senses. Epic battle scenes are a good example.

2. Omniscient can give information critical to the story that the character doesn’t have to personally know. For instance, in NYTBSA Bob Mayer’s Area 51 Series (which I HIGHLY recommend), he relays a lot of factual and historical information that is critical to understanding the plot. But, it would really seem bizarre to the reader if his characters just started spouting off the history of the pyramids like an Egyptologist.

To avoid this jarring scenario, Bob used an omniscient presence to relay the information so the prose would remain remain nice and smooth and the fictive dream could stay in tact.

There are disadvantages to Omniscient P.O.V.

1. Third-Person P.O.V. and Omniscient P.O.V. are VERY easy to tangle together.

2. Omniscient P.O.V. and Head-Hopping are not the same, but are easy to confuse. I’ve edited many writers who believed they were employing Omniscient P.O.V. In reality, they were just letting every character in the book fight over the camera simultaneously, leaving me (the editor) feeling like I was trapped in the Blair Witch Project.

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Whose head am I in? I can’t tell. Help meeeee…..

Proper use of P.O.V. takes a lot of practice to master. It is very easy to shift from one type of P.O.V. to another, or what I like to call “P.O.V. Prostitution” or “Head-Hopping.”

Key Points to Remember:

In First-Person—Come Along with Me stories can easily turn into I Remember When stories (or vice versa). Tense is a big red flag. Do you shift from present to past or past to present? Pay close attention to verbs.

In Third-Person (Locked & Shifting)—Characters will only play nice and take turns if you, the writer, force them to. Make sure whatever is happening in a scene is something that could be filtered through ONE character’s 5 Senses.

In Third-Person (Locked & Shifting) —“God” is really bad about grabbing your character’s camera, so keep an eye on Him. If there is suddenly information your character has no way of knowing through the 5 Senses, that is a big clue the Big Guy snagged your camera. Just remind Him nicely of commandment number eight, and ask Him to give the camera back.

In Omniscient—“God” is in charge. Be careful your wide-lens isn’t zooming in and out and making your reader dizzy in the process.

P.O.V. is one more reason it is critical for writers to read if they hope to become great authors. Read, read, read. Read all kinds of books by all kinds of authors using different P.O.V.s to see how it is done well.

EXAMPLES:

Suzanne Collins brilliantly employs First-Person in the Come Along with Me fashion in her Hunger Games Trilogy. Her choice of P.O.V. gives an intimate feel no other P.O.V. can, and, since it isn’t an I Remember When story, Collins is able to maintain reader suspense.

Stephen King does a great job of using first-person in an I Remember When style in The Green Mile. King chose this P.O.V. for a very specific reason, which I will not say so as not to spoil the ending even though y’all have had like, TWENTY YEARS to read it.

Dennis Lehane does an amazing job of employing omniscient in Mystic River. If you think you might want to use omniscient, I’d recommend reading him.

James Rollins uses third-person shifting very well in The Doomsday Key. Third-shifting is generally a great P.O.V. for thrillers in that it helps manage/reveal a lot of information that the protag may or may not know.

I would recommend Jonathan Maberry’s Patient Zero: Joe Ledger Series.  I HIGHLY recommend Iron River by T. Jefferson Parker. Both these authors mixed third-limited and first-person and the effect is impressive.

P.O.V. when used properly can take a story to a whole new level. Read, experiment and practice. I know I just touched on a handful of suggestions, so feel free to add your thoughts, expound, ask questions.

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