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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Some Troubles I'm Having with Point of View

Author Topic: Some Troubles I'm Having with Point of View
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First, i wanted to introduce myself to the group as i haven't yet done so in the official 'meet-and-greet' threads, i was anxious to get into by difficulty. I am currently working on a fantasy novel (actually a series that will eventually amount to 4 books total) targeted at mid to late teens. Though it may seem a bit trite, i am confident that i will be able to bring some new plot devices and events to the genre. Even if the word is never eventually published, i am excited about my venture none-the-less and am happy to meet all of you in this community working through what i am.
Now, down to the matter at hand. I have finished 'Characters and Viewpoint' as well a few other books on viewpoint and as such, i am familiar with the basic terminology, mechanics, and syntax of different viewpoints. My trouble, however, is which viewpoint to use for my story as it seeminly requires the use of two very different ones in the cause of presenting the story as i'd like to. My issue is that the work is meant (the four books) to be a record of the adventures of two rival groups, one of the two groups being the focus of the epic. The specific difficulty is that the narrator who is recording their exploits is actually a character in the novels, though he is neither a character with omniscient powers nor is he a figure that graces much of the story, he is, by all accounts, a minor character. As such, he cannot effectively use the third-person-limited viewpoint which is the style i wish to use throughout the work as he cannot know the thoughts of the focus characters. First person would not work well, as i cannot get inside the focus characters head as i want to, nor will he be present for the majority of the plot. Even if i DID use the first person, this denotes that i would have to have the focus characters tell him the story, 'filling him in' on the action that happens, which is an awful divice, if for nothing else, because it lets the reader know ahead of time the character survided the ordeal as he is telling the narrator what happened.
Many of you then, would suggest that i simply abandon the idea and run with the third person limited, but before i simply walk away, i IS important to me that the narrator have some time in the first person talking to the audience as i want him to be the one recording the book you are reading, and furthermore, i would like the reader to gain an intimacy with the narrator without having to have him spoken about alot - in this way, i thought first person would be a good way to accomplish this task. Thank you again for any advice, it is nice to meet all of you, and i look forward to any insight you have. Thanks for reading, i know that was wordy!

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Hmm, that's a tough problem. My suggestion is write the novel first. Get everything out in the open so you know what is going to happen, and don't worry about POV--use whatever works at the moment.

Then, when you have a little bit better idea of what you're going to say and so forth, you will have a better idea of what POV to use. You might have to experiment a bit and try writing particularly tricky scenes from several POVs before you find one you like, but it will give you something to work with.

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Others here will be able to answer more comprehensively than I, but I think you could use a framing device to resolve the issue.

For example, at the start of every chapter you could include a section of a folktale about events that took place in the distant past, and the chapters would be the real story. Or, you could have a first-person relation of reactions to events as an introduction to each chapter, couched as notes in a journal. Or whatever.

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franc li
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I'm trying to write in third person about myself and people I know. It's really really hard.

The problem with first person, though, is that it isn't as easy to take the reader along with you. It's easy to write. It's apparently hard to read.

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on your second draft, write the story in first person from the PoV of the main character.

IN the third draft switch this back to 3rd person limited omniscient from the PoV of the main character but use framing at the chapter breaks to establish that the narrator is actually not the main character. The framing can be 1st person.

At some point it must be possible for the narrator to have talked to the main character about what was going on inside the main character's head.

But, you cannot maintain a 3rd person limited omniscient POV if the POV character is not there for the whole story without past perfect exposition through some other device such as dialogue. Your chosen PoV (non-MC) is going to be clunky.

You probably are going to have to go with 1st person to make this readable. There will be scenes you cannot tell about directly. Accept it and try to keep your narrator present for the big plot moves and accessible to know about the lesser ones.

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I used to struggle with multiple POVs too then I found a simple solution.

I moved the story along using what I now call "The Faulkner Method". If any of you have read As I Lay Dying you will know exactly what I'm talking about.

Each chapter is written by a different character and Faulkner even uses the character's name for the chapter title.

When I'm in first-draft land I type characters name for whom I'm telling the story on the top of every page. It keeps me in that particular character's head - so to speak.

Hope this helps.


