I’ve said it before, and I’m about to say it again. There’s a meme doing the rounds called ‘deep point of view’ and it’s meant to be the key to getting people to buy your book.
I confess that I get mildly irritated by the assumption with most writing advice that all books will be novels (they’re not!). Writing is writing is writing, if you get what I mean – the skills transfer. However, to me the annoying point about ‘deep point of view’ is that what’s being touted as ‘deep point of view’ is really a basic ‘Writing 101’ lesson for fiction writers.
It’s a particular ‘point of view’ technique used by top-rated novellists since forever…well, the eighteenth century, anyway. By the early twentieth century novellists such as Hemingway had extended it to an art form.
There’s no trick. You’re telling a story about someone – so you’re best to tell it from their point of view, rather than the ‘eye of God’ approach. How does your character see things? How do they react to what they see, and to what happens to them? You could call it ‘opinion writing’ because most of the time you’re explaining your character’s opinion about something. It works best in first-person singular, but it also works in third-person.
It can be further deepened, even in third-person stories, by limiting what your readers get to the experiences of the character. If your character hasn’t seen something, then you don’t add it – your readers thus experience the entire novel through the framework of your character.
Go read Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms, if you haven’t already, to see what I mean.
What often isn’t explained about ‘point of view’ writing is that to make it work, you have to develop your fictional character in specific ways, so you can ask ‘how does my character react to THIS’, in the specific circumstances of your plot, and get a meaningful answer. It doesn’t mean spending a huge slab of time working up the character in general; you’re better to focus your attention on the aspects of character that will allow you to answer these questions.
Don’t forget – characters in novels may appear to be complete and rounded. Actually they’re not. The skill is in picking the aspects that create the illusion of completion, the illusion of what Hemingway called being ‘real’. More on that soon.
Meanwhile – have you encountered this ‘deep point of view’ trope? And what did you think of it?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013
Coming up: more writing tips, more humour, science stuff and – well, watch this space.