Beyond Point of View
by Dr. Laurel Yourke
Point of view is the reader’s window into your narrative. Whether broad omniscient or narrow first person, every perspective has advantages and disadvantages. This session offers a new way to consider point of view, helping you minimize any constraints.
Writers often consider point of view in terms of avoiding errors. In first person, I can’t extol my “lustrous” hair or report what someone said when I was absent. In third person, she can’t reveal her mother’s secrets or explain why he waits to attack.
Obviously, point of view inconsistencies are problematic! Yet beyond credibility, point of view controls reader access to the narrator. This is the crux of reader response, at every moment and in every sentence.
Every point of view offers readers both a) direct access to the characters as they act, speak, or think; and b) filtered access when the narrator interprets or summarizes. In a), or direct access, as George Orwell put it, only a clear window pane separates readers from characters. In contrast, b) or filtered access, resembles the chorus in Greek or Shakespearean plays. Over time, that role evolved into a narrator, a guide who explains, foreshadows, describes, or teases.
The direct (a) or filtered (b) nature of each sentence or paragraph profoundly affects reader emotions. A battle should feel “live”—or unfiltered. But a decision to avoid a battle might require interpretation from the narrator. At particular moments, readers want to hear the narrator or see the characters.
Few writers automatically consider narrator versus characters. After all, we have plenty of other things to monitor: tension, originality, credibility, and so on. But there’s a way to evaluate the input from characters or narrator. The Character Presence System, or CP, helps you diagnose. Now you can either intuitively or consciously meet reader needs.
That’s the subject of this session: characters versus narrator and its effect on every word of your fiction. You’ll find the complete system explained in Beyond the First Draft: Deep Novel Revision. But even without that toolbox, you can revise with the following in mind:
* What do my readers need at this juncture: a film-like moment or a summary?
* Do I overuse either narrator or characters?
* Can the vantage point of direct or filtered adjust other writing issues?
* Will choice of characters or narrator compensate for point of view limitations?
Revise considering narrator versus characters. This lets you control that crucial point of view window.
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Happy writing to you!