Prepared by: Rhéal Nadeau
Posted on: Sun, 6 Nov 2005
Carter made some excellent comments on
point of view.
POV is a difficult concept, because there
are many ways of looking
at it, and the results are subtle. There's first, second, and third
POV, of course. Then there are variations, such as limited and
omniscient. Finally, there's distance - a third person limited point of
view (focusing on one character) can be so close to that character as
to approach first person, or so distant that it's hard to feel a
connection. Distance can include other aspects of writing, such as
dialect - can you think of stories where the narrator spoke in a
different dialect or at a different linguistic level than the
character(s)? (Many stories use standard English for narration, for
example, and dialect in dialogue.)
Each POV option has advantages, and
limitations. Sometimes, the
limitations are actually advantages. Any good story has to give the
reader enough information to be interested (and not feel cheated at the
end), but not give away too much too soon. Think of an Agatha Christie
whodunit told in first person POV by the culprit - where would the
suspense be? (Well, actually, one of my favourite Agatha Christie books
is told in first person by the culprit - but using the unreliable
narrator approach, yet another twist on POV...)
Outside of these exercises and discussions
on the Writing list, we
seldom consciously think about POV. I know that when I read, I seldom
notice POV (unless it's poorly done - or done very well in some
innovative way); when writing, I don't give much thought about it at
first, unless I run into problems and need to switch.
Think of the last story you read - or
wrote. Were you really aware
of the POV used? (Even if you noticed if it was first or third, did you
really notice if it was limited or omniscient, and how distant it was?)
This ties in with something else I've been
thinking about concerning
this list. Every week, an exercise is posted, focused on some specific
aspect of writing, including a write-up that tries to explain that
aspect. That's useful, but it is also limiting.
So, here's the deal. As writers, we need
to think about such issues,
notice how others handle them, come to our own conclusions. (People
learning to fly eventually have to do a solo flight, without
Therefore, the exercise this week will be
a different one. Wipe the
board before you start. Assume there are no rules. Forget what others
have told you about point of view.
You are a writer, and a reader. So, look
at a story you are reading,
or writing (or one you read or worked on lately.) What point of view is
being used? What are the advantages? What are the limitations? What
works, and what doesn't? Think of alternatives - for example, would
more distance be better? Or less? How would it be different if using a
different POV (first instead of third, second instead of first, or
There's no set format for the exercise.
You can write your
submission as a critique of something you read, or a meditation on one
of your own works, or - well, let's not limit it in any way.
This means it will be almost impossible to
do standard critiques,
but that's OK. The goal this week is to explore, so responses should
comment on what was said, and provide additional thoughts on the topic
(including tangents). (Please label those responses as Crit:, as usual,
Let's summarize. The exercise is to look
at POV in something we've
been reading or writing, think about it, and write about it - what POV
was used (be specific, give examples from the text), why it worked, if
it was consistent, what problems cropped up. Optionally, look at how
alternative POVs might have worked instead.
When critiquing, take the time to think
about what was said. Do you
agree, or not, and why? Can you offer additional comments on the topic?
There is no word count - but make sure
you're not posting 10,000
words when 1,000 (or 9,800) might make the point more clearly!
Web site created by
Rhéal Nadeau and
the administrators of the Internet Writing Workshop.
Modified by Gayle Surrette.