January 28, 2010

Points of View

I recently submitted a short story I am working on to my critique group here in Madrid. I got some interesting feedback but one particular thing stuck out at me - a comment saying I wrote from too many points of view. To be honest, it was something I was aware of... I just pretended it wasn't there. When I learned to edit I started out with a book called Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. This is a very good book and I highly recommend it for anyone looking into learning how to edit fiction. I didn't know anything about editing fiction nor did I know where to start and this book helped me a lot.

There is an entire chapter in here dedicated to points of view. As far as I was concerned there was first person and third person, both of which can be written in different tenses. But I learned a lot while reading this chapter that third person is pretty flexible - it can be detached in the omni form or more intimate and close when it takes an external perspective from a particular point of view of a character in the story. It also details on how it is best to be consistent and not jump around from head to head of each character. I think this is a big danger to novice writers who start out in third person, because there is the assumption that 3rd person = the freedom to get every point of view in. This isn't necessarily true, if anything this makes the reader confused while reading the story. I think this is important for short stories, I believe this is easier to execute well in a novel, but a short story is so compact that simple is better.

I did exactly the opposite in my short story. I wrote it about two characters and I wanted to capture both sides of the story so I jumped around between their heads. I was aware of this while editing, so instead I split up the sections where I change perspectives, but even so it didn't work. Well it's an experiment and we all learn from writing by trial and error, right? One reason I didn't want to change it to only one point of view was because it I felt it would change the story. The main points I try to convey come from the two perspectives of the characters in the story.

But you know what? I thought about it and I feel over these months I have grown a lot as a writer. I thought about how could I make this work if I take only one point of view and how could I express what the other character feels and thinks? Then the power went back on in my head and now I see it as challenge as opposed to a problem, I could try to convey the other character's emotions and thoughts by means of action and dialogue. Yes I know what you are thinking - that should be obvious right? Well yes, but not that easy to do. I was lazy. I took the easy way out by trying to show the two sides through point of view. But right now it is a challenge to see if I can still tell the same story through the eyes of only one character. If anything it's a good exercise to help me grow so I fully embrace it this challenge set for me.

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