To understand POV, I took a time out from my writing to educate myself on all things POV and Viewpoint. Six months later, and after studying thirty-one “experts” take on the subjects, I had my first POV-Viewpoint epiphany. Out of those thirty-one experts, only two said POV and Viewpoint were two separate entities. Were they right?
I looked up the definitions of both in my American Heritage Dictionary. The definitions were not the same. This triggered my second epiphany: most experts, authors, and writers were passing on the rhetoric that the two terms were synonymous and interchangeable. In fact, using the two terms synonymously is what creates the confusion. It’s like being at a highway intersection and finding someone substituted a red light for the green light and labeled it a caution light.
Since I believe in paring things down to a simple level that can be better understood, this is what POV and Viewpoint are:
POINT OF VIEW
Point of View is the Storytelling Narrator at work relating the tale to the reader. POV answers the question: Through whose eyes is the story, or the scene, being observed?
Did you notice the words “narrator at work?” That’s because when a reader reads, they hear a voice coming off the page, which is the “narrative voice.”
Of course, that voice will often be the story’s “focal character,” also known as the protagonist. Yet that narrator’s voice could be:
– the author
– one of the other major story characters
– the story’s storyteller (the voice-over guy)
– omniscient (as either “god” or the “fly-on-the-wall”)
Another important point to remember is that all Storytelling Narrators have an opinionated and distinct voice that will be either male or female. The narrator’s voice has a cadence or rhythm because of the syntax, diction, and vocabulary that an individual narrator uses.
Viewpoint is how that storytelling narrator characteristically filters information and sensory perceptions, either consciously or unconsciously, while observing what’s happening.
That highly opinionated narrator can be accurate or inaccurate. Their judgement may be subjective or objective. Their opinions, observations, and judgements may fluctuate between extremes. This makes the narrator of the story or scene reliable or unreliable, open-minded or closed-minded, ethical or unethical–even a coward or a hero.
Which means the narrator’s opinions about other people and how the narrator deals with those people in any given situation will be compounded by the narrator’s biases and personal prejudices. Again, this is HOW the narration is being related to the reader.
For example: Character A, B, C, D, and E look at a glass of water on the table. Because the five can see that glass, they will report what they observe–they will narrate–but look HOW they relate what they observe:
A’s POV-Viewpoint: “It is half full of water.” (Optimist)
B’s POV-Viewpoint: “Don’t be an idiot, it’s half empty.”(Pessimist)
C’s POV-Viewpoint: “That’s just a glass with water in it.”(Realist)
D’s POV-Viewpoint: “Why do you humans care about a glass of water?” (Baffled Alien)
E’s POV-Viewpoint: Marsha couldn’t believe the conversation had deteriorated to analyzing a glass of water. (Omniscient)
Each of the examples has a distinct voice because the writer conveyed the narrator’s voice onto the page. Unfortunately, for first-time novelists, two things usually happen. One is that the voice on the page is the author’s. That is, all the characters and description-exposition is in the author’s voice, vocabulary, diction, and syntax.
The second problem is that should the writer convey the story through a character or a set of characters, who have individual voices, the author will pop onto the page with the author’s own voice and “intrude” by explaining or commenting on something. For that sentence or paragraph, the reader hears the author’s voice and sees and hears the writer at work (when the writer isn’t supposed to be seen or heard!). Author Intrusions also fall under the category of blatant telling, not showing.
Ninety percent of the problems with show-don’t-tell, cause-effect sequences, etc. can be fixed when POV and Viewpoint are mastered. That’s why I advise beginning writers to stop writing and learn all they can about craft, with POV-Viewpoint being the first thing they concentrate on. Once the writer understands the perks and pitfalls of the style of POV-Viewpoint that works for them, they will write far better stories. As a bonus, they won’t have to unlearn the bad habits they’ve been repeating–and reinforcing.
Make no mistake, craft enhances talent, and best of all, craft can be learned. And that’s why it doesn’t matter what style of POV-Viewpoint is used as long as the narrative keeps the reader turning pages.
About Catherine E. McLean – her short stories have appeared in hard-copy and online anthologies and magazines. ADRADA TO ZOOL is an anthology of many of those stories. Her novels include KARMA AND MAYHEM (a paranormal fantasy romance) and JEWELS OF THE SKY (a futuristic adventure). This year The Wild Rose Press will publish her lighthearted fantasy/sci-fi romance HEARTS AKILTER (Love, vengeance, attempted murder and a bomb… No reason to panic).
Catherine also gives writing workshop, both online and in-person. A schedule is posted at http://www.writerscheatsheets.com/workshops.html
Connect with Catherine at: http://www.catherineemclean.com/contact-me.html