Let me share a joyful secret from my romp toward my biology degree. Peripheral coursework fed my spirit even as I stuffed my brain with cool science. Classes on writing craft counted as my favorite tangents.
One of those traversed the intricate dance of point of view (POV). With my core curriculum overfull, Carol Orlock’s offering cemented POV as one of the most important choices a writer can make. Here’s why.
POV: 1. A manner of viewing things; an attitude. 2. a. A position from which something is observed or considered; a standpoint. b. The attitude or outlook of a narrator or character in a piece of literature, a movie, or another art form.
What this tells us? Characters emerge dependent upon their vantage point and perceptions of events. Who decides what POV to use? Why, we writers do.
Drumroll please! Now the first 5 POVs complete with short story excerpts that show them in action.
1. Interior monologue = overhearing the writer’s thoughts
I knew it. I knew if I came to this dinner, I’d draw something like this baby on my left. They’ve been saving him up for me for weeks. Now, we’ve simply got to have him—his sister was so sweet to us in Longdon; we can stick him next to Mrs. Parker—she talks enough for two. (From “But the One on the Right” by Dorothy Parker)
2. Dramatic monologue = overhearing someone speaking to another person
Eleven o’clock. A knock at the door.…I hope I haven’t disturbed you, madam. You weren’t asleep—were you? But I’ve just given my lady her tea, and there was such a nice cup over, I thought, perhaps… (From “The Lady’s Maid” by Katherine Mansfield)
3. Letter narration = a collection of spontaneous letters
September 16th, 1879
My dear Mother
Since I last wrote to you I have left that hotel, and come to live in a French family. It’s a kind of boardinghouse combined with a kind of school; only it’s not like an American boardinghouse, nor like an American school either. (From “A Bundle of Letters” by Henry James)
4. Diary narration = writer reacting to events as they happen
Dr. Strauss says I shud rite down what I think and evrey thing that happins to me from now on. I dont know why but he says its importint so they will see if they will use me. I hope they use me. (From “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes)
5. Subjective narration = told by characters after events (e.g. an untrustworthy narrator)
I know what is being said about me and you can take my side or theirs, that’s your own business. It’s my word against Eunice’s and Olivia-Ann’s, and it should be plain enough to anyone with two good eyes which one of us has their wits about them. (From My Side of the Matter” by Truman Capote)
Yes, I’ve served up a geek’s view of POV—deeper and more detailed than many how-to versions. Once you play with these and learn how varied and unique they can make your tales, you may succumb to spontaneous laughter, dancing, then invite them into your story process. Don’t be shy and please share your ah-ha moments. Next week we’ll cover the final six POVs.