Point of View

Dear Puzzled,

My bet is that when we’re sitting in rockers on the porch of the Old Writers Home, there will still be people arguing about point of view (POV) and banging their canes on the floor in aggravation.

In the simplest terms, POV is the tool the writer uses to control/manipulate the flow of information to the reader. The goal in using POV is to give the reader the clearest, most compelling, and most intimate reading experience possible.

One of the reasons POV is so complicated is that there are many decisions a writer makes to shape the reader’s experience as he/she reads. Some of the basic choices a writer makes are whether the story should be told:

— in first person (I) or third person (he/she)— whether there will be one or multiple POV characters used through the course of the book— which POV character is the best to exploit each plot situation— if one or several POV characters will be given voice in each scene/chapter.
I’ll be taking a whack at explaining these POV issues in subsequent columns.Perhaps the first question — and maybe the most important is: So what does POV do? Here are some of the situations where POV can be extremely useful:1) Allows the reader to perceive the world as the character perceives it:
* Amaryllis entered the shabby tea room and took a seat at a small rickety table at the back. Thought she could barely read the battered menu, the steamy scent of exotic tea was thick in the air. Though no one came to wait on her, it was just as well. Not even a bracing cup of tea would calm her nerves.2) Allows the POV character to be an active participant in the action or an observer of it:
* (Active) Amaryllis straightened in her chair as a woman with her cloak drawn close around her entered the shop and came toward where Amaryllis was sitting.
* (Passive) From her table at the back of the shop, Amaryllis saw the woman she’d been seeking come in and take a seat at the table in the window.3) Allows the POV character to reveal her feelings:
* Her palms began to sweat as Amaryllis rose and made her way to the table Lucrezia Borgia had chosen.

4) Allows the POV character to share her thoughts:
* She must have been out of her mind after Jasmine died to have requested a meeting with someone as wicked and notorious as Mme. Borgia.

5) Allows the POV character to share her perceptions/observations:
* Yet with the cloak drawn close around a face lined by age and infirmity, Mme. Borgia didn’t look sinister…

6) And her interpretation:
* … until Amaryllis saw the banked fire of evil burning bright in her eyes.

7) Allows the POV character to share internal monologue:
* Even if she asked Mme. Borgia for the poison, would she really have the courage to avenge her sister’s murder?

8) Allows the POV character to see or ignore something that occurs in the scene:
* (See) Mme. Borgia set the small green vial of poison in the center of the table, daring Amaryllis to reach for it.
* (Ignore) As she left the tea shop, Amaryllis rummaged in her reticule for her gloves. Instead her fingers encountered something small and cool and cylindrical, something that wasn’t supposed to be there. As she withdrew it from her bag, Amaryllis’s heart began to pound. It was the small green vial of poison Mme. Borgia had offered her, and she had refused.

POV exists as a tool to clarify the message or story you are trying to convey to your reader, to integrate them into the reading experience, and — especially in romance — stir their emotions. Use of POV can do all that and much, much more. For a writer to understand what it does and gain control of POV in their own writing, gives them a power sorcerers would envy.

Now back to your manuscripts…

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