Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Janette Rallison's Guide to Point-of-View

Writing Wednesday

Several years ago, I listened to Janette Rallison discuss point-of-view.

She began with this observation about the rules of writing:
"I can't give you rules that guarantee you'll be a good writer, but I can give you rules that will help you avoid being a bad writer." 
Janette encouraged us to, "keep the rules most of the time, so that when you break them you do so because you have a good reason and can do it in a meaningful way."

First Person (I)
  • Advantages: Intimate feel; easiest point-of-view to master; easy to show your main character's thoughts.
  • Disadvantages: All action must bee seen by the narrator.
Second Person (You)
  • This PoV is hardly ever used any more outside of "Choose your own ending" books; it doesn't feel natural to the ear.
Third Person (He/She - but we're still in the character's head so we can see their thoughts)
  • Advantages: Common; easy to superimpose yourself in the story; you can have more than one point-of-view character; the story can follow the action
  • Disadvantages: It's the easiest mode in which to make point-of-view mistakes.
Omniscient - (The author's point-of-view - the omniscient author is practically a character)
  • Advantages: The author can dispense information to the reader that the characters don't know yet; the reader gets to know the inner workings of the situation.
  • Disadvantages: It makes the book more about the author than the nominal main character; it's difficult to get this one right
Fly-on-the-wall - (Nobody's point-of-view - we're not in anybody's head but simply reporting the events)
  • Advantages: Doesn't reveal characters' internal thought or motives
  • Disadvantages: Seems sparse and emotionless; you have to work harder to convey emotions through action and dialog.
Changing the Point-of-View
  • It's hard to make PoV switches work in the middle of a passage; why add to your burden?
  • 90% of the slush pile has PoV problem. Editors assume you're an amateur if you confuse PoV
  • It's confusing to the reader.
  • You'll never get deep enough into any one character to let us know something meaningful about them.
It is always a mistake to change the point-of-view in the middle of a passage because it confuses the reader. Only switch the point-of-view at scene or chapter breaks.

Image: Simon Howden /

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