Who’s on First? Confusing POV

Day 3

Day 3

Have you ever read a book where you lost who was telling the story? Ever had to flip backwards to determine the speaker? If you have, chances are the author was using more than one point of view (POV).

One of the most important aspects of planning is determining the point of view. Who do you want to tell the story and from what viewpoint. There are three basic viewpoints: First person, second person and third person. They’re variations within each; however, I’m only going to touch on the basic POVs.

First person or the “I” view brings the reader close to the action, making them  experience the story along with the character. The following Examples are adapted from one of my stories, Fair is Fair.

“I  took my time setting the tray of coffee on the table in the living room. Let him wait. He, along with every reporter in the country had vied for this interview for years. He would wait in the cold for as long as it took, of that I was certain.”

The downside is it’s easy to slip into a mode of “telling versus “showing,” or being too wordy or passive.

Second person POV is told through the voice of a narrator using “you, yours, and you’re.” Although, frequently used in self-help books, second person POV is not often used in fiction writing. Example:

“You don’t the truth. You want me to tell the story the way you think it should be told. You want me to sugar coat the facts so that it doesn’t offend your precious audience’s sensibilities. You get the story my way or not at all.”

The downside is it’s hard to write in second person and do it well without sounding like a self-help book, or sitting in a lecture hall.

Third person POV is told through the narrator’s voice using, “he,” “she,” or “it.”  It is the most common POV used in fiction.

“She grew up in a Christian home, believing in forgiveness and the  goodness of man. She didn’t believe in capital punishment. Judgment was reserved for God, but that was before. Now, all she could think about was how fast the executioner’s hand would fall.”

The downside of using third person POV is the narrator telling things of which they couldn’t possibly know. Unless it is third person omniscient, the narrator can only see what happens from a single character’s view.

Determining the POV in which to tell your story is important because, as in life, each POV offers a different perspective. Nothing is more frustrating or confusing to a reader than a sudden switch between POV. It jars the reader from the story and creates distance to the main character. If the reader can’t follow, he won’t care about your main character and when they stop caring, they stop reading.

A few times, I’ve found myself turning the pages backward in a book to figure out which character viewpoint I’m reading. It’s frustrating, confusing and reminds me of the famous skit, Who’s on First by  Abbott and Costello.

For a detailed description of POV, check out Janice Hardy’s Fiction University. Her post, Through My Eyes. Or Your Eyes. OR Somebody Eyes. POV Basics, defines each type, and discusses in detail the advantages and disadvantages of each. Also, Marg Gilks at Writers World, has an excellent post, Establishing the Right POV,  using her own early work as an example.

Writing in different POVs is acceptable; however, the key is to have a clear delineation between the changing POVs. This can be accomplished via white space, a new scene, or chapter to indicate the change. Whatever method you use, be consistent and you’ll never end up with the reader asking, Who’s on first?

What about you? Which POV do you use and why? Talk to me. Tell me your story. I’d love to read your comments. You can follow me on Facebook at SheilaMGood and  Twitter @cofcmom.

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