“My turn of mind is so given to taking the absurd point of view, that it breaks out in spite of me every now and then.” Lord Byron
“A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding.” Marshall McLuhan
I was on vacation last week so you didn’t get any of the promised learnings from my conference, this is my start. Of course while it is a learning about writing, it is also a learning about life.
Lesson One: Point of View
While my mother would listen and hear out anyone’s argument, sarcasm would sometimes drip from her voice as she’d respond, “Well, that’s one point of view.” I always knew this meant she profoundly disagreed and thought that what she had just heard was irretrievably wrong. Of course, the only thing worse that being wrong was being a person who had no point of view. Mom saw wishy-washy people as lacking character and as being irretrievably stupid.
In my family, stupid trumped merely wrong every time. We were encouraged to dare being wrong, to decide on an opinion,and then embrace our decision. We might need to figure out how to defend it, and ourselves for choosing it, but we were supposed to have a point of view.
So when I became a therapist, one challenge for me was to learn to be able to accept multiple points of view. A couple, a family, came with every member believing that they had the only point of view that was “right.” To align my self with any one view would be to join the conflict, rather than help repair it.
So I learned to see the issues with faceted eyes, each person’s point of view becoming just one lens. It’s a bit like the eye doctor who changes three lens and asks you, is it better here, here, or here. A therapist’s job is not to decide upon which is the “right” viewpoint but to clarify them, then help people see multiple possibilities and choose for themselves. If this doesn’t happen, if they don’t identity the answer for themselves, they won’t be able to live with the solution.
This talent for multiple p.o.v. may have been a great skill for the therapist in me, but Not…So…Good for the author. For readers, especially young ones without my life experience, it can make things seem out of focus, like trying to look though multiple lens stacked on top of each other. The more you add the hazier things become.
So that is my life context for the 10 page manuscript review I had with Dawn Dowdle from the Blue Ridge Literary Agency. Her website told me in advance that she prefers single point of view writing – first person or third ( I tell my own story or you tell me yours) and that she won’t represent “omniscient” books where the story is told from multiple points of view. That was my first uh-oh. Lis is my main character but, like in my family, many of the other characters are strong minded and know how to hold their own.
In her review, Dawn said she liked the story and really liked Lis, my main character, but that in a couple of instances I had p.o.v lapses. This happened when Lis was observed by someone else within a scene although the rest of the point of view was hers. For example she cited the line: “Lis’ face dimpled as she looked at Baba Zosia. Only Zosia can see her dimples, not Lis, so this is a lapse in p.o.v. However, Lis can feel her dimples. As in “Lis felt her cheeks crease into dimples…” (Alright, I know. I have dimples.)
Picky, perhaps, but as a recovering perfectionist I still recognize the great chasm between good writing and great writing. I aspire to great and it is so easy to lapse into mediocre.
So Learning One: Each scene, (or chapter, or even book) must have only one point of view. IF you need to change the point of view, you must clearly mark the change in scene. If p.o.v. changes for a line or two – rewrite. Wishy-washy won’t work in books much better than it does in life.
Maybe you know this already. Maybe you have already focused on it in your edits in life and in writing. I didn’t ignore it, but I didn’t attend to it sufficiently.
But if you find yourself resisting… After all there is always the omniscient narrator isn’t there? And even if first person is all the rage, we don’t have to have every book be written that way, right? And people can change their minds, can’t they? My ideas on resistance will be learning number two – stay tuned.
But for now, let me explain. Dawn convinced me that there’s good reason for monitoring and maintaining a point of view with the simplest and most basic argument: your reader wants to identify with a character. Understanding point of view is critical to that.
She’s right. It’s the way they put themselves into the story. They need to connect to your characters, even pick one to “be.” If you make it too difficult, they can’t. And if they can’t, they stop reading. If they stop reading, it’s your problem, not theirs. It’s bad writing and it won’t sell. Any one of those points is enough to convince me.
Dawn didn’t find glaring errors in The Call, but, like my mother, she insisted I find and stick to a point of view. I suppose I could have discounted what she said, since she doesn’t like my genre. I didn’t. I am determined to learn. So I have sifted through Part One and examined point of view in every line. Then, I edited, and I will keep at it.
I may never get to great, but hopefully I keep getting to better. That’s my point of view, and I’m sticking to it. What about you?
- Sixty second writing tips: points of view in 171 words (mjwrightnz.wordpress.com)
- Changing viewpoints (andrewknighton.wordpress.com)
- Point of View, part 1 (rjsullivanfiction.com)