Confused about point of view (POV) in your novel? Maybe you’re looking at it the wrong way. When you get the POV right, your writing automatically improves, because you’re living your novel. And so will your readers.
Janice Hardy’s written a great article on POV:
I think at some point in their writing journey, every writer goes looking for the “secret” to writing. Is it the perfect writing template? A members-only plot generator? The ultimate list of words to cut from our manuscripts?
It’s point of view.
Hilary Mantel on POV
I’m a huge Hilary Mantel fan. I’ve read Wolf Hall four or five times; Bring Up the Bodies twice.
This is odd, because I usually avoid novels written in the present tense. They’re annoying. But I was halfway through Wolf Hall before it hit me that the novel WAS in the present tense.
Mantel makes it work, and thanks to her deep POV, you are Thomas Cromwell. She says:
Wolf Hall attempts to duplicate not the historian’s chronology but the way memory works: in leaps, loops, flashes. The basic decision about the book was taken seconds before I began writing. “So now get up”: the person on the ground was Cromwell and the camera was behind his eyes.
The events were happening now, in the present tense, unfolding as I watched, and what followed would be filtered through the main character’s sensibility. He seemed to be occupying the same physical space as me, with a slight ghostly overlap. It didn’t make sense to call him “Cromwell”, as if he were somewhere across the room. I called him “he”.
If you want to learn more about point of view read Mantel’s two books. I just finished reading Bring Up the Bodies again just a couple of days ago. The final chapters, from Mark Smeaton’s entry into Cromwell’s home onward , immerse you so deeply inside the character of Thomas Cromwell that you feel as he does — and you’re horrified that you do. That’s great writing. And it stems from Mantel’s use of point of view.
It’s interesting that Mantel writes “I woke one morning with some words in my head: ‘So now get up.'”
They’re the first words of the novel; her subconscious mind delivered deep POV, present tense — Thomas Cromwell’s voice, and the voice of Wolf Hall.
You may struggle to get POV right
Occasionally, you’ll hit on the perfect POV for a novel out of the gate. If you feel that there’s something not right about the novel, it’s not coming alive for you, try another POV. Write a couple of character journals. I agree with Janice Hardy, when you get POV of view right, you’ve got it made.
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