Thursday, October 16, 2008

Fiction Writing: Point of View (POV) Shifts

I was part of numerous critique groups for many years. I would often hear beginning writers cry, "Aha! Point of view shift!" They were usually pointing out what they were taught is the first cardinal sin of fiction writing. I wish I knew who was responsible for spreading "No POV shifts, no way, no how" advice around like it's going out of style - because it is out of style.

There's nothing wrong with shifting your point of view within a story. Now, it is wrong to shift POV without acknowledgment in the text. Use "he thought" and "she considered" and your character's name and such devices to clue your reader in that hey, you're switching point of view on her. That's all your reader asks. She's perfectly willing to look through another character's eyes.

If it's necessary to the story, that is. Building tension is an effective way to use point of view shifts, for example.

Eunice looked at George and made her decision. Yes, that was what she must do. In fact, she'd do it immediately.

George looked at Eunice. What was she thinking? He didn't like the expression on her face at all...

On the other hand, beware of a POV shift detracting from the tension. There is such a thing as momentum in fiction, after all...

George's head was spinning. Eunice's beauty was making him dizzy. He wanted to grab her and hug her and squeeze her and just kiss her all over her flawless body. He wanted to praise her eyes to her and all that other mushy stuff. He adored her.

"Eunice, will you marry me?"

Eunice's mother glared at George. How dare he whisper in her daughter's ear like that? George was a no-good loser who still lived at home with his mother. She remarked as much to her friend as she sipped her punch.

"Wow, George," Eunice said, to George's delight. "Like, I'm so flattered!"

And remember, your reader needs transition. Clumsy, gratuitous POV shifts are just, well, clumsy and gratuitous.

Eunice wondered what George's problem was. "Are you, like, totally on crack?"

"Only figuratively, as I crack for love for you," George said with deliberate sarcasm. Above all, he must not let her know of his very real adoration.

Eunice could only snort. George was an idiot.

But point of view shifts are fabulous for lending irony to a scene. Check out this glimpse into Horrendous Horace's mind...

Eunice sighed. Horace was such a bore. If he would only say something interesting, anything, maybe she'd fire him as her accountant and ask him out.

Horace smiled and went on talking, thinking that Eunice was beautiful, and after he robbed her, knocked her on the head, and left her prone body under the sofa he'd have to go home and check out her profile on Facebook. Maybe after this was all over, he'd ask her out.

Just be consistent. If you've told your entire novel from Eunice's point of view, and in Chapter 58 you suddenly decide on a whim to shift at the last moment to George's POV 'cause wouldn't that be neat--maybe rethink that.

Then again, if this is it, the Climactic Moment, and you've taken the polls, done the market studies, and established with finality that switching to George's point of view in paragraph 6 of Chapter 58 is the best, the only, the primo way to beat your reader's emotions to a pulp, then go for it. And do it well; otherwise your venture out on that limb is fated for a fall.

And really, that's it--the only cardinal rule of writing there is. If you're going to use an exceptional technique in fiction, then do it well.

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1 comment:

susie said...

Enjoyed your writing and your instruction on POV. "Do it well" is my new first tactic/motto as I wend my way through well, everything. Did I mention I enjoyed the writing in this article?