What’s Your Point of View?

jpcoverphotoWhen I wrote my debut novel, Into the Free, I never gave much thought to point-of-view; but as the words began to hit the page, they naturally fell into first-person narration.

First-person narration tells the story from the point-of-view of one character in a novel (usually the protagonist), and makes use of the words “I” and “me.” Critics point out that this style limits the perspective because it doesn’t allow readers to access other characters in the story. While this is a viable opinion, I argue that first-person allows the reader to gain even greater perspective by viewing the universe from the lens of that one character on a much more intimate level than anything an omniscient third-person narrator can provide. (We’ll leave second-person for another day.)

Yes, the view of other characters will be skewed by that one character’s interpretation of their actions, appearance, etc., but readers are granted full-access into the brain of that one narrating voice, even more so when that narrator is a trust-worthy character who isn’t deceiving us as we read. Essentially, we, as readers, are allowed to become that character. This enables us to enter that character’s world, interacting with the other characters, experiencing the events, and engaging at every sensory level throughout the story.

When an author delivers a story in first-person, we close the book feeling as if we have lived to tell the tale. This intrusive point-of-view makes the entire reading experience personal for us, moving it from the level of observation to participation. And because, by nature, the first-person perspective limits every scene to those in which the narrator is actively present (or his/her memory of such), we aren’t forced to pull back and watch something happening across space or time. We have no choice but to dive right into every single event of the story. We feel it, taste it, smell it, and react to it cognitively, emotionally, and instinctually.

As a reader, I have always enjoyed reading first-person narrations. Some of my favorite books were written using this point-of-view, and as a result, the narrators have become some of my favorite characters. Consider Scout in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, or Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, who tells us the tragic love story between Gatsby, Daisy, and Tom from his perspective.

Your turn: What point-of-view do you prefer to read? What do you prefer to write? Share some of your favorite examples, and introduce us to those characters who continue to stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.

Writing prompt: If you’re stuck in a scene, try writing it from another character’s point-of-view. What can you learn from seeing the event from a different perspective?

Four P’s in a Pod

Ever try to stab a pile of peas with a fork? Inevitably, a few green roly-polys fly off your plate and plummet to the floor. It’s a horrible way for a pea to go.

And even worse when it happens to one of your scenes.

Track with me here. You’re writing along la-de-dah-de-dah and wham! An invisible pitchfork skewers your brain, and the words go flying right out of your head. You have no idea what to write next. And the longer you sit there, the more you wonder if the words you’ve already written even have a point.

Don’t panic. Be proactive. Mind your P’s and…umm…P’s! Four of them to be exact: POV, Plan, Purpose, Page Turner. Try the following handy-dandy trick at the beginning of each scene to keep your writing on track.

POV (Point of View): This is the easiest P of all. Simply jot down from which character’s perspective your reader will experience the scene.

Plan: An architect needs a blueprint to construct a building that’s stable and functional. A writer needs one, too. This step is exactly what the label implies. Plan out the sequence of action for the scene, including setting and who’s involved.

Purpose: If your scene doesn’t have a purpose other than back story or description, then toss it out. A well told story is one that takes the reader by the hand and pulls them along, always moving forward.

Page Turner: a.k.a. Cliff Hanger. This doesn’t have to be a literal hero dangling by his hangnails from a ledge. Simply put, the goal of every scene, especially the last few sentences, is to leave the reader begging for more. Physical action is the most tangible way to accomplish this, but it doesn’t have to be. Emotional or spiritual conflicts are great ways to make a reader wonder what will happen as well.

Pulling It Together: At the beginning of each scene, simply satisfy each of these “P’s” before starting to write fresh copy. Here’s an example of how all this pulls together (taken from my current WIP):

POV: Nicholas Brentwood

Plan: Ballroom scene / Nicholas allows Emily to dance with Henley, though he doesn’t like it one bit / Shadwell asks Emily’s friend Bella to dance, but Bella says she’s already dancing with Nicholas / Nicholas is about to protest when he realizes not only will he be doing Bella a favor by saving her from dancing with Shadwell, but he’ll have a much better view of Emily on the dance floor himself / While out dancing, he loses sight of Emily and rushes out to look for her / He searches upstairs, downstairs, everywhere, but merely turns up Emily’s scare-rific ‘friend’ Millie, the one who’s been trying to snag him / he tries to evade her, until her parting words make him stop and turn around

Purpose: Hypes up Nicholas’s concern for Emily / Provides an opportunity for the next clue as to what happened to Mr. Payne

Page Turner: Millie’s parting words, “I know what happened to Mr. Payne.”

There you have it. It’s really that simple. By thinking through the four “P’s” ahead of time, words will roll right off your fingertips and appear on your screen, which technically crams one more P in the ol’ writing pod…

Productivity.

How will you use the four “P” technique this week in your writing? What other techniques do you have that keep the words flowing?