Thursday, March 19, 2015

Understanding POV by Terry Burns

I thought I understood it perfectly.

I had been writing a while and I couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. Point of view or POV was just the person that was talking, or thinking. Why were people always talking about POV violations?

Then someone mentioned POV as a camera and it suddenly made sense. Of course it was the person talking or thinking and if that person never changed there were no problems. It is when the viewpoint shifts that there can be problems, and they occur when it is done in such a way that the reader does not follow the transition.

"View it as a camera," I was told, as if the viewpoint character had a camera that was filming the scene. If we are going to start being privy to someone else's thoughts or.viewpoint that means the camera has changed. How do we let the reader know someone else now has the camera? Readers are accustomed to looking for such a POV shift when there is a section break and or a new chapter. We can't film with multiple cameras in the same scene, readers can't follow the transitions.

Nothing pushes a reader out of the story quite like getting lost in the POV changes. If they have to back up to figure out who is talking and whose thoughts they are privy to, chances are they'll just put it down. So how do we know whether a section break or a chapter is called for? There doesn't have to be a chapter change every time the POV changes. Readers are accustomed to scene breaks within a chapter if the setting or scene is continuing but we are becoming privy to the thoughts of a different character. Continuing the movie example I guess we could say a section break is a small change to give a different point of view, and a chapter break is a major blocking of cameras for a new setting or story shift.

Maybe you don't have a problem handling the various points of view in a story, but for me the visualization of the moving of the camera made it much clearer for me.


Jenny McLeod Carlisle said...

Thanks for this post, Terry. I need to reminded that just because I am clear on who is holding the camera doesn't mean the reader has followed along.

Linda Glaz said...

I especially dislike in a suspense when the author takes over the POV.
"And he had no way of knowing, this would be his last breath." Well, if he didn't know, then how can we still be in his POV? That just sends me over the edge. It is the author intruding on the character's POV. I probably dislike it because I wrote that way in the beginning.

Terry Burns said...

Good point, Linda, known as "author intrusion." We aren't supposed to talk directly to the reader in fiction, although it is all right in nonfiction. This is especially true in Christian fiction as such passages tend to be where an author gets "preachy." Even in nonfiction it is much better if we avoid the deadly "I" and instead opt for the more inclusive "we."