Saturday, April 4, 2009

Advice On Tactical Writing--POV

A good friend, Randy Ingermanson has given me permission to share this article with you on Point of View (POV) from his Advanced Fiction Writing blog. I believe that hearing information in a variety of ways helps an author learn even more. What one person says may not sink in, but when someone else says it, it makes sense. So I want to share this excellent information on one of the most difficult techniques to learn---using POV effectively.

Randy says:
Last month, I talked about the supreme importance of tactical writing. You can foul up the strategic and logistical aspects of your writing and you will survive. But if your tactical writing doesn't work, then you are in deep, deep trouble.

For the next few months, I'd like to talk more about tactical writing.

Tactical writing is about writing great scenes. The scene is the fundamental unit of fiction. If you can write a great scene, over and over again, then you can write a pretty good novel, even if the scenes don't actually hang together all that well.

Why is that? Because a scene is experienced RIGHT NOW. The previous scene was experienced a while ago and is no longer fresh in the reader's mind. The following scene hasn't been read yet.

So when your reader is experiencing your novel, whatever scene she is reading is the absolute most important scene to her. If that scene is good, then your reader believes the novel is good. If that scene stinks, then your reader believes the novel is skank.

The first thing you need to get right when writing a scene is this: Who is the viewpoint character?

Let me define what we mean by that.

You must choose one character that the reader will identify with throughout the entire scene. That character is called the viewpoint character (or sometimes the point-of-view character, often abbreviated POV character).

During the course of the scene, a major part of your goal is to persuade your reader that she IS the POV character.

That is no small trick. Your reader might be a rich, female, teenage Caucasian, while your POV character might be a poor, male, century-old Wookie. How are you going to persuade the reader that she IS the POV character?

More importantly, WHY would you want to do that?

The answer is simple. You want to give your reader a special kind of experience while reading. I call this experience a "Powerful Emotional Experience," and I have long been convinced that this is the main reason your reader reads.

To give your reader a Powerful Emotional Experience, you have to create an emotive context. That means getting inside one character to the exclusion of all others.

Why be exclusive? Why not let your reader share the experience with all the characters in the scene?

Because that's how people experience life. There are two kinds of people in the world -- you and everyone else. You experience yourself from inside your own skin, inside your eyes, inside your ears. You experience everyone else as outside your skin, outside
your eyes, outside your ears.

Your reader knows this perfectly well. When you insert your reader into your Storyworld, there is only one way to do so which will feel natural: Inserting your reader inside the skin and eyes and ears of exactly one of the characters.

The POV character will normally be a person. Rarely, it will be an animal. More rarely a plant. Even more rarely, an inanimate object.

Beginning writers often want to make their POV character some omniscient god-like person who sees into all minds. That's a mistake, because your reader is not omniscient. (I am willing to bet money on this.) Making your POV character omniscient will feel unnatural.

So why do some beginning writers want to use an omniscient point of view? Usually, it's because they have read a good novel that used omniscient POV. They assume the novel was good because it used omniscient POV. In reality, the novel was good EVEN THOUGH it used omniscient POV.

Some writers will even argue, "Charles Dickens wrote in omniscient POV, so I can too."

When someone takes this line with me, I sometimes say, "When you can write fiction one tenth as well as Charlie, then you can use omniscient POV." Which is a little unkind, but it's probably nicer than sticking a fork in their eye.

On days when I'm feeling a bit more patient, I observe that great writers of the past made many stupid mistakes, such as beating their wives, pickling their livers in alcohol, getting killed in duels, and using omniscient POV.

All of these are frowned on today.

Great writers of the past were great writers in spite of the mistakes they made, not because of them. It is widely agreed nowadays that the goal of the fiction writer is to make the reader identify with one particular character in each scene.
It's perfectly fine, of course, to make the reader identify with different characters in different scenes. Most modern novelists have several POV characters in each book, switching to a different one with each new scene.

That works very well. The only hazard is that if your scenes are too short, your reader will start feeling jerked around.

What doesn't work is "head-hopping" -- putting your reader inside the head of first one character, then another, then another, all within the same scene. Then the reader doesn't know whom to identify with.

Yes, there are some writers these days who still practice head-hopping. They get away with it because they are good storytellers whose strengths outweigh their weaknesses. But their editors wish they would stop.

It's a simple tactic -- choosing one POV character for each scene. Simple, yet powerful. All the other tactics we'll discuss in coming months depend on this one.

Permission is granted to use any of the articles in this e-zine in your own e-zine or web site from award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 13,500 readers, every month. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, and have FUN doing it, visit .

1 comment:

Bonnie Doran said...

I appreciated your quote from Randy. It helps me realize that scenes are foundational to fiction writing and something I need to pay more attention to.