vrijdag 17 augustus 2012

Making Point of View Work for Your Reader

Sean Dexter, author of Denial of Duty and the Jackson Burke Thrillers

So, you've written a novel…now what?

Writing a novel was probably one of the hardest things you've ever done, maybe the hardest thing you'll ever do. Lots of people write, few ever complete a novel. Congratulations, you're a writer! But I'm afraid I have a bit of bad news for you…the rough draft was the easy part. If you're anything like me (and let's hope you're not), editing and revising your manuscript will undoubtedly take as much time—or more—than writing the damn thing. In fact, no matter how many times you look over your book, you will ALWAYS find something that can be made better. Over the years, I have learned a lot about the editing/revision process. The first thing I learned is that editing is correcting the mechanical problems with your work. Revising is making your writing better. Here are some pointers I hope will help make the process a little easier for you than it was for me.

Point of View (POV)

Point of view is the perspective from which a story is told. Point of view allows us to see the story unfold through a particular character's eyes. We are allowed to see inside a character's mind, to experience his thoughts and feelings. In fiction, there are generally two types: first person and third person.

In first person POV, the narrator of the story (usually the protagonist) tells the story from his or her perspective. The pronouns I and we are used to tell the story. If the story is written in first person POV, we are only allowed to experience the thoughts and feelings of that one individual. We are NEVER allowed to see inside any other character's mind. The protagonist must be in every scene. Robert B. Parker's Spencer novels are a great example of first person POV.

In third person POV, the story is being told by a narrator who may or may not be part of the story. This narrator relates all the action in the third person, using third person pronouns such as he or she. With third person point of view, the POV can shift from character to character. This gives the writer a lot more flexibility when writing a story. The reader can now see inside the minds of multiple characters. The protagonist no longer needs to be in EVERY scene. However, POV should never shift within the same chapter or chapter section. Once when I was working with an agent in an attempt to publish one of my novels, she pointed out that I was shifting POV within the same chapter and doing so often. I explained (truthfully) that I had switched POV within the chapter for a specific reason and that Stephen King did it all the time. With practiced patience she said, "You're not Stephen King." Ouch… Over the years, the rules for POV have become a bit more fluid and flexible, but if you're not Stephen King (and so many of us aren't), I would suggest sticking with a single POV within chapters or chapter sections when writing in the third person.

As I mentioned above, the rules on POV are changing a little. Many contemporary writers of suspense are using a mix of first and third person. When the protagonist is in a scene, the story is told from the first person POV. When the protagonist is not in a scene, the narrator switches to third person POV. This is a technique that was never used in the past but is gaining favor. It has the benefit of using first person POV like the hardboiled detective writers of the past while still giving the flexibility of third person POV.

Following is an example of what you MUST avoid:

"It isn't always going to turn out right," Burke said. "Sometimes things go bad so fast that you can't make it right." He hated himself for saying it, but she needed to her the truth.
Kacey looked at him and smiled. She didn't say a word, but she believed everything he said.

From Burke's third person POV, there is no way we can know how Kacey felt. How can we possibly know that she believed him? Readers might not catch it, but I promise a good editor will. I know it sounds petty, but agents and editors look for stuff like that. There are lots of good books out there about POV. If you're still confused, buy one of them…or go to www.sdexter.com and drop me an email with your POV question.

Good luck and good writing.

To be continued…

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