A Word on POV

More or less the first choice a writer has to make when he begins a story is deciding who is talking. This is called the point of view.

First person is fairly simple. The narrator is “I”. These stories have an immediacy, putting the reader almost in place as the main character herself. The downside of this is that as a first-person narrator, the storyteller can’t know what anyone else is thinking. It’s a stylistic choice that has implications for the path of the story. You can’t, for instance, kill the main character. You also can’t do the George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones) thing, where you have chapter after chapter narrated by a different character.

Third person is the other viable option, but here there are several flavors of third person. You can use limited, in which the reader can only see through the eyes of the main character. You can use limited multiple, in which the pair of eyes changes from character to character. You can use limited omniscient, where the reader sees not only what happens, but hears the thoughts of the character telling the action. Or you can use full omniscient, where the reader gets to hear everyone’s thoughts.

I like first person. Most of my favorite stories are first person narration. I’ve written in all of the above, though, and not all of them worked for me, but most of them did. Each choice directs the story in ways that have to be understood and maximized for the story to work. Fairy tales are third person (limited) omniscient. That’s just how those work (here’s one of mine). Urban fantasy works really well as first person present tense (though it can be done a lot of different ways).

But there are experimental kinds of POV as well. I’ve heard of some stories written in second person (You went into the store, etc.). I haven’t tried one, and don’t think I will. I have done a third person limited unattached, however, where there isn’t a main character, and all you get is dialogue. That’s difficult, but has interesting possibilities.

My most recent paid story, Redundant, uses a POV I’ve not tried before, and have never seen done. There is an “I” narrator, so it looks like first person, as in this passage:

Now, I know how this hand is played. I loved and lost, you know, so I’m well aware that the game spooks easy in this town. I turn back to the bar, just on an angle, so that I can’t see her at all, and I hold up a fiver to the barkeep and say “And I’ll get it.” He looks at me, because it isn’t like that’s a regular occurrence, and then shrugs and takes the money. Still I don’t turn, I’m just drinking mine, which I’m glad is a Jim Beam on the rocks instead of the martini that would make me look like all the other suits just off from work. I can’t see her at all. The fellow that nudged me is just staring at me like wings have sprouted out my back.

But the story is not first person. This section is all a quotation, all someone speaking. The speaker is the main character, but the narrator is not him, but his webcam. You can see this most clearly in this passage:

Knock. Knockknock. Click.

“John, you have a second?”

“Peter, for you, of course.”


“Wow, you have to shut the door for this?”

“Yes, John, I’m afraid I do. Everyone in the building knows that redundancies are coming Friday. I don’t know how they know-“

“That keeps happening. It’s very frustrating. Do you think I should look into it?”

“Well…sure, if you think…but nobody has ever been able to find out…nevertheless, it’s causing problems in my department. Very little work has been done today. I have had only four reports submitted from my group. Have you seen similar falloff?”

“Honestly, no, Peter. My reports are normal volume so far.”

“How do you do it? Your department runs so smoothly. They don’t know you’re firing a third of them?”

“Half. Or just under. It’s breaking my heart. I suspect they know, but our policy here is open, forthright communication at all times. My door is open. If they have concerns, they come to me and we address them together, in mutual collaboration.”

Sigh. “That’s very commendable. My department does not work like that. Do you have a book to recommend, or a seminar? I think I’m out of ideas since the last teambuilding exercise didn’t go over very well.”

“The bakesale?”

As a reader, you only get to see what the webcam sees, and nothing else. If the main character doesn’t talk, there’s no narration, no clues to what’s happening. It’s very tricky to write, and frankly I’m not certain it worked. But I wanted to try it, because writing dialogue is my favorite, and writing without tags is challenging and fun.

I’ve written six novels and forty/fifty short stories, and I’m still learning how to do this. I’ll never stop, I don’t think.

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