You’ve heard about “Point of View” and know it’s important when writing fiction, but what is it? And why should you care? In this episode of Writing Momentum, Chris, Gena and friend-of-the-show Rene Gutteridge, talk about POV, the different kinds (first person, second person, third person, universal) and how YOU can make sure your novel has the strongest Point of View possible.
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Episode 44 Transcription:
[00:00:14].140] - Chris Hello and welcome to the Writing Momentum podcast. I'm Christopher Maselli, and I'm here with my wife Gena and our friend Rene Gutteridge. How are you two doing? [00:00:23].360] - Gena Great. [00:00:24].000] - Gena I'm great. I guess I'm answering for Rene. [00:00:27].070] - Chris Everyone's being so polite and not just jumping in. [00:00:30].120] - Rene No, you can always answer for me. I trust in all answers. Feel free. It might be a better answer than what I'll give. [00:00:40].460] - Gena Well, I'm actually really excited to talk today because we are talking about a topic that I know Rene is going to help us dive deeper into, and she's taught me so much about it, so I'm really excited to talk about this, Chris and that is point of view. [00:00:57].210] - Chris Yeah, this is important. Point of view. Okay, what is point of view when it comes to writing? I've heard that a few people say that, right? You got to write, you have to have a good POV or you've got to change your POV. What in the world is that and what do they mean? [00:01:14].060] - Rene Okay, so point of view, you'll hear it POV, and it stands for point of view, of course. And we're going to talk exclusively in fiction tonight. So there's point of views and other ways of writing, but in fiction, it is basically the viewpoint of your character. Okay? So in every fictional character, you're inside their head, and you've got to pick which characters heads you're in. You can't be in the same character's head at the same time unless you're writing omniscient their viewpoint of the world, of the scene, of what's in front of them, everything that they see and feel. And it's your job as the writer to figure out how theirs is unique from the other characters and a unique viewpoint of the world. [00:02:17].510] - Chris Okay, so point of view is the viewpoint of the world, is that different than if someone has put this in the first point of view versus the third point of view? What do they mean by that then? [00:02:31].160] - Rene First person and third person, just to boil it down easy, first person is, I did this, I did that. Third person as he did that, she did that. And we'll go into this a little bit more. There's often the misunderstanding that first person will always be deeper, and that is not true, but it does get reflected that way sometimes and taught that way. First person is actually pretty hard viewpoint to pull off and it takes a lot of practice. So if you're beginning in writing, I always suggest third person, and there's some reasons for that. [00:03:21].710] - Gena When you're talking about it being deeper. I think that terminology for someone who's not familiar with it. When you're talking about it being that the first person is deeper, it's because you really are in that character's head. And so it's that character saying, I like Broccoli. I don't like broccoli. I can't stand the way that other character did this, or I love that it looks like this. And so we get into those characters emotions, whereas for third person, a lot of times people write it in such a way where they're kind of looking down on the setting and on the characters. And while this person's doing that and this person is doing that, this person is doing that, that's my understanding of being deeper. Is that correct? [00:04:15].640] - Rene Yeah. Like, I think in first person, you know for sure that your character is also the narrator. So those two things can't be separated. However, in third person, we often think, well, there's a narrator and then that narrator is going to kind of tell the emotions of the character. But you can actually sink deep enough into your character's point of view in third person, that there's really no distinction between first person and first person other than, I did this, he did this. I love broccoli. He loves broccoli. Every time I think of Broccoli, I think of Steve, and it makes me bark. Every time she thought of Broccoli, she thought of Steve and it made her bark. Do you see how they really are interchangeable in terms of how deep you can go? The benefit of third person is that you can do that with multiple characters, whereas in first person, you are stuck in one character's head for the whole book. That's what makes it hard. You've got to be skilled enough to keep a reader's attention with one character, one point of view, one voice, one style, the whole book, it is challenging. [00:05:42].460] - Chris So if you're just in that one character's head, that means you can't explain things that are happening outside of what they know, right? Because otherwise it's like you're jumping into someone else's head in order to do that. Even if it's the narrator said you're jumping into, it's someone else's head you're jumping into in order to explain that, in which case it's not first person anymore. And you have to then go through and change the whole thing to be third person. [00:06:09].610] - Rene Yeah, right. So if you choose to tell it in first person, you can only tell what that character can see, hear, taste, feel for 90000 words, right. So they better be interesting. And that's kind of the challenge for first person, is you've got to create a character so interesting that I am willing to be inside that character's head for days. And so that's what's hard about it. And you've got to develop this voice and this style and this viewpoint that is so engaging that a reader will stick with it. Like, you know, you can have a great friend, your favorite friend, after about four days, you're like, well, we probably should part. You know, I mean, there's only so much time you could spend with somebody, even if they're super interesting. So that is a challenge. Third person gives you this unique ability to even tell the same scene or the same incident from multiple points of view from different people. And as we all know, I mean, you can see it in crime when they say they have eyewitnesses. Three people can see the same thing and tell it completely differently from their point of view. [00:07:41].510] - Rene That guy definitely did another person. It wasn't that guy. It was this guy. I mean, that's what you get to play with, with third person. You don't want to get too many points of view, but it is fun to play back and forth. What's really fun, like, for instance, in Rom-Com, romantic comedy, is you've got the same incident, they're meeting for the first time, and you get one character's point of view of how it went, and then you get to retell it if you want to, from the other characters point of view. And it may have gone totally differently. It's super fun to play with. So even though I've done both, I actually prefer third person. But I have liked the challenge of first person as well. It really caused me to dig deep into a character, really develop a highly developed character that had lots to say about the world. And that's really the key. [00:08:35].230] - Chris So could you mix them up? Could you have a first person point of view from a cop? Like, let's say let's say your main character is a cop, right? Your protagonist is