What About P.O.V.?

Saturday, March 29, 2008
At my critique group on Tuesday night, we had a discussion on the elusive P.O.V. (Point Of View). One of the members of my group is writing a delightful children's fantasy story with two main characters--sisters--and a purple cat. She jumps in and out of the heads of all the main characters, especially the two sisters. Several of my critique group members said they were confused and asked, "Whose head are we in? Who is the main character?"

I had had the same reaction when I read the story, but I was thinking of a solution. What about omniscient p.o.v.? Wouldn't that solve her problem? She needs both the sisters in the story, and each of them knows certain parts. It wouldn't work to pick one sister to tell the story.

But my suggestion brought new questions for us. What is the difference between omniscient p.o.v. and third person? What makes it omniscient instead of head jumping? Many editors and agents complain that some newbie writers head jump between characters, and this is sloppy and confusing writing.

I suggested she check out The Series of Unfortunate Events as I was pretty sure that was an omniscient p.o.v. A narrator tells the story and knows what is going on inside all the character's heads. In fact, this narrator often stops and addresses the reader, telling us not to read on if we want to read a happy tale or helping us with vocabulary in the story. Everyone in my group agreed that this series was a good example for her to read, but I still wanted to clear up these questions for myself.

Then my ByLine (http://www.bylinemag.com/) magazine came in the mail, and it had a whole article on point of view written by Marion Tickner, a children's writer. She explained the difference between third person, omniscient, and multiple points of view. Third person is a lot like first person as the story is told through one character's eyes. Third person names the character and uses the pronouns he or she instead of I, like in first person. A common example of third person books would be the Harry Potter series.

Omniscient is when the person/author telling the story is god-like because this person knows EVERYTHING. This narrator will know information the main characters do not know and has a voice of his/her own. The narrator is like an unnamed character, telling the story to the readers.

Multiple p.o.v. is when more than one character is telling his or her story. This is often done in books by chapters. One chapter is the story of Character A through his eyes. The next chapter is the story told through Character B's eyes, and so on. I just read a great book with multiple points of view--The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier. This is an excellent example, and I highly recommend it!

So, what will I tell my fellow critique group member the next time we meet? I might suggest she try writing the story with multiple and omniscient points of view and see which one works best for her story.

Which point of view do you like to write in?
Happy writing!
Margo Dill


Anonymous said...

Does anyone know when the winners of the Winter Flash Fiction Contest will be posted? Have the winners been notified already? I'm just wondering because I entered the contest, and I haven't seen anything posted on the site about the winners. Thanks!

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