Point of view.
X touched on it back in December. It’s talked about a lot among writers, but for me, I still don’t freaking get it.
Okay, I get it mostly. But here’s where my head’s at today: we’ve got 1st person – everyone knows it, pretty tough to screw it up unless you’re writing a story that just shouldn’t be told in 1st person. But even then, you can’t really muck up the POV.
But this frocking 3rd person. We’ve got 3rd person omniscient, 3rd person limited, 3rd person objective, 3rd person subjective, 3rd person limited-omniscient, 3rd person limited-objective, and blah, bla-freaking blah.
Does anyone really know the differences between these? Other than the obvious Wikipedia defs. I mean, how do we know when a book is 3rd person omniscient as opposed to poorly executed 3rd person objective? Or vise-versa?
Now, one of the problems I’ve had in going from screenwriting to prose is POV. At times I thought I was writing 3rd person omniscient, but it was pointed out to me that what I was really doing was a poor job of 3rd person limited. Or subjective. Or vise-versa.
Which leads me to…
Rules. We always hear about the rules of writing, and how it’s okay to break them ONLY if you understand them (which I believe), or you’re a very good (or successful) writer. But I gotta tell you, lately I’ve been reading some books where the rules of POV are being bent and broken, and it bugs the gerunds out of me. It takes me out of the story.
The latest book by a writer who I think is brilliant, one of the best out there, is a 3rd person story.
Now, I’m pretty sure the book is what would be called 3rd person subjective. And for me, I’m okay with the writer switching character POV’s within the 3rd person telling, so long as it’s done by chapter, or by paragraph. That’s pretty basic, right? Don’t most of us feel that way?
And this bestselling book does that. But it also jumps subjective POV within paragraphs. Not throughout the book, just in three or four spots. And when I hit these spots, it jumps out at me. It bugs me. But is it just me? The writer of this book knows a helluva lot more about writing than I do.
And then there’s my favorite book of all-time, LONESOME DOVE. This book is brilliant. Amazing. Stunning. Entertaining as all heck. It’s got about six thousand characters and though it’s 3rd person, we’re in each character’s head at different times. Sometimes sentence to sentence we’re switching POV’s. Freaking Larry McMurtry, writing the best freaking book I’ve ever read. Does anyone know more about sentence structure and language than old Lawrence? Is this 3rd omniscient? If so, where’s the narrator’s perspective?
And does any of it matter? Or does it, and we give free passes to big names? I recently got some feedback on my prose and one of the issues was that I jumped POV within my 3rd person narrative – at the wrong time. I did what McMurtry and this other great writer did.
Oh, before your eyes begin to roll, let me point out that I am in no way comparing myself to these folks. When my reader pointed out my issue, my reaction was, "Oh, God, they’re right. I screwed up." Because to me, it’s wrong. I wasn’t trying to do it, or being lazy – not intentionally – I just… screwed up.
In another book I recently read – one of those where the narrative shifts from 1st person to 3rd person via chapters – there is a 3rd person chapter happening. And in one scene the protagonist walks into the room, and suddenly we go into 1st person. But we didn’t start a new chapter. We were literally in 3rd person, inside a supporting character’s subjective POV, and in walked the character whose POV we’re in 1st person in other chapters… but suddenly we go inside the protag’s head – in 1st person.
Isn’t this wrong? It felt wrong. But again, this is a very skilled writer doing this. One with many books on the shelves, and many awards and much critical praise. So what do I know? Not much. At least not about this.
So, help me out. Throw me a bone. All of you who are smarter than me, please help me out… and that means, uh, one, two, three, the guy in his underwear sipping coffee, the chick on the phone, sixteen, seventeen, yeah… that means every one of you. Help me out.
Clarify all this POV shite for me. Explain the difference with all these 3rd persons – and I don’t mean the basic dictionary defs, I mean explain it. Help my pea brain understand it.
What’s right, what’s wrong, when can you switch, when can’t you? Why, if you’re looking at a manuscript – or even your own work – a sudden, out of place POV shift bothers you, but if you’re reading a NYTBS author’s latest smash hit, you look the other way? Or do you?
Or maybe you feel the same I do about all this – you just don’t get it – but have been afraid to admit it. I admit it. I’m an idiot.
So, help me.
This week’s If I Picked Character’s Watches:
Phil Hawley’s fabulous Luke McKenna would wear an IWC Big Pilot Watch.
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