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Saturday, April 24, 2010


Point of View

Soooo important when I am trying to establish the voice for the story, the voice for the writing, is the POV.

And yet.....

I am struggling a bit on a particular piece, and maybe that is because my understanding of POV is a little flawed... maybe...

I mean, there's 1st person, right? That's where the narrator is actually a character in the story.  One of my middle grades is in first person.  It seemed to work well for the story being told.

But this is where I get confused.

3rd person limited-The narrator only knows what the MC knows. (Think Harry Potter...we never know what Ron is thinking, what Dumbledore is thinking...just Harry*).   This is really the only "head" the narration jumps into. (Sometimes the narration might head jump, but that is usually done by chapter, or by larger paragraph breaks.)

3rd person omniscient-This is where the narrator knows all, knows what everybody is thinking.  The Graveyard Book is a great example of this technique...but so are books by Roald Dahl, and Eva Ibottson (two of my favorite middle grade authors.)  They head jump right and left.  And it works.

But is this technique limited?  In which circumstances does it work and where does it not? (Can you get away with this technique in places other than MG in this day and age?  Or is it even outdated in MG?)

I read a great post by Livia Blackburne which talked about the death of omni POV.

So, what do you think?


*Of course, there's that chapter in the beginning of one of the Harry Potter books that deals with the whole prime-minister thing, of which Harry would know nothing about....and then we sometimes get a bit of Voldemort, but I think that works because of their whole special link.


Karen Amanda Hooper said...

All my novels (YA)are written in 1st. I do have an idea for an adult story that I might try in 3rd. Sometimes the story has to decide the best POV. It's out of our control.

storyqueen said...

Karen Amanda- Yes, that's a good point about the story determining how it wants to be told...and I am a firm believer in the power of the story.

I guess I am dealing with the 3rd person thing...and if being an omni narrator is passe...

Amy Tate said...

Such a hot topic! It used to be that in children's literature it was taboo to switch POV. But I've seen authors do it chapter by chapter, and that is now o.k. as long as they remain consistent. And I agree with Karen. There are some stories that work better in first, and others work better in third. I wrote my novel in both, and my group was unanimous that it should stay in third. However, it really helped me to write it both ways because I was able to gain perspective into each one of my characters. Good luck!

Dawn Simon said...

I don't know, but it's a good question. The post you reference is interesting too.

My thoughts? The story dictates the POV, at least if the writer is truly being open to what best serves the story. I also think there are trends and personal preferences, but they shouldn't limit us. I need to study POV more to get a better grasp of the subtleties of the points of view I don't usually write in.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

POV is something I've been discussing with one of my CP's this week. It really is a tough beast AND a hot topic. I think I'll pop over and read Livia's post too. :-)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Personally, I usually write in close 3rd or sometimes 1st.
My main problem with head-hopping is when it confuses the reader, when it isn't clear who is thinking and the reader comes out of story to figure it out. This happens when POV is mixed in a scene and there aren't obvious markers that we've switched heads.
I think it is best handled by switching POV of major characters by chapter or at least by scene divided by hiatus.
That said, there is a place for omniscient POV and multiple viewpoints in fable/fairytale kinds of stories. It seems to work really well with these short stories if handled so there is no confusion. Perhaps studying how Gaiman did it in The Graveyard Book might lend clues for how to make it work. I totally enjoyed that read.
And sometimes it is a matter of taste. There are bestsellers out there that bounce from head to head. It's just not my cuppa.
I enjoyed reading Livia's post and comments, and I'm looking forward to what people comment here. Good topic.

Jackee said...

Personally I miss omniscient. I wish there were more new ones. Children's classics are chock full of them but I think it's hard to keep an interest in that POV because it can hypothetically make the action and characterization feel more removed. Sorry... I doubt that was very coherent... I'm tired. Let me just say I agree with Karen: the story should speak for itself about the POV. As I see you believe as well.

And the POV slip in the first Harry Potter that bugs me the most is when Hagrid is the limited focus when Harry's broom is under a spell from Quirrell.

storyqueen said...

Amy-Wow! That's dedication to rewrite an entire novel in a different point of view! (I guess I am lazy...I want to figure it out early in the storytelling!)

