Point of View: Taking baby steps

Following a recent discussion with some writing friends about the merits of First Person Point of View, Third Person, and the difference between writing characters from close/tight third and omniscient third, I’d like to give a shout out to the writing/critiquing group who have been my mainstay of writing craft the last few years (Egoboo WA), and particularly to Carol Ryles, Satima Flavell and Helen Venn, who gave me an excellent grounding in how to write ‘close third’.

This was the first hurdle in turning a semi-omniscient ‘dramatized history’ into a set of working novels (The Siaris Quartet) with a small set of viewpoint characters written through close third person. I learnt not to ‘head hop’ (change points of view within a scene), and how to draw the focus ‘in close’ and write through the senses, feelings, thoughts and perceptions of characters as though hovering right at their shoulder, or indeed, inside them…consistently!

Another key revelation was learning not just how to write close third, but who to write, and when. Coming into each scene, I ask, whose point of view is the best fit for this scene? Who will give it the most range, depth, intensity, action, and relevance? With multiple viewpoint characters, next is making sure every one of them gets enough ‘screen-time’ to keep readers involved with them, while making the strongest choice for each scene.

Daughter of Hope presented a particular challenge from the outset, as the key female POV character, Revetia (Ree), starting out as  a baby. She then went through an inhumanly accelerated growth, which meant constantly adjusting the scope of what she saw, felt and understood of her situation. So at each stage, I had to ‘get into’ her POV as a baby, toddler, child, teen, then adult. It was great fun to write, and got me – as the writer – into deep empathy with her. Here she is at about eight, in human years:

Revetia hesitated. Her heart beat a little faster. She’d never been allowed to walk the twisting hallways and staircases of the tower by herself, with Amya gone. A distant thrumming ran through the thin soles of her slippers. The dim shadows of her room seemed suddenly warm and inviting. She hung poised in the close stillness but didn’t turn back. After all, what else did she have to do? Amya would be gone for hours.

The thrumming vibrations grew stronger, creeping up her legs. Ignoring the flutters in her stomach, she walked down the hallway. Whispers scuttled like lines of grey spiders around her feet, shivering through the dark stone wall where her fingertips brushed. Revetia took a deep breath, trying to relax.

Acting on instinct, she let the building tension ease out of her muscles. This was survival; Amya had taught her, in a rudimentary way, how to let the minds of the masters flow past her as if she were a feather suspended on a river-current – although that image was one she knew only from Amya’s offered memories.

 She shook herself, let the whispers recede, and felt better. Regaining her spirit, Revetia skipped down a flight of stairs. She ignored the arched squares of doorways leading left and right, counting levels under her breath.

“One. Two. Three.”

A torch set high in the wall sputtered, spraying blue sparks across her path. The inbuilt shielding around her skin heightened, catching her by surprise. Dormant spells embedded in her skin stirred and sent tingles running down her arms and legs. Sparks sizzled over her hair and clothes, winking out with a soft hiss. Her spellsheen folded its petals into sleep. Revetia shook herself, and didn’t stop.

“Four,” she muttered. “Five.”

Her steps slowed beneath an ornate archway. Stonework laced and twined above her head, bodies of wingless people strung contorted in its carved web. Revetia took a breath and turned into a straight passageway. This was what she wanted to see. A flat shimmer of spell-craft grew stronger as she sidled forward, hugging the wall.

There it was. The seal.

Subtle whispers rose, became more insistent. She moved closer. Jaw set, she stretched a hand toward the seal. The grayness of it curled under her palm, swirling in sluggish ripples. Little points of heat stung her skin. Glinting sparks threaded the shadow-spell. Oily lights began to pool around her splayed fingertips, as if drawn to her small presence. They tugged at her spellsheen, sucking at its glow. She started to feel dizzy, as if she were losing – something. Curiosity burned through her.

“What’s on the other side?” she whispered.

* * *

If you’d like to find out more about Ree (and what’s on the other side of the door), Daughter of Hope is available here.

If you’re a writer, what is your favourite POV to write in, and why? If you’re a reader, do you have a preferred POV to read?

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12 thoughts on “Point of View: Taking baby steps

  1. Sometimes I write the scene using everyone’s pov and then go back and highlight each one in a different color. That allows me to see who has the most to say, although someone else’s pov might be more powerful. That helps me decide whose pov is more important to the storyline. Great post!

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  2. I have changed my POV since I began writing (in more ways than one, haha). I used to favor third person, just so I could get into everyone’s head, but with my last and the one I’m working on now, I find myself gravitating towards first person to pull my reader in. Nice post, Joanna!

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    • LOL, Clarissa, so have I!
      Interesting that you’ve inclined towards first person. I’ve only ever written short stories in first. Very close third doesn’t feel all that different to write. It just gives a bit more leeway for the ‘overview’, but it depends how you do it, of course. Second person would be the really tricky one to sustain for more than anything the length of a flash, I reckon….which is why you never hear of it. (I use it in poems quite a lot, but that’s all).

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  3. I have never done anything in first person at all! Like ever! If I ever do write anything in first, I am afraid the narrator will be crazy or evil or just too stupid to tell the story in any reliable way. That probably comes from reading too many HP Lovecraft stories with insane narrators.

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  4. I am currently writing a novel where the main character’s POV is written in first person, while the other character’s POV are all written in second. After successfully seeing this changing from first to second done in Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood, I decided to experiment with it. I thought it fitted the novel I am writing as I wanted readers to know everything the main outsider character thought, while the thoughts of the other characters, many of them about the main character who is in just about every scene, are more obscured. I am hoping the POV changes help create a me (as in the main character) versus them mentality, where the “them” is a totally unknown at the beginning.

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    • Wow, Graham, that sounds amazing! I use second person POV regularly in poetry, but have never thought to try it in prose (beyond flash fiction length). The way you are using it, however, interspersed with a first person POV main character, i can imagine working well. Will wait to see how it turns out. All the best with it! 🙂

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  5. LOL, Graham…I was imagining this as having a main First, and the other characters all reflecting back to him in short scenes….well, that was the way I could envisage it in second. But third will be a lot simpler! 😀

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