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 April, 2002

Point of View and Other Devices

by Sandy Tritt


One of the most important decisions you will make in writing your story is choosing which point of view to use. The point of view is the "head" or "camera angle" from which the action will be filtered. Depending on which source you study, there are a variable number of points of view to choose from. However, I have selected the five I think are most often used and the easiest to understand.

  • First Person Point of View - The narrator is the main character ("I"): I knew I shouldn't have let Grandma go down there. She isn't too steady on her feet to start with, and then she gets those dizzy spells. But she insisted, and the next thing I know, she's tumbling down those stairs like a gymnast . . .
  • Second Person Point of View - "You" are the main character: You know how it is. You think you shouldn't intervene, you think she'll get mad at you if you don't let her do what she's always done . . .
  • Third Person Point of View, Panoramic - The narrator sees all the action, but doesn't read minds. This can best be understood as being like a movie camera. Mrs. Smith stood at the top of the stairs, her son John next to her. Clinging to the handrail, she planted her trembling foot on the first step. But the other foot caught on the carpet and . . .
  • Third Person Point of View, Controlled Consciousness - Like first person, we see all the action through the eyes of a single character, and we can only see what that character sees. The difference is we use "He" or "She" instead: John knew he shouldn't have allowed his grandmother to go down the stairs alone. She wasn't steady on her feet and sometimes she grabbed onto the nearest object when dizziness overwhelmed her.
  • Third Person Omniscient - God-like; the narrator knows and sees everything, and can move from one mind to another. John stood next to his grandmother. He wanted to help her down the stairs. Mrs. Smith looked at her grandson, her blue eyes sharp, and moved a strand of hair from her face. She was determined to do this on her own, to prove she wasn't an infirmed old lady . . .

So which point of view should you choose? It depends on the story you are telling. Take a careful look at each type and "try it out" before you commit to any one. Most likely, the point of view you choose will be the point of view for the entire novel. It is possible to mix viewpoints, but only if done at chapter or scene breaks, and even then it must be handled with care so as not to confuse the reader.

One word of caution: although third person omniscient allows the most flexibility, it is difficult to manage. Just because this point of view allows us to jump from one head to another doesn't mean we can do so indiscriminately. Oftentimes when we get a vague feeling that something isn't right but can't quite put our finger on it, the problem is a point of view problem. Even within third person omniscient, we should have only one viewpoint character at a time, only one character whose thoughts and mind we visit. We have the option to change viewpoint characters, but we must do it very carefully, preferably at a scene or chapter break. However, if we must switch "heads" within a scene, we must clue the reader to what we are doing and allow for a transition. I prefer to do this by ignoring the previous viewpoint character for a sentence or two, then have the new viewpoint character touch his face -- rub his forehead, scratch his ear, any action, as long as it involves his face or head -- to clue the reader that this is our new "head." Once the switch is made, stay with it. "Head-hopping" is confusing for the reader and should be done only when absolutely necessary.

Study point of view. Oftentimes, if a story isn't working, shifting the viewpoint or the point of view can make a big difference.

Besides point of view, intimacy and voice affect how close the reader feels to the story and the characters. Intimacy is how close we are to the action and to the character's thoughts and emotions. Like a video camera, we can zoom in and out, getting close (into a character's head) when we need to and then back off when things get too hot or when we need a broader perspective.

Voice is the way in which the narrator talks -- it can be proper and formal, conversational, or even illiterate. To be effective, it must be natural and unique, just like each person's voice. I've heard it said that an author's voice is one of the most difficult things to develop. And that may be true. When we first begin putting words on paper, we "try out" different voices, trying to find the one that suits us. Of course, each story can have a different voice and still be the author's (for a cheap example, look at my fiction. The Rebirth has a much different voice than Jenny). The more we write, the more comfortable we become with our voice.

Likewise, the tense chosen affects the power of the story. We most often see past tense (he was) used in fiction, although present (he is) can be effectively used. Past perfect (he had been) and future perfect (he will be) should be saved for flashbacks and special effects. It is extremely important to maintain tense. Like viewpoint changes, switch changes jar the reader and mark the writer as an amateur. Unless you are an accomplished writer, do not even consider changing tenses within your novel. If you are uncertain which tense to choose, go with past tense. It is the easiest to handle and the most invisible to the reader.

