Tag Archives: Point-of-view

Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension” – part 8: Patchwork

Welcome! Over the next many months we invite you to return here, specifically on the fourth Thursday of each month for the newest installment of Sue Harrison‘s teaching: Writing The Third Dimension. You can read all the segments by clicking on the page title WRITING THE THIRD DIMENSION, found under Writers’ Helps & Workshops on the drop-down menu. Please feel free to ask questions and leave comments for Sue. Now for the topic for month eight:

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“Writing the Third Dimension” – part 8: Patchwork

When I was about seven years old, my Grandma Kate made me a quilt for my doll. Exquisitely pieced with tiny hand stitches, that quilt is one of my most precious possessions. Each square is about one inch by one inch, and scattered throughout are squares that are plain red, but the other squares are from my grandmother’s dresses, and my grandfather’s shirts and pajamas. The variety is lovely, and the red squares, although scattered without a fixed design, unite the others into a cohesive whole. As I write this, the quilt lies in the center of my dining room table, background for a lovely piece of Belgian lace and an old-fashioned-looking oil lamp. I smile each time I look at the table. What a treasure my grandmother gave to me.

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Writers also need to use patchwork as they compose their novels. Last month in my Writing the Third Dimension blog post, I explained how important it is to allow readers to “see” most description through the characters’ eyes, rather than as a narration from the writer’s point-of-view. I did mention that there were exceptions, and that’s what we’ll discuss today – exceptions. Legitimate reasons exist for brief patchwork bits of narration that don’t come directly from a character’s viewpoint. Here are the most common:

1. At the beginning of a novel before a character is introduced. It’s very tempting to write a page or two or three, but this type of narration should be limited to a sentence or two or three. Otherwise, your reader is going to get bored and stop reading before getting into the real story.

2. To allow a reader to catch his or her breath in a very intense, suspenseful scene. A sentence is usually enough to do the trick and give a pacing pause that actually increases the suspense for most readers.

3. When the reader needs a quick “you are here” logistical placement.

4. If you are using multiple points-of-view within your novel, and you are moving the narrative out of one character’s head, or point-of-view, into another’s. Without that bit of even ground between, it’s uncomfortable and confusing for the reader.

5. If there is some information that your point-of-view character does not know (a bit of history or even something that will happen in the future), but that will enrich your reader’s experience. This is tricky and shouldn’t happen often within a novel, if at all. Again use that one- to three-sentence limit to keep your reader in the story.

6. The information you are presenting doesn’t merit more than a sentence.

Novelists will find themselves confronted with nearly all of these situations in each book they write. They’re the ‘patchwork’ stuff, but as the writer you don’t want them to sound patchy. You want them to blend in, and the best way to do that is the same way a good quilter sews a quilt – with tiny inconspicuous stitches.

Okay, I can hear your question right now. What does that mean within the context of a novel?

1. Don’t get out your thesaurus. Use normal everyday words.

2. Make your point and then jump into a character’s point-of-view or a dialog.

3. Avoid complex sentences.

There you have it. A reason to break the rules and how to do so inconspicuously. Maybe it’s time to add here that one of the biggest mistakes new novelists make is adhering too rigidly to the rules, and someday we’ll talk about that, too!

My question for you: When you give someone directions or describe something, do you tend to be long-winded or to-the-point?

Sue

*Writing the Third Dimension, copyright, 2010 Sue Harrison*

Sue HarrisonBestselling author, Sue Harrison, has written two Alaska trilogies: The Ivory Carver Trilogy and The Storyteller Trilogy, and a middle readers’ book SISU. Prior to the publication of her novels, Harrison was employed at Lake Superior State University as a writer and acting director of the Public Relations Department and as an adjunct instructor in creative writing and advanced creative writing. For more information, click here. To inquire about booking Sue for workshops or speaking engagements this year, click here.

Thanks for joining us! Please feel free to leave your questions and comments. We invite you come back September 26, 2013 for part 9.

Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension” – part 7: I or He or is it Me?

Welcome! Over the next many months we invite you to return here, specifically on the fourth Thursday of each month for the newest installment of Sue Harrison‘s teaching: Writing The Third Dimension. You can read all the segments by clicking on the page title WRITING THE THIRD DIMENSION, found under Writers’ Helps & Workshops on the drop-down menu. Please feel free to ask questions and leave comments for Sue. Now for the topic for month seven:

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“Writing the Third Dimension” – part 7: I or He or is it Me?

