Am I mastering my characters’ POV? Not.

Ian published a very informative blog about 1st person POV (http://writersintraining.com/2014/05/03/putting-the-is-in-fiction-writing-in-first-person), which I read thirstily because, as a member of the same critique group, I feel he masters that difficult 1st person POV outside of the memoir genre.

For my fantasy novel, I knew I wanted to use some sort of 3rd person POV for my characters, and soon discovered that there was much I had to learn about POVs in general. I googled and devoured related information, some very good, some confusing.

In third person narrative, as probably most of you already know, each and every character is referred to by the narrator as “he”, “she”, “it”, or “they (Wikipedia). Easy enough.

The flavors, as I call them, were not so difficult to digest either, as I dug into definitions. Using Wikipedia as a single source for simplicity purposes – and since most sources agree in general terms – we have:

Third-person subjective, also named third person limited – when the narrator conveys the thoughts, feelings, opinions, etc. of one or more characters. At its narrowest and most subjective scope, the story reads as though the viewpoint character were narrating it; dramatically this is very similar to the first person, in that it allows in-depth revelation of the protagonist’s personality, but it uses third-person grammar.

Third-person objective – when a narrator who tells a story without describing any character’s thoughts, opinions, or feelings; instead, it gives an objective, unbiased point of view. This narrative mode can be described as a “fly-on-the-wall” or “camera lens” approach that can only record the observable actions but does not interpret these actions or relay what thoughts are going through the minds of the characters.

Third-person omniscient – a story presented by a narrator with an overarching point of view, seeing and knowing everything that happens within the world of the story, including what each of the characters is thinking and feeling. So the narrators knows everything.

Once I could understand the different types of 3rd person POV, or so I thought, I decided to pursue the limited flavor option. So I moved forward with my 3rd person limited POV, avoiding the best I could the pitfalls of showing instead of telling, working hard to have my characters come to life. But I knew there was something still missing. I could not put my finger on it, but started noticing that, at times, my narrative fell into the pitfall of telling instead of showing, and I thought the solution was to cut my narrative down. I embarked on the task of writing description sparingly, using instead dialog or character’s direct thoughts whenever possible. But I found myself trying to sneak in world building through lame dialog. Lame because my characters where in a world familiar to them, so why would they be explaining it to each other in their dialog?

I found the task of POV fidelity challenging, limiting my need to tell the whole story from a single character’s perspective, but I knew I could not succumb to the malady of POV rabbit jumping. My desire to engage the readers with the blood and pain of my characters, the beauty of the world playing in my mind, led me to the decision of maintaining a single POV throughout a chapter. I do this with some the rare exceptions, where two of my characters POVs share a chapter, yet their views are clearly separated by a break in that chapter. I left the art of successfully joy jumping POVs to more seasoned writers.

Still… something was missing. Although I couldn’t say what it was, I felt I was not doing something right. And midway my novel it hit me. WOW. I had come across this bit of POV wisdom before, but it seems I needed one of my out-of-brain experiences for my POV epiphany.

No, I didn’t invent anything new. The information was readily available; I just didn’t see. I had read about narrative times/tenses (past, present, future), and about character voice, mostly in the narrative. Even the simple approach above from Wikipedia hinted to this major realization for me: “at its narrowest and most subjective scope, the story reads as though the viewpoint character were narrating it.”

It was when I found a writers’ aid book that it all connected in my gray matter. In this, I have to give credit to Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View, by Jill Elizabeth Nelson.   The virtual doors in my mind opened wide. I finally connected the dots of my POV’s missing links, and knew exactly what I wanted to accomplish: my characters not only engaging in dialog, sharing their direct thoughts – and as add on challenge, telepathy – but narrating their own stories as well.

The author discusses how to eliminate narrative distance by what she coins a deep POV approach. She goes onto explaining how narrative, and not just in dialog or in characters direct thoughts, can use the voice and POV of a character. Narrative distance, as I understood it, being the insertion (consciously or not) of a narrator between the character’s POV and the reader. Apparently this is also known as author intrusion, and in Wikipedia’s information, I surmise it relates to the story reading as thought the character’s viewpoint were narrating it. The examples and exercises the author provides are also helpful and very revealing.

Again, in my understanding, as I can’t speak for the author, in deep POV mode, the writer can use sort of indirect thoughts for narrative that falls outside the well-known direct thinking in the customary italics. So, instead of narrating what characters are doing, write how it feels to them doing what they do, and seeing what they see, not as a monolog, still with the flair of narrative. And yes, it may not completely eliminate the telling part of narrative, yet reduces tremendously that aspect of writing. The author also goes onto sharing how to avoid naming feelings, inserting see/saw/felt, and a very enlightening section about avoiding Motivation/Reaction Units (MRUs).

This may not be a great discovery for most writers. For me, I have to say that using a technique to remove myself as the narrator – which as hard as I tried to be subjective, could often hear my voice in the narration – and allowing my characters to reveal their own stories was truly liberating. And no, I still don’t master the art of deep POV. But I’m committed to having my characters narrate their own magic, their sorrows and their victories.

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