Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The POV Smorgasbord

I’m reading a fascinating book called "Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular" by Rust Hills.

There’s a lot of great stuff in the book but the chapter on point of view is especially compelling. He goes into the whole list of types (omniscient, first person, third person, scenic, central intelligence) but then goes on to say “It seems to me that the proper attitude for the writer is to leave the systematizing to someone else and just rejoice that there are so many methods.”

I liked that he outlined some of the limitations of certain POVs but encouraged writers to not be bound by certain rules and conventions. BUT BE SMART ABOUT IT. He describes the work of some authors who intentionally and thoughtfully break POV rules which can be mesmerizing and brilliant. But when beginning writers “break the rules unwittingly, with nothing accomplished by it, it harms the story foolishly.”

Part of the chapter discusses how authors ‘choose’ which POV to use. He proposes that most times, this decision is unconscious. The technique is second to the story that’s within you aching to be told.

The characters in my novels have pretty strong first-person voices and I wouldn’t go against their wishes to try out third-person limited or omniscient. But I think it’s worthwhile to practice other POVs. I’m considering writing a short story based on the true story of an elderly woman who was eaten by a bear because she refused warnings not to feed dog food to the bears in her neighborhood. Does her husband tell the story? Does the kid living next door? Or do I serve as a omniscient narrative of this tragic tale?

So many juicy choices. Hills is right -- let’s rejoice that we have so many methods at our disposable.

Which POV are you most comfortable using? Have you stretched outside that POV yet?

1 comment:

  1. I have found that the story dictates the POV. Maybe I'm lucky, but I haven't started a story yet that has caused me to go back and change it. (hold on, I'm actively looking for some wood to rap...) Having said that, I think it dramatically changes the immediacy of the story and is a critical choice made by the storyteller.