Saturday afternoon, I went to a Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW) workshop in Golden, and struck it rich. These workshops, held at local libraries around Denver, are free and open to the public on a monthly basis. Different members of the RMFW, and sometimes published guests, will talk on all sorts of writing topics. This month’s lecture, titled Is Your POV Slip Showing? filled two hours on strengthening your writing with attention to Point of View in your work.
What is POV? According to the trio of lecturers, point of view can best be described as the voice you use to bring your story along–the narrator if you will. Each lecturer took a different style of POV writing to describe, evaluate as a writing tool, and to show samples to the group of about 30 attendees. Here are the three points of view they went into:
- First person narrative
- Third person close
- Third person omniscient
The speakers came from my critique group. They are accomplished writers who each had a good deal to share.
Kathy House started the talk with a focus on first person narration. Kathy has experience in public relations and technical writing as well as her creative work in writing cozy mysteries. I have read some of her stories over the years, and she has a terrific writing style. As yet, publish-challenged, when she does receive that green light from a smart publishing house, I’ll let you know. You’ll be in for a treat.
Anyway, Kathy took the group right in to focus on the first person POV. This is the most intimate of storytellers, recognized with the liberal use of “I” or “we” in writing. This style allows the writer to talk directly to you, the reader. The Daisy Arthur stories and my blog are written in first person, as are Catcher In The Rye, Jane Ayre, and even The Great Gatsby.
The biggest consideration when deciding to write in first person perspective is to know why the person you’ve chosen to tell the tale is truly the owner of the story.
Next came Nikki Baird, an author who writes in “3rd Person Close.” Nikki described this voice as being in someone’s head, as in first person, but replacing all the “I” use with “he or she” attributions. This voice also allows you to move from one person’s perspective to another, giving a fuller, deeper story.
Nikki knows all about this, as it is a style used a lot in science fiction, Nikki’s preferred field of writing. The biggest challenge with this style is avoiding “head-hopping” where the POV changes so rapidly and without warning, that you can leave your reader confused and annoyed.
Even the classic authors fall into this trap. Nikki read an example from Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein to illustrate the point. In the space of one paragraph the author shifted reader perspectives at least four times. Huge problem. Huge.
I’ve been reading a short story of Nikki’s lately, and can tell you it is full of thrills and chills. Nikki was published recently in the RMFW anthology of short stories called Broken Links, Mended Lives with another spine-tingler, Devastation Mine, a ghost story definitely worth a read.
What I found most interesting about Nikki’s talk was her openness to re-writing a story until she “found” the best perspective to write from. Third person close allows for this, but it can mean a lot of extra work for an author. Very cool.
Lastly came the intrepid Chris Devlin, who overcame car troubles with a ride from program chair, Angie Hodapp, and an arts festival that blocked traffic all around Golden, to come to the Golden library and talk about Third Person Omniscient.
With a healthy sprinkling of self-deprecating humor, Chris used samples from across a literary world to show such voices as:
- Congenial storyteller (Lord of the Rings)
- Humorous voice, talking directly to the reader (Jane Austen books)
- Distant and authorial (tech thrillers like Tom Clancy)
- Third person objective, or a “movie” point of view.
The most important thing, said Chris, was to know your story well enough to know where the focus needs to be for any single scene or paragraph. Choose who the “star” of your scene is, and then make sure your scene has a point of view, regardless of who the point of view character is.
Chris’ novel, St. Vitus Academy: The Lazarus Rock is people by an army of compelling characters, so she knows first hand the importance of making only one the star in a scene.
Now it’s your turn. Have you garnered any good writing tips lately, been to any good writing lectures? Write well, my friend, and make sure your POV is staying in place.