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For Aspiring Writers

Point of view

By David G. Woolley

The real issue about POV isn't confusion—that's a given. Jump from head to head enough times and you'll have to staple three dramamine tablets to the dust jacket just to get past the first 30 pages. The real issue regarding POV is that IT DOES NOT free the writer. POV changes LIMIT HER TO A MISERABLE EXISTENCE OF WRITING POORLY CRAFTED STORIES! Some writers believe that changing POV opens the possibilities. "We are free," they cry, "free of the fetters of tradition. We are throwing down the walls of literature." But sadly, what the offer in its place is a fiction that resembles the work of hacks.

The depth of expression, development of characters, emotional highs and lows, humor, craftiness of narration, seamless exposition, subtle humor, a well placed interior monologue—to say nothing of interior dialogue altogether—all of these are sacrificed when an author does not obey the rules of POV. No author has ever made a good case against maintaining POV within a scene, and they never will. POV has been and always will be the foundation of great stories, the building blocks of masterpieces. The real case is against the writer who changes POV within a scene. Changing POV within a scene is a dreadful case of LAZINESS! Forget that the book sells (some or a lot). If the story is engaging, the dialogue decent, the publisher will put it into print—quality be hanged! And whenever an author friend (or would-be-author friend) tells you that the modern writer (forget the reader) is allowed the avant guard privilege of changing POV whenever he pleases, what he is really telling you is that:

1) I am as hard working as an old gray mare put out pasture

or

2) I am as experienced as an infant behind the wheel of a semi.

POV for the sake of POV is a tidy little way to talk about seeing a scene through the eye of a camera (or through the eyes of a character—depending on if you direct movies or write books). And one of the most important developments in modern writing is the influence of movies on books—it has been a very, very GOOD INFLUENCE! Before the big screen (and the little one in our family rooms) came on the scene, writers could break the rules of POV and not really annoy the readers too much. But with the advent of MEDIA, readers have come to expect immediate scenes, done from the POV of a character—the same way they have come to expect a movie to be filmed through the lens (and eyes) of a camera. POV is as indispensable to good writing as the pen a paper the stories appear on. And the really good news about all this is that BOOKS can do what FILMS will never be able to do. No matter how hard Spielberg tries, he will never be able to get a camera into the head of a character.

Writing techniques and styles may come and go, but POV will always be the basis of well crafted stories. And, if your goal is to one day write a masterpiece (even if you only succeed at writing a very good book), then the rules of POV must not only be obeyed, they must be elevated to an art form.