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I'm curious why you've chosen the narrator to be the character that you have. From everything you've said in the description, it sounds like he is exactly the wrong character, for all of the reasons you've listed. Why not pick someone who is not only present for most of the action, but an active participant in it?
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I think part of the problem appears to be that you feel locked into one POV and one definition of POV.

POV can mean a couple of things:

1 - POV is how the story is told; i.e. first person, second person, third person limited, third person omniscient. For the sake of discussion, when I say POV, this is the definition I mean.

2 - POV is also what character is telling the story; i.e. Tom, Dick or Harry. For the sake of discussion, when I mean this definition, I'll call it viewpoint or viewpoint character.

While it is inadvisable to mix how the POV is being delivered, it is an easy task to change the viewpoint character.

Have you ever written a novel?

That isn't meant to be condescending, so please don't take it that way. The reason I ask is that writing a novel is very different than writing shorter fiction. Changing viewpoints in a shorter work can be jarring to the reader, however in a novel, where there are more characters and more time with the various characters, you have more freedom. You could tell each chapter from a different viewpoint as Liadan pointed out. It has been done and can be very effective.

Changing the POV to flip-flop from first person to third limited or omni is usually jarring regardless of the length of the piece. I have only seen it done a few times and even fewer times has it been done effectively.

HandEyeProtege asks some good questions. Really consider why you want to have this particular character tell the story if they are not a key player in it. Also, think about why you want only one viewpoint for the entire saga. Four novels is a considerable amount of time to spend inside one character's head. While it is done and can work, if you are already feeling limited and frustrated at the prospect, then why do it? Find a method that will work for you and the story.

If you really want this character to be the "narrator" as well as the viewpoint character (yes, these mean different things, too) but don't want him present as all the events unfold, then use third person. Establish an audience (other the reader) in the book and a reason for him recounting the tale. This can all be third person without violating POV or viewpoint. Perhaps he is a grandfather telling the story to his grandkids à la "The Princess Bride" (movie) or a town elder reccounting the history of the people to the next generation or perhaps he is a lonely bar fly, telling his story à la "Forrest Gump" to whomever will listen or a teacher addressing a class or whatever scenario you create!

All that can be done in thrid person and still allows your story to be in third person but follow different characters. Your readers automatically put themselves into the role of a listener to your tale -- they become one of the grandkids, townsfolk or bar patrons listening to the yarn unwind.

Before you consider using more than one POV, consider why you are avoiding other viewpoints.

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Have you read OSC's Alvin Maker series? In one of those books his narrator actually comes out and speaks quite directly to the audience, in essence introducing himself, then drops into the role of the third person narrator telling the story.

It was quite effective. I sat there (as I read) thinking, 'Yeah! I've been listening to this guy tell these stories in his very distinctive voice and I'm just now getting to know him a little.' It felt quite natural to me.

Don't know if that's the kind of example you're looking for.

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Use first person. The Great Gatsby should be your model. Set the actual writing of the document well after the conclusion of the events depicted, so that the narrator has time to find things out. If he doesn't ever find out something and only can speculate, clearly say so.
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Yeah, I was thinking Gatsby too.
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I've actually ran across this very same problem with the recent WIP I had thought I 'finished'. I now know the error of my ways and will now try to do it the right way.

Also my perspective POV is in question for me as well. The only question for me now is whose point do I tell it from and how can I make it stand out??

I know that only like 3 of you guys out there have read the dribble of a rough draft. So when I rewrite it, would you be willing to read it again and crit it for me again??


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I've been studying things like dialog, milieu building, and POV by taking the published books of some of my favorite authors and dissecting how THOSE authors did it.

Imagine my surprise to find one of my favorite authors, Marion Zimmer Bradley, jumped all around with her POV between Morgaine and Viviane in "Mists of Avalon." I'm trying to figure out if it was just in the one section (perhaps an error missed by the editor?) or if this has been done throughout the book. So far I've not yet found another grievous example of it.

So, I am now beginning to wonder, how tightly do established authors stick to the POV rules? Anyone else notice an established author thumbing their nose at POV?

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MBZ also did the rotating viewpoints in Heritage of Hastur one of her Darkover Novels.
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