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Friday, November 16, 2012

Author in Training: The Pesky Point of View (POV)

I usually use third person limited point of view in my novels—at least I thought I did. In Love of a Stonemason, for instance, I tell the story through the mind and the eyes of Karla, the main heroine.

In An Uncommon Family, book two of the Family Portrait series, it gets more complicated. Here, there are three points of view, Anna, Jonas, and little Karla. Again, I thought I used third person limited POV. One reviewer, however, a student of literature, described it as “third person omniscient narrator.” I was startled and couldn’t understand why she called it “omniscient.”

In Emilia, part three of series, there are four different POVs. I asked Linda Cassidy Lewis, author of one of my favorite novels, The Brevity of Roses, if she would consider being a beta reader of my manuscript, since I admire her command of and feeling for language. And I’m glad I did. She gave me a lot of feedback and a few of her remarks had to do with narrative voice or point of view.

One thing she mentioned was the fact that the different POV characters weren’t distinct enough. She said—and I agree with her—that a reader should be able to recognize who the narrator is, even in the more descriptive parts, in other words those parts of text where the characters are not engaged in dialog but where they notice something and in those places the description should reflect the character’s way of thinking, use of language, etc. and not the author’s.

For example: in my novel, Andreas, the father, is someone who hates dressing up, has no interest in fashion or clothes. So when his son, Tonio, who loves fashion and studies to become a fashion designer, walks in the door, Andreas notices his somewhat outlandish outfit. He describes his son’s clothes, using expressions that only a person interested in and familiar with fashion would use. That of course would be unnatural and unrealistic.  He would certainly notice Tonio’s colorful outfit but would describe it in layman’s terms.

It made me aware how easy it is to slip into the more “omniscient” voice, telling the story from the point of view of the author rather than from one of the character’s POVs. Of course, there is nothing wrong with omniscient narration and there are places where this is done consciously by the author. But that’s not what I was trying to do. In fact, I didn’t realize I was doing it.

Keeping my beta reader’s remarks in mind, I began to reread my manuscript and I did so aloud. And boy, that sure made a difference. It was much easier for me to slip into the POV character’s mind and notice the places where the author intruded too much. I was also able to cut out a bunch of unnecessary “filler words,” for instance—here Laura, the daughter, is the POV: “Laura felt her family was in serious trouble.” We don’t really need “felt” since it’s obvious who does the feeling here. Why not simply: “Her family was in serious trouble?”

Thank you, Linda; you helped me make my book a better one. I am a little hoarse now from reading out loud, but it was worth it!