Thursday, January 3, 2013

Remembrance of lessons past: POV

I spent a week, around Christmas, at my parents' and went through what parts of my early writings remain. I was glad to find one particular manuscript, disappointed that there's no sign of another. Much of my early writing was on 3.5" floppies, in ancient word processor formats. Some of it exists only on typewriter onionskin. There are stacks of notebooks, too.

I was hoping to find the how-to-write-genre-fic anthology that included Bradbury's "Run Fast, Stand Still," but I didn't. I did find, though, an anthology called Points of View (ISBN #0-451-62491-2, revised version available at Amazon) which I remember reading most of. It contains examples of stories told from various POVs: interior monologue, dramatic monologue, letter narration, subjective narration, various forms of anonymous narration, and more.

This book gave me much of the POV definitions I work from, though I've gotten muddied over the years by wading through confused online debates. You've seen them: attempts to classify stories as "close third person" or "distant third person," how "omniscient" or "limited" they are. Points of View organizes the POV continuum (that's what it is, really) from interior monologue to anonymous narration -- from very intimate first person to very distant third person, which is just one step away from a scholarly summary.

The stories presented offer quite readable examples along the continuum. And for me to say they're readable... bear in mind that I have no use for literary fiction, in general, and these are all lit fic. The closest it gets to genre is Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery." (Bless her, RIP, etc.) Oh, and there's one Poe story.

POV is one of those structural elements that underpins a story, and like a skeleton it has an invisible yet unavoidable impact on the appearance of the final creature. Looking at this anthology has gotten me thinking about the POV choices I made in Disciple, both consciously and on a gut level.

Disciple is written largely as an interior monologue, by this book's classification (aka first person narration,) with lots of gritty and intimate detail. I did that very much on purpose. I wanted that level of detail, to let Kate speak to the reader as to a close friend, to heighten the realism and immediacy.

The limitations of first person, as anyone who's written in it knows, had a huge impact on what parts of the story I could show the reader, though. In a few places, I had to bend things to get Kate a good reason to see things that had to be known, but on the whole she was a character in a good position to see and present the best parts of the story I wanted to tell.

What if I had written it from the POV of an anonymous narrator? An omniscient one? As a memoir that Kate wrote many years after the fact? It would completely change the voice of the story, the structure -- I dare say with an anonymous narrator the story would mushroom into a sprawling epic, like GRRM's massively multi-POV Game of Thrones.

But I didn't want that. I only wanted to tell Kate's story. One visceral slice of what was going on.

How do you choose your POVs?


Michael Offutt, Speculative Fiction Author said...

I decided to go with first person POV on a free story I'm posting online that I've gotten some fan mail from. I figured it was pretty much the story of one person at the time so why not stuff the reader in his head. It's proven to be quite fun, and I enjoy posting my chapters immensely.

Liz said...

When I really got into reading (around age 11 or so), the books that I had the easiest time getting into were 1st person POV, so that's where I tend to stay. Sure, there are limitations, but I tend to prefer stories told through one set of eyes.

Although, if I get a compelling enough reason, I'll switch it up. But it'll have to be pretty compelling.

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