Here I was, learning all about plotting and theme and getting ready to write a post for you on theme and genres, and BAM! I up and stumble on Point of View types (POVs from here on) and realize my theme post has to wait. Worse. I realize I might've done terrible POV shifts in the current draft of TUBE (never mind my other books, I'm not even going to think about that) which are unforgivable and need to be fixed, and it goes even worse from here. I'm not entirely sure about how to fix them as this new concept of POVs and their importance has not been fully absorbed into my brain. Gah! So I'm scrambling to understand the difference and the nuances of different POVs, as well as what final POV I want to choose for TUBE.
But more on that later.
I'll go ahead and outline what I grasped from reading Ursula K. Le Guin's wonderful book Steering the Craft (which you all must read), and then mull over what I should do with TUBE ( and why).
1. FIRST PERSON.
This one seems easy. It's a story told through the eyes of the narrator, the viewpoint character "I," and in that it is:
- Limited: We only see, hear, smell, taste, feel what "I" does or thinks or perceives.
- Biased: We experience only what "I" allows us to experience, making us sympathize with "I" regardless of what's happening (unless "I" is impossible to like and in that case choosing the first person POV is a mistake).
- Reliable/Unreliable: By default we trust that what "I" says is true, but it can be an inaccurate representation of events in which case "I" is unreliable. This could be used to an advantage in, say, a mystery or a thriller (I'm still learning about this myself, so I've yet to see where and how and why it's a good idea to use an unreliable narrator).
- Removed: The distance from you as a reader is further away in the first person POV as it is in the second. In the first person POV someone else tells the story, when in the second person POV the story is about "you." More on the second person POV later.
I felt so scared facing the bear in the woods on the snowy path, that I grabbed my bottle of vodka and started waving it around, trying to seem bigger. To my surprise, the bear asked my name. I was so shocked, at first I didn't know how to answer, having clean forgotten how to speak, never mind my name. The bear politely told me his name was Vasya and asked if I'd be up for sharing my vodka. I laughed in relief. We ended up drinking the whole bottle and singing Russian songs in his dark, warm cave.
Well, I just pulled this out of my ass. But it's funny and I shall enjoy tweaking it to different POVs. I hope you will enjoy it too.
2. SECOND PERSON.
This POV is not used in fiction often, mostly in non-fiction and instructional writing. The viewpoint character is "you," and in that it is:
- Involved: The author speaks to you, and you become a part of the story. It's sometimes called breaking the fourth wall.
- Relatable: Because it is about you, obviously you can relate, even if you don't necessarily want to.
- Not removed: You're becoming the character of the story. This is as close as fiction can get to you as the reader.
You walk alone in the woods on the snowy path when a bear blocks your way. You grab the only weapon you have on you, the bottle of vodka you planned to drink with friends, and you start waving it around, hoping to seem bigger. The bear grunts and asks your name. You're so shocked, you can't remember how to talk, never mind your name. The bear politely tells you his name is Vasya and asks if you'd be up to sharing your vodka. You laugh in relief. In the end you drink together all the vodka and sing Russian songs in the bear's dark, warm cave.
Well, this was fun! I've never actually done this exercise before, taking one short snippet of a story and writing it in all POVs. You should try it. Good muscle building.
3. THIRD PERSON LIMITED.
This is the most often used POV in commercial fiction, and this is where it gets tricky. The viewpoint character is "he" or "she," but it's limited to what "he" or "she" experiences, and in that it is:
- Limited: Just like in first person POV, we get see the story only how "he" or "she" sees it, but we can switch between as many of them as we want! And this is where I made the mistake of POV-hopping in TUBE. I have hopped between multiple heads in one scene, and that's disorienting and throws the reader for a loop. From now on I'll stick to the general rule of using only one character's POV per one scene.
- Biased (but not confined to one POV): Because you can switch between characters, you can tell the same story from the POVs of different people, giving a more accurate picture of the fictional reality you're creating as opposed to the first person POV.
- Removed farther: Here you're listening to the story told by someone who is not in the story at all, a narrator who hops between people's heads, explaining to you what is going on, so you're one more degree removed from the story, but you can observe it better and see more from the distance.
Lena felt absolutely terrified when she saw a bear step out onto the snowy path in the woods. She grabbed the bottle of vodka from her pocket and started waving it around, trying to seem bigger. To bear opened his vast toothy maw and asked her name. Lena was so shocked, she couldn't utter a word, having clean forgotten how to speak, never mind her name. The bear politely told her his name was Vasya and asked if she'd be up for sharing the vodka with him. Lena laughed in relief. They ended up drinking the whole bottle and singing Russian songs in the bear's warm cave.
4. THIRD PERSON OMNISCIENT.
Here the viewpoint character is also "he" or "she," but on top of it the narrator knowS EVERYTHING about EVERYONE. At all times. All thoughtS. All feelings. All stories. And in that it is:
- Unlimited: You can really go crazy with this one, and as I understand it's a mistake many writers make (me including) of getting giddy and trying to tell EVERYTHING about EVERYONE just because they can. You can even tell us the thoughts of a flower or of the passing fox. Yes, that fox. You know the one I'm talking about.
- Unbiased: Here the story is seen from the bird's eye view, from the top, and it's a sweeping epic and therefore shows you the fictional reality as it is, not skewing your opinion toward one or another perspective. War and Peace is such an epic. But wait. There is a catch.
- Manipulative: Precisely because this POV seems so unbiased, it can manipulate you into believing that this is how things are. That this fiction is the truth. Clever, right? Think The Game of Thrones. Pretty believable, isn't it? Exactly.
