Thursday, August 2, 2012

POV: The Deeper, the Better

One of the more common problems writers have is with their point of view, or POV for short.  With so many to choose from, it is little wonder that some people feel lost when trying to navigate the deep ocean that is POV.  First, second, third person, present tense, past tense, future tense...  Where's a person to go and how does it all come together?  Relax.  It's not really that difficult.  There are things to remember, sure, but that's part of learning your craft, right?  Let's start by tackling who, exactly, is speaking by examining the different types of POV.

  • First Person - Often used in noir, but also used in almost every other kind of story-telling, this is where the narrator is the character, and uses the term "I" to tell the story.  "I remember the day I died," says the narrator.  Everything that happens in this story must now be told from the point of view of the narrator, and so we, the audience, get a skewed view of the universe through the character's eyes. 
  • Second Person - Not often used, but I've seen it a time or three.  The narrator uses the term "you" to directly address the reader, thereby making the reader an active character in the story.  "You walk down the street."  By addressing the reader so, you are putting the reader squarely in the story, yes, but you're also limiting the story to the reader's own experience.  
  • Third Person - The most common form of narration is the kind in which the author addresses the character as "he," "she" or, in some cases, "it."  "He walked down the street."  However, because nothing can ever be simple, there are different types of third-person narrative.  
    • Omniscient - This is the type in which the narrator can see everything and into everyone's head.  He is the butler, who must be correct, but who is also all powerful and knowing.  He may say "Billy wanted the ball, but Jane didn't want to give it to him," thereby providing us with insight two two characters simultaneously.
    • Limited - Much like the omniscient variety, the narrator can now see in the characters' heads, but only one at a time.  Usually, the narration will switch from one character's perspective to another at section breaks or even for the span of chapters.  This method allows us to bond with particular characters, to see what's going on in their heads in relationship with other characters, without having to muck around in other heads for a bit.  
So, now that we've defined the different types of narration, what's this business about having a deeper POV?  Well, to put it simply, you want the reader hooked in your story, yes?  You want people to feel that they're standing there beside the reader.  You want them to have a vested interest in how things work out.  You want you reader know...actually READ the rest of the page, and turn to the next one.  So what does POV have to do with such a concept?  


The deeper the POV, the deeper down the rabbit hole the reader gets pulled.  Ever sat in the room with a master story-teller?  He weaves his tale of mayhem and intrigue and keeps the audience rapt, held close in the sweaty palm of his hand.  Compare to someone who is not so adept at story telling.  People yawn, look away, check watches...  It's sad, really.  But how does the master story-teller keep people so entranced?  One way is to create a vivid image with his words, to allow people to feel that any moment, the skeletal fingers of the story-teller's monster may reach over the back of the chair and grab them.  He does it by putting the audience in the story.  And how, I hear you ask?  One way is through the use of filters.  

Rather, through the lack of them.

A filter is, in the world of photography, something that is used to diffuse light, darken a lens, change the hue, or any more of a dozen things.  In the world of writing, filters are much the same thing, only they diffuse the entire scene.  They take the reader and hold him at arms length and let him come no closer to the action.  Let's take the following two sentences in third-person limited, for example:

"Jason could see black clouds gathering on the horizon."
"Black clouds gathered on the horizon"

In the first instance, we are given the filter "Jason could see."  We are in third person limited, which tells us that we're already in the head of the character, "Jason."  So why do we need to be told "he could see?"  Why not just state what he saw as fact?  In the second sentence, we are shown what needs to be seen, but we're shown it as if we, ourselves, are seeing it firsthand without filters.  

"He could hear bells ringing in the distance, kicked up by the maelstrom."
"Bells rang in the distance, kicked up by the maelstrom."

Here is the same example, only applied to the sense of hearing.  You can apply this technique to any form of sensory input.  Instead of saying "the sand felt coarse," just say "the coarse sand."  Instead of saying "the tea tasted bitter," just say "the bitter tea."  Here are a few filters that you should try to avoid.  This is not a comprehensive list, but a good starting place. 
  • He could see
  • He could smell
  • He could taste
  • He could feel
Look for those in your own writing.  Weed them out, and you'll be one step closer to capturing your reader's imagination, and dragging him down the rabbit hole with you. 



  1. A fantastic primer! Thanks for posting!

  2. This was really informative and sadly something I've only just learned from being at Seton Hill's last residency. The filtering lesson has already improved my writing.

  3. Great post! Can't be reminded of this stuff too often. I know I can tend to slip back into filtering.