Take full advantage of these tools. The same exact plot, setting and character can become totally different stories by experimenting with point-of-view, intimacy and voice. If you don't believe me, try it. Write a short story with three characters: a grandmother, her alcoholic son, and her five-year-old granddaughter. First, tell the story from Third Person Panoramic. Then use either first person or third person controlled consciousness to tell the story again from each of the character's perspectives.

Point of view, voice, intimacy and tense are the spices in your main dish of plot, character and setting. As such, they must exist, but they should be invisible to the reader, allowing for a smooth, full-bodied flavor without any jarring inconsistencies. My best advice: keep it simple.

(c) copyright 1999 by Sandy Tritt. All rights reserved, except for those listed here. May be reproduced for educational purposes (such as for writer's workshops), as long as this copyright notice and the url: http://tritt.wirefire.com are distributed with the pages. For use in conferences or other uses not mentioned here, please contact Sandy Tritt at tritt@wvadventures.net for permission and additional resources at no or limited charge.

   Keep writing!

Sandy Tritt

Inspiration for Writers tritt@wvadventures.net























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by Kathy Hartwell

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This statement was written by Kathy. Isn't it great?

Critiquing Special

  • First ten pages free, and, for a limited time, all additional pages at 50% off the regular rate of $2.00 per page.  Just mention Publishing New Writers  Newsletter (March, 2002).
  • Critiques by Sandy Tritt
  • Unlike most editors, I consider my role to be a mentor or a coach. Instead of just telling you what is wrong, I explain how to correct the problem, and I work with you to teach you how to write effective prose. More than 50% of my business is repeat business, and I relish establishing long-term relationships with other writers.
  • Treat you with respect and compassion. All criticism will be of the "constructive" sort. My purpose is to improve your writing, not to destroy your confidence.
  • Mark your manuscript, correcting grammatical and spelling errors and suggesting alternative wording where appropriate, line-by-line.
  • Highlight areas that are especially well-written, so you will know where your strengths are.
  • Where appropriate, offer suggestions for plot development, character development or other areas that could be strengthened.
  • Return a two-to-four page written analysis of your work. This will include evaluation of: plot, setting, characterization, dialogue, special effects (flash forwards, flashbacks, etc.), voice, point of view and any other areas particular to your work.
  • If appropriate, recommend reading or resources to strengthen your areas of weakness.
  • Answer any questions you may have via email.
  • Provide my telephone number for a personal follow-up, if you desire.

For Sandy's success stories, see http://tritt.wirefire.com/Manuscript_Critique.html

Write Sandy at tritt@wvadventures.net

(See Sandy's article in the left column.)

Writerly Websites...


This is Dianne Ochiltree's site for children, parents, teachers and writers for young readers. Dianne is an author of books for young readers (birth to teenage)

and she is also a children's book reviewer. She's been writing professionally for over 25 years---about 18 years in public relations/advertising/marketing and the last 7 years as a children's writer. Dianne has two books published to date, with Scholastic and with Simon & Schuster.

http://tritt.wirefire.com The Inspiration for Writers website offers help and encouragement to writers of all levels. Tips and Techniques give practical advice about frequent writing blunders. The Writer's Prayer, inspirational quotes, and essays about the writing life add insight and inspiration. The Fiction Showcase offers short stories for the reader's enjoyment. And, for those serious about improving their writing skills, manuscript critiques and coaching services are available. Visit http://tritt.wirefire.com today!

Lynette's creative Writing Website

(type both lines in one)




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By Kurt Schuller

 Another inspired work recreating

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Chicken Bones and Coffee Spoons

by Dan Masterson


Sometimes a good idea sticks in your throat like a chicken bone, insisting on attention. And T.S. Eliot knew not to have Prufrock say, "I'm lonely," and to say instead, "I have measured out my life in coffee spoons."

I've been directing workshops at two New York State colleges for many years. The first time I ever showed anyone a poem was in third grade. I asked Sister Helena to read a piece I'd written. A line into the first stanza, she scowled and handed it back: "If you find and correct the error, I will continue reading." I found the error and corrected it but never showed her that poem or any other.

I went on writing but it wasn't until my second year in college that I showed another poem to anyone. I never knew what he thought of it because I left his workshop after he berated the first student who read her poem. He demanded to know why I was leaving. I told him that I didn't like him or his workshop. I never sat in a workshop again.

And I ended up teaching workshops for all these years; go figure. In my workshops, I insist that there be no sarcasm, no psychological probing, no snide comments. I make sure we celebrate the poem first and then attempt to make it better.