- Removed farthest: Because this is narrated from such a distance, it is furthest removed from you, the reader. Most fairy tales and legends and myths are narrated this way and are most relatable (and manipulative) in that the metaphors can be seen from the biggest distance and therefore have the most impact. Powerful stuff, if you're aware of it and know how to use it.
The 25-year-old Russian woman stood stock still on the snowy path in the woods; her mouth fell open, her eyes widened; she looked like she was about to pass out. A huge black bear stepped out from behind a pine and walked up to her within an arm's length. The woman grabbed the bottle of vodka sticking out of her coat pocket and waved it wildly about her head, flapping her other arm and making ridiculous noises. The bear inclined his head as though amused and in a quiet growl asked the woman's name. She froze in place, her arms spread out from her sides, and from her dumbstruck expression it was clear that she has momentarily forgotten how to speak Russian, never mind her name. The bear took a bow and in a polite growl informed her that his name was Vasya, and would she be so kind as to share her vodka with him—he was quite frozen this crispy January morning, has spend his last kopeck yesterday and was currently broke. The woman drew in breath and laughed long and hard. Arm in arm they left the path, and in the bear's warm, dark cave polished off the vodka and sang Russian songs, their voices echoing across the frozen forest.
As you can see, this POV requires a bigger word count. There are so many things to show, and from such distance! Sounds perfect for fantasy. Or sci-fi.
5. THIRD PERSON DETACHED.
If you thought you couldn't possibly remove the reader farther from your story, think again. This POV is the same as the third person omniscient, except here the narrator only observes what's going on, like a camera, or a fly on the wall. You're not even permitted to use taste and touch—the camera can't taste or touch, but you can use sight, sound, and smell, and in that this POV is:
- Unlimited: Just like in the third person omniscient POV.
- Neutral: It's not biased or unbiased, it's neither. It's a factual observation of what's happening without an opinion. Kind of like journalism, almost.
- Minimalistic: This POV really brings it down to the bones, as no thoughts or feelings are discussed except when the characters speak. I curiously find myself drawn to this POV for exactly for this reason.
- Removed completely: There you have it. You can't possibly fly up any higher. Imagine that an alien narrates this story from space, like a robot, simply recording what's happening.
The Russian woman Lena stopped on the snowy path in the woods. Her mouth fell open, her eyes widened. A huge black bear stepped out from behind a pine and walked up to her within the distance of one meter. Lena grabbed the bottle of vodka from her pocket and waved it about her head, flapping her other arm and ululating. The bear inclined his head, grinned, and asked her name. Lena stopped cold, her arms spread out from her sides, her face white as snow. After a minute of silence the bear bowed and in a low growl said his name was Vasya and asked Lena if she'd be so kind as to share her vodka with him, as he was quite frozen this crispy January morning, has spend his last kopeck yesterday and was currently broke. Lena drew in breath and burst out laughing. She slipped her arm around the bear's paw, and they walked into the woods to the dark cave where they drank all of the vodka and sang Russian songs, their voices echoing across the frozen forest.
Quite sterile compared to the previous POV, isn't it? But for some reason I like it. Though I liked the other one too. They're both a challenge. One to tell everything with everything, the other to tell everything with almost nothing. I love the economy of this POV. And it seems by removing my (the narrator's) opinion, I can make it funnier than the omniscient POV. It's like making a straight face when telling a joke, you know?
6. FIRST PERSON OBSERVER-NARRATOR.
This is the same as the first person POV, except it's narrated by the character other than the main character.
She wore a thick sheepskin coat that smelled foul to my nose. Her small white face turned green the moment she saw me lumber out from behind the pine. The first thing she did was grab the precious bottle of vodka and wave it about so violently, I was afraid she'd break it. I had to ask her what her name was so she'd stop, and she did! That look on her face! Priceless. Then of course I told her my name was Vasya and asked her if she'd share her vodka with me, and she up and started laughing! Well, what do you expect? I invited her over to my cave, like any polite bear would do. We ended up drinking the whole bottle and singing old Russian songs all night. It was glorious.
This was hysterical! Writing from the bear's POV. But wait. There is one more.
7. THIRD PERSON OBSERVER-NARRATOR.
So this one is the limited third person POV of the person who witnesses the events, just like in the previous POV, only the first person becomes the third. I know, a mouthful. You'll see.
She wore a thick sheepskin coat that smelled foul to the bear's nose. Her small white face turned green the moment she saw the animal lumber out from behind the pine. She grabbed the precious bottle of vodka from her pocket and waved it around so violently, the bear was afraid she'd break it. He had to ask her what her name was so she'd stop, and she did! That look on her face! The bear grinned. Then of course he had to tell her his name was Vasya and asked her if she'd share her vodka with him, and she up and started laughing! Vasya had no choice but to invite her over to his cave, like any polite bear would do. They ended up drinking the whole bottle and singing old Russian songs all night. Vasya thought it was glorious.
Wow. I've never written in this POV before. It was actually quite interesting. Now I want to write from the POV of the crow who sat on the pine bough and witnessed the whole scene and plopped a nice white dollop of bird shit on the bear's back (which he never noticed) for not inviting her to drink vodka with them, but if I do, this post will stretch into a novel.
And so my dilemma now is twofold: figure out what POV I want to use for TUBE (I think, third person limited) and then fix it accordingly. But regardless of the POV, I need to fix the head hopping which I've done plenty of already.
Any POVs I missed? Anything else you know about POVs? Any books you suggest I read? Chime in! Up next, theme.