Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Word About Advice and Point of View

Remember that cliche about opinions: Everyone has one?

Here's another old saying: You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.

After reading the opening pages of a novel that I freelance edited--twice--I'm wondering where my advice went. Down some literary drain, I guess.

POV (point of view) is one of the simplest things to get right, yet one of the most difficult concepts to communicate.

Definition of POV: The story or scene is told from the point of view of one character in the scene--and ONLY from that person's perspective--or it is told from the point of view of an omniscient narrator (an objective imaginary individual who sees all and knows all, and communicates that to the reader).

For an example of third-person limited POV, check out the various Space Pirates episodes on this blog. All that fancy term third-person limited means is this: The reader is not jerked from character to character in a mind-hopping exercise, jumping first into one character's perspective and then into another character's thoughts, but is led through the scene (or the entire story) by one character, knowing, sensing, and experiencing only what that character does, and only as that character encounters it.

There is no telegraphing--"If only Johnny knew that his greatest enemy lurked in the shadows"--and there is no "Meanwhile, back at the ranch." The reader knows only what his guide (the character) knows.

I do not have eyes in the back of my head. Therefore, I cannot describe to you any actions occurring behind me, unless I can see them reflected in a mirror, a window, etcetera, or hear the noises or smell the odors associated with those actions.

Makes sense, right?

Then why do writers insist on sloppy craft, and have a character describe the expression on his own face? He can tell you that he's frowning, but unless he can see himself in a reflective surface, he cannot describe his own facial contortions.

He can't tell you what he looks like from the back or the side--or, to tell the truth, from the front. He lives in his own skin; he needs an outside source, a mirror or another person, to help him visualize that skin from more angles than he can see with a tilt of his head.

Anyway, I'm reading this published novel, and there are POV switches all over the place in a single scene. After several pages of being in the hero's perspective, we leap from his POV to his friends', back to his, and then into the sight of his enemy, way up in an apartment window, an enemy the hero doesn't even know is around, let alone watching.


Yes, I have a soapbox about POV. I'm a writer and an anal-retentive editor. POV switching is the mark of a lazy writer or an immature writer. Even the so-called greats wander into POV hell on occasion.

It didn't use to be a problem for me; nowdays, though, if the writer hasn't done the hard work and fixed the POV problem, I won't finish the book. Yep, it's that big a deal.


The Texican said...

I'll loan you my soapbox if you wear yours out. I feel no obligation to continue a book if it is so out of order. Keep preaching. Pappy


Thanks! If I step up on this one too many more times, the crate will break.

Anonymous said...

Describing how he looks to the reader, and then saying, "by the way, someone is watching me"? Gee, did it really get published?

willow said...

Gosh, hope there's not a lot of POV problems in my posts...yikes.

I like your new look, BTW! :)


Jade - The character didn't do that in the first person, but in the third. Awkward, awkward, awkward, regardless of the "person" in which it was described.

Willow - No worries! I rant about fiction, but I don't think I've ever been disturbed enough by anything in Blogland to go off on a spree about it. Fiction's my playground, and sometimes my battleground. I'm not the most laid-back person around!

Lavinia Ladyslipper said...

Tough taskmaster! I do, however, see your point of view, shall we say?


(laugh)I am, indeed, and yes, you may.