Decisions, decisions…

When you are writing a novel,  decisions are part of the process. One of the most important decisions you as a novelist have to make is how to present your main character(s) to your readers. That presentation is commonly known as point-of-view. You will see point-of-view abbreviated in many writers’ blogs and how-to books as pov.

With pov you have two basic choices – first person point-of-view and third person point-of-view.

I went for a walk, and I met my enemy. First person pov

He went for a walk, and he met his enemy. Third person pov

Now you can get a little fancy or funky and use second person, but second person (You go for a walk and you meet your enemy.) is generally used within the context of a first person point-of-view presentation or, on occasion, to convey the thoughts of a character being presented in the third-person-point-of-view. So we’ll delegate a discussion of second person point-of-view to  another time and another place.

To make your pov decision, you need to know what each pov offers to your novel, because they both have strengths and weaknesses. Let’s talk about some of those.

First Person Point-of-View Strengths:

  • First person generally pulls the reader into the protagonist’s mind more quickly, so the reader identifies more easily with the main character.
  • First person is often best for readers who prefer their novels to follow only one main character.
  • First person is usually (not always) the POV of choice for literary novels because stream-of-consciousness and an unusual “voice” (My next “Writing the Third Dimension” will be about voice.) are often very important to literary novels, and for most novelists stream-of-consciousness and an unusual voice are more easily achieved through first person pov presentations.
  • First person is often used for mysteries in which the novelist wants both the reader and the protagonist to be struggling to figure out who-dun-it.
  • Novelists who write in the young adult genre often use first person pov because a certain percentage of their readers are not reading by choice. They are reading by assignment, and thus they are more antagonistic to characters and plot. A first person presentation, with its limited pov and strong emotional pull, captures them more easily.

Third Person Point-of-View Strengths:

  • In multi-character novels with a wide historical or geographic scope, third person pov makes for an easier presentation of extensive ideas and a wide variety of cultures and characters.
  • With third person pov, the reader feels more distance between himself/herself and the characters, which means the writer can more readily present some of the action through the eyes and mind of a villain without grossing out a sensitive reader. This is a who-is-your-audience situation and will depend on your novel’s genre. In the horror genre, writers don’t hesitate to convey a villain’s thoughts from a first person pov. In an inspirational genre, that might not work so well.
  • In some suspense and mystery novels, the writer wants the reader to know what is going on while the protagonist remains clueless. In third person pov, secondary characters can provide information through conversations or thoughts that are presented to the reader but not to  the protagonist.

First Person Point-of-View Weaknesses:

  • Some readers refuse to read books written in first person pov. This is a personal preference, but I’ve yet to find a reader who refuses to read a book written in third person pov.
  • The writer can’t suddenly hop into another character’s mind in first person pov. If the character telling the story doesn’t know some fact, that character can’t suddenly present that fact to the reader. Now I know there are successful exceptions to this rule, but 98% of the time, in first person pov, if the main character doesn’t know something then it can’t be presented to the reader.
  • In first person pov, it’s very easy to fall into “telling” the story rather than “showing” what’s going on. If this concept is confusing to you, please refer to my last “Writing the Third Dimension” post (June 2013)  entitled “20/20.”

Third Person Point-of-View Weaknesses:

  • In third person pov, it sometimes takes a reader longer to feel an emotional bond with the main characters.
  • Novels written in third person are often more complex in plot, which for some readers is a disadvantage.

When I’m deciding which point-of-view to use in a short story or a novel, I sometimes write the first chapter both ways. Then I can tell which one flows better, and I make my decision according to that.

Point-of-view is a complex topic, so, if I’ve managed to do nothing more than confuse you, please feel free to ask questions. Otherwise, as a reader, do you have a preference – first person point-of-view or third person point-of-view?

Sue

*Writing the Third Dimension, copyright, 2010 Sue Harrison*

Sue HarrisonBestselling author, Sue Harrison, has written two Alaska trilogies: The Ivory Carver Trilogy and The Storyteller Trilogy, and a middle readers’ book SISU. Prior to the publication of her novels, Harrison was employed at Lake Superior State University as a writer and acting director of the Public Relations Department and as an adjunct instructor in creative writing and advanced creative writing. For more information, click here. To inquire about booking Sue for workshops or speaking engagements this year, click here.

Thanks for joining us! Please feel free to leave your questions and comments. We invite you come back August 22, 2013, for part 8.