Dawn-That is totally where I am right now...dealing the the subtleties between 3rd limited and 3rd omni.

Shannon-a tough beast to be sure!

Tricia-I've thought a lot about Gaiman, too...and that maybe the omni works in the Graveyard Book is because it's middle grade? Is that the cut-off? And can it always work in such a situation, or does it need to follow be a fairytale-folktale-old-tradition-of-storytellers-kind of tale?
Ibbottson's voice is similar to that of an old storyteller...and she is so captivating.
Just wondering about a few things (and not only the piece we've talked about...but I don't think anyone does omni 3rd in YA unless it's high fantasy...what do you think?

Jackee-I miss omni, too, and that's the voice that's coming out in this new WIP I am working on, but I guess I'm too lazy to want to have to re-do it if it's just not done anymore...or if it is so difficult to do well that it would be in my best interest to limit it more.

Does having an omni narrator make the reader feel manipulated? I mean, if the narrator knows all and and doesn't TELL all, as in withholding stuff....well..hmm. Is that why it's not done in YA so much?

Tess said...

hrmph is right. every time I think I have POV down, whammo! I make a mistake.

it is a tough one.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Shelley: I'm trying to see if I can figure out how Gaiman does it so well.
He starts Graveyard off:
"There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife."
Now, if he was doing close 3rd of 1st person, one would expect the next line to be something like: Jonah saw the knife had a handle of polished black bone OR I saw the knife had...
But Gaiman continues in omniscient voice, describing the knife and saying the street door was still open where the man who held it had slipped in---so the author/reader remains omnisicent in viewpoint, not in the man's POV. The man Jack is described as we would see him but also we are told what only he or a god-like onniscient author knows about him and what he is considering as he searches for his victim.
Gaiman does this deftly, I think. And the key is that we know the view is omniscient from the get-go.
I think it was a brilliant choice for this story, because you couldn't really write from a baby's viewpoint, so the author can clue us in on the baby's parents and foster parents as they come up and the story progresses.

storyqueen said...

Tess-Me too! Welcome to my club!

Tricia-Yes, he is brilliant. And it would be crazy of me to aspire to "Neil-ness" of course!

But in the big climax scene, we are going from Bod to Scarlett to Jack and, well...does the head hopping work in this case? I think it does, because of the distance of the narrator to begin with.

But I am going to re-read again. Maybe it works because he uses tags like, "Scarlet thought blah blah blah blah" so the reader always knows exactly who is thinking what. Perhaps that is the "trick" with omniscient...the narrator must always be quite positive the reader knows whose thoughts are whose.

beth said...

Personally, I *like* 3rd person omniscient, but it seems to have gone out of style in current literature. In general, though, I gravitate to 3rd limited, but my current work is 1st

Anne Spollen said...

The MG novels I like are usually third person of some kind, and the YA first. It just works out that way for the novels I think are a cut above the rest.

I've actually rewritten scenes with diff POV, left them both in a drawer and gone back to them. I usually know which is better right away after I revisit them.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Yes, Shelley, I do think it is the distance of omniscient voice that makes the multiple POV work in The Graveyard Book. Also, Gaiman is very careful with it. For instance, in one scene he is in Jack's viewpoint for about ten paragraphs as he searches for Scarlett and then Gaiman writes: When Scarlett heard the crashing noise from above....
Then Gaiman stays with her POV for about five paragraphs.
To me, this works. I know exactly where I am.
By the way, I've enjoyed this conversation so much, I'm linking it in my next post. Hope you had a great weekend!

storyqueen said...

Beth-I like it too, if it's done well. Maybe it's that storytellerness of the voice that appeals. I dunno, but I'm going to read a bunch of current MG this week with POV in mind.

Anne-I have similar tastes...but then something totally different will come along and blow me away.

Tricia-Thank you! I am going to re-read Gaiman (yet again) and some other stuff. I am determined to figure it all out. What I'll do with the information, who knows?

PJ Hoover said...

I do read so little third person omn. that it's jarring when it comes along. But yeah, maybe that's just because we're not used to it.