Here are some of the comments and suggestions I've made, and continue to make, in my workshops on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. I hope you find them helpful. Stop by again; I'll be adding others from time to time. (c)2k

1. The First Element of Poetry (Memorable Language): - a line or phrase which hangs in the mind's eye like a fishhook - good enough to be on a tee shirt. Roethke's words from his villanelle, "The Waking," seem to qualify - "I learn by going where I have to go."

2. The Second Element of Poetry (Remarkable Imagery): - a moment which seems to rise up off the page, almost in a different color ink, as though a photograph has replaced the words - as though the paper has turned into flesh in your hands.

3. The Third Element of Poetry (Engaging Storyline): - journalists call it the "handle" for a story - an idea the reader can hang on to. James Dickey's soldier in the poem, "Helmets," feels, as he drinks water from a dead buddy's helmet, that he is ingesting the dead man's last thought.

4. The Fourth Element of Poetry (Residue of Pain and/or Experience): - there's an aura about the piece, a feeling that the poet has earned the right to approach the subject. When we read Anne Sexton's poem, "Ringing the Bells," or John Allman's "The Scattering," there is no need to ask whether the poet experienced the event. The pain is there: honest, common, lacking in self pity and self congratulation.

5. Voice: - every established poet has his or her own voice; it's as recognizable as a fingerprint. No one's voice is quite like anyone else's. We work toward developing our own unique voice. Early on, we borrow from voices we admire; that's okay. Eventually, our own voices begin to emerge; often it is a shock to poets that their desired voice is very close to the voice they've been using in conversation. Don't posture. Don't go up on tiptoes to reach the $10 words off the top shelf. Stay flat-footed; tell your story.

6. Breaking the Reader's Heart: - that's what we want to do. But we don't want the reader to say, "Oh what a nice person the poet must be; I wish I could help." No. What we want the reader to say is, "Wow! That was some poem; the poet really cares deeply about that." The heart must be broken cleanly, with dignity - no melodrama or self pity.

7. Tension: - if a reader is to stay with a poem, there has to be a compelling reason. The poem should contain tension - as though it were a rubber band being stretched to the snapping point. If the rubber band goes limp, so does the reader's interest.

8. The Abstract: - Ezra Pound said it best, "Go in fear of abstractions." Avoid categories such as Love, Peace, or Eternity. Instead, choose an event that will give the reader a visual, specific example of the category. Abstracts allow us to talk; when the writer talks, the reader closes both ears.

9. Identity: - it's a good idea to describe the poem's characters right away. Readers can't care about people they don't see.

10. Foreshadowing: - it's helpful to expose the reader to language and moments which prepare them for later twists and turns in the storyline. Be sure the hints are not obvious and tiresome.

-all for now; good luck with your writing!

-Dan Masterson

Published  (with permission) from the "Chicken Bones and Coffee Spoons" page on Dan's website http://www.poetrymaster.com.  Please read and enjoy, and feel free to contact Dan for a free poem evaluation and a special offer for further consultation.

Please write Dan at masterson@author-me.com

Read...   Two-bit Dancing

Life's an onion. Not a new concept—Usually, what we reveal to others about ourselves adds flavor, distinction…making us appear just a bit more exciting. Assume for a moment, that someone is peeling your life apart, onion layer by onion layer. Are you still adding flavor? Distinction? Is at the heart of the onion really a heart? Is it, then, the onion crying — or the one who’s peeling…?
Angela Louie, mother of a teenager and a disabled child, is entering a fine hotel while fidgeting with the business card of an escort service — lapse of common sense? Hanson Lee Ascano is a computer genius working for a prestigious firm — he also dances in an exotic night club a few nights each week. Tom Lawson is taking on what should be a routine investigation to reunite a parent with his children — instead, it rouses monsters.

For more info, visit... http://www.twobitdancing.com/

About the Author

Evelyn Schneider was born and raised in Germany. She has written "almost anything from plant-care tags to television sitcoms." She lives in San Diego, California.
She says, Two-bit Dancing was inspired by a television talkshow, and laughs. Then, serious: "The true inspiration came many years ago while visiting a police fair. I was a teenager then and should have been impressed by the latest crime-fighting technology. But what remained in my soul where the images of cubicles upon cubicles filled with photographs of children -- not victims of some far-away war but sons and daughters of modern families: burnt, starved, locked away.


Publishing New Writers,

April, 2002 (no.304)

Editor Bruce L. Cook, P.O. Box 451, Dundee, IL 60118.  Fax (847) 428-8974.

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