a cop and he's telling the story. Could you then jump to a third person point of view to tell the killer story? Or first person in the killer's head? Like, could you do that? Or is that just completely violating all standards? [00:08:59].340] - Rene Good question. [00:09:00].210] - Rene Technically, yes, because you can do anything right? Know the rules before you break them. I have done it only. But let me tell you the reason. The reason is because I had a character who was in a coma, and I needed to distinguish between when she was in a coma and when she was in real life. So in one situation, I had her in third person. In another situation, I had her in first person. And I had written many books before I tried this. But there was a particular reason to do it, right? I'm distinguishing between worlds. The coma world was really weird, so it made sense that her mind would change between reality and whatever. It was fun. Yeah, I think that's right. Although right now that's not making sense because how could she be in both? That was a long time ago when I wrote that up. But you understand the reason behind it. There was a reason why there was a third person and a first person. So I would say you could do something like that at the point that you're skilled enough to understand how point of view works and how to use it and how to wield it as a writer, you feel very comfortable with it and you know what you're doing so that you know all the rules. [00:10:34].420] - Rene And point of view is one of the hardest things to grasp. Although I have a really easy way to teach it that it almost always clicks for people, and we'll talk about that, but once you know it, once you can wield it with authority, then you can play with it how you want. [00:10:52].740] - Chris Okay, so what's the way then to remember what's the way you teach it that is magical so that we cannot forget. [00:10:58].860] - Rene Okay, I'm going to tuck my necklace in here because it's blinding me with my light. I don't know if it's blinding anybody else, but it keeps like I don't know. [00:11:07].200] - Rene Mine will catch, too. I see mine catching live like. [00:11:12].640] - Rene Okay, so one of the hard things for people to remember or how they learn point of view is that they will divulge something to the reader that the character couldn't possibly know. For instance, you've got a scene, you've got a character, they're talking with somebody. And then as a writer, you say, and as Steve was about to come around the corner, another character, well, how could you possibly know steve is getting ready to come around the corner? It might be Steve. Maybe Steve is the only person in the house. But you don't really know for sure. What you can divulge through the point of view of your character is only what you know for sure. Not what you think might be there, not what you're guessing. The car is getting ready to come over the hill. If you don't know, you can't say it. So one of the ways that I teach it is I have people think about it through a camera lens. So I have people put your eye up to your camera lens and think about what you can see through the camera lens. Like, for instance, if I look this way, I can see a wall, but I can't see beyond the wall. [00:12:39].510] - Rene I don't know what's on the other side. Now, if somebody is doing dishes, I can guess it's my husband, but it's only a guess. I don't know for sure. And so using this little scope here to look through your characters world, what do they see? You can do it in your mind's eye. What does my character see right now that I know for sure? The other thing is, the other mistake that's made is reading another character's thoughts. You can't know what they're thinking. You can only guess what they're thinking by the expression on their face. But it's just a guess. So learning those techniques and it's funny how, like, the more that I wrote under publishers, the more things that would be caught. I learned pretty quick. After about three books, I finally learned all of the rules because I would get that big red circle, POV mistake. And then you start really challenging yourself. I'm not going to have a single point of view mistake in my manuscript because it's just point of view mistakes sort of point out what level of writing you're at. Right? Like writers who've been writing for years never make a point of view mistake. [00:14:04].260] - Rene They just don't, because they know only what their reader, their character, can see, hear, taste, think. And once you get it, though, I promise you, you'll get it. It takes practice. But once you start seeing those little things, like, for instance, if Joe is looking at Steve and Joe says, Steve's got that piece of paper in his back pocket, you'll get a circle. You don't know what Steve has in his back pocket unless you reach back there. So those little things will start to click with you. The more that you get edited, the more you practice point of view, eventually, you'll never make a point of view mistake again. [00:14:45].560] - Chris Very good. So just real quick then, before we finish up, are there other points of view, like first and third? Is there one in between the second point of view? And are there any others? No, not really. [00:15:01].160] - Rene There is there's a second point of view? There's omniscient. It seems like there's one more not used really, in modern fiction, especially in popular fiction, maybe in literary fiction, somebody might try omniscient. Of course, the classics are often written in omniscient. That was popular back then. Second person is you walked into the room, you turned the corner. It's kind of engaging. I wrote a second or a short story like that once. I didn't really love it, but it's good to know him. But almost all popular fiction is written in first or third. [00:15:44].970] - Chris Yeah, the second point of view that sounds like something you might do in a children's book is a fun kind of, you know, like a choose your own adventure. You're doing this, you're doing that, right? [00:15:53].170] - Rene Yes, those are all written in second point of view. And then there also is and I don't read a lot of fantasy, so I'm kind of I don't know if I'm talking with any authority here, but there is also the narrator in third person. And so if you start in a shallow point of view with a narrator sort of establishing the world and everything and sort of sink into then a third person, it can be done. I tried it. I got flagged for it. The editors didn't like it, but I've seen it done and it can work. The question at the end of the day is, are you confusing your reader? And like it or not, readers are guided by the point of view of the character. So if you're doing something that confuses the reader, then you've got to backtrack and make sure you don't do that. [00:17:02].510] - Chris Very good. Well, we always like it when we have novelist and screenwriter and our good friend Rene Gutteridge on. Do you think you want to go ahead and wrap us up today? [00:17:13].320] - Gena Well, thank you guys so much for joining us on the Writing Momentum podcast. Please be sure to rate, review, subscribe, and share. That really helps get the word out about this podcast. And if you can just share this podcast with even just one person or share it on your social media that you're enjoying it, that would be really helpful for us. And definitely be sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode. And until next time, remember that we always, always, always together. Have writing momentum.