Point-Of-View matters, but it doesn’t matter that much

Reading back through the first draft of a story, I noticed that I’d slipped into first person for a couple of paragraphs. Not big problem, right? Most of my first drafts are handwritten, and I can easily fix the point-of-view when typing up. But to judge by the proto-fascist attitude to POV I see expressed by many writers these days, I might in fact have committed a mortal sin.

How Fiction Works by James Wood

How Fiction Works by James Wood is one of my five indispensable writing guides for fiction writers. And at a time when POV has become seemingly set in stone, How Fiction Works is perhaps the best guide I can recommend to show you a different way of thinking about writing. What is it we’re really talking about when we talk about POV? James Woods answer is invaluable.

“When I talk about free indirect style I am really talking about point of view, and when I talk about point of view I am really talking about the perception of detail, and when I talk about detail I’m really talking about character, and when I talk about character I am really talking about the real, which is at the bottom of my inquiries.”

Style is point-of-view is perception of detail is character which is, the bottom line for all fiction, the real. What readers HUNGER for in fiction is to to step into a reality created on the page. A strict form of POV, like the “Third Person Close” style now made near compulsory by George R R Martin in his Game of Thrones novels, is one way to achieve that reality. But so is the fluid shifting POV style used in so many other novels over many centuries.

If, as I see so many writers and editors doing at this time, you are reject all but a small number of POV writing styles – Third Person Close, First Person Present etc, you aren’t expressing expertise. The opposite is true. You’re telling me you don’t know how to create a reality on the page. In place of that essential skill, which expresses itself in so many ways, you’re simply parroting a style that other writers evolved as one possible answer to the challenge.

I strongly recommend reading Wood’s How Fiction Works cover to cover if you haven’t already done so. And take a look at some older classics of fiction, like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which pioneered the free indirect style of novel writing.

Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

2 thoughts on “Point-Of-View matters, but it doesn’t matter that much

  1. In a recent piece on childhood, I found that jumping from past to present tense and back again helped emphasize the difference between events that were so vivid as to still feel immediate and those recollected more clinically. I think POV also can be shifted to achieve certain effects.

    Liked by 1 person


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