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MIXING POVS FOR EFFECT

January 4, 2017

BACKGROUND

As you all know, I only read third-person, past tense. I find any other POV unreadable. That includes first-person, omniscient, second-person and anything in present-tense, regardless of POV. I get especially annoyed at head-hopping.

Now, if you look at what’s out there in the marketplace, you’ll see POV is all over the map. Some of it sells, while some of it, especially omniscient, is usually relegated to the self-publishing crowd. Second-person is most often seen in song lyrics as it does not go well with fiction.

Some people are okay with first-person. I don’t like it because of the myopic viewpoint and all the I’s, me’s and my’s. That’s purely personal taste. On the other hand, for autobiographies or memoirs, to me, it’s the only way to go because it’s you. It’s your voice. On the other hand, if it’s an autobiography written by someone other than the person involved, well…it can’t very well be first-person, now can it? Then again, the creative person…

When it comes to fiction, I just don’t like first-person. Period. However, I can’t tell anyone not to write that way. I’m not you or them. I’m just not going to buy that book. When I teach about point of view, though, I don’t recommend it because it’s too limiting in scope. However, that’s up to you, the author and what you’re trying to accomplish. You can still write first-person if you want. Plenty of books sell like hotcakes in first. There you go.

Now, present-tense. This is something that drives me nuts! I hate it! Why? Ever since I first encountered it decades ago, before I even became a writer, it was something that just bugged me to no end. It made me feel like the author was trying to rush me. The author was trying to push me forward against my will. It was like, “Come on, let me show you.” “Come on, you got to see this!” From another aspect, the author was forcibly dragging me along in the story, whether I wanted to go or not.

People, I don’t like being rushed. I like to find out on my own and let the story carry me, not have the author push or pull me forward. Present tense feels forced, unnatural.

Once I became a writer and started learning the mechanics of the craft, it all clicked for me.

When I see a book in present-tense, I not only put it down, I almost throw it down!

Omniscient writing is another pet peeve. With omniscient, there is no point of view. Whoever happens to be speaking or acting is it, and there’s no one character driving the scene. “God” is driving everything and it’s impersonal. It’s all very telling and flat. This is one reason, I had such a hard time with Lord Of The Rings. The main characters (as in a cast of “thousands”) are whoever gets the most scene time. Often, the back blurb of the book names a key character or characters, but once you get deep into the book, you scratch your head and wonder where that character went. Often the main character just happens to be the one with the most paragraphs or dialogue or actions versus the one controlling the point of view.

Nowadays, what passes for omniscient, is really third person semi-deep which is just an orgy of head-hopping. It’s all over the place with a mix of omniscient, third person deep and no rudder, so to speak. It’s not truly omniscient and not truly pure third-person anything. It’s often whoever survives to the end.

MIXING POVS FOR EFFECT

One of my favorite authors just wrote another book in a series and I loved it. Now, over the past few novels, he’s let his outstanding and perfect third-person slip a little with brief bouts of minor head-hopping. It wasn’t enough to throw the book down, and the transitions were smooth enough that it didn’t jerk me out of the story. I wish he’d go back to the perfect no head-hopping, but this wasn’t too bothersome.

On the other hand, there were places he changed POV for specific effects.

Diary entries:

There were a few diary entries, written in first-person. Why? Well, why would you write a diary in third-person? If it’s you, you’re going to write in your own voice, right? It has to be in first-person.

Character Under the effects of a virus:

The individual is feeling the effects of a virus, so it’s present tense. I might have done it in past-tense, but the author used present-tense, which only worked because it was a short passage. By keeping this radical departure in POV short, it did not cause jarring with the rest of the story. Instead it emphasized the scene.

Background explanation of the story:

At the back of the book, something I’ll be doing for my Gold series, the voice changes to the author’s. This is author intrusion, first-person technical. The author explains the research and background of how the novel came about. Since the story has already ended, this isn’t jarring because the illusion has already been broken.

Now, if this was in the middle of the book, it would be a huge jarring error! However, it’s not because you, the reader, have already concluded the story. No harm, no foul.

SUMMARY

While I’m not a big fan of shifting POVs as a regular part of a story, using short snippets for effect, and I mean short snippets is okay.

If you’re doing something for effect, for a specific reason, it needs to be done so it isn’t jarring, so it doesn’t break the illusion and jerk the reader out of the story.

That’s the key.

Happy writing!

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