I’m delighted to bring you this guest blog post, today on the topic of point of view, by Yvonne Hertzberger.
‘Point of view: laws, rules or just plain common sense’
Now here is a discussion that has ignited more flashes than a flame in a fireworks factory.
All art forms change. In my opinion, there is nothing that changes more than art, all types of art. And none seem to do so more rapidly than those involving language. (I include music here.) Some of these flare and burn. We are often happy to see them go. Others become enduring parts of our culture that shape how we think and what we value.
One aspect of the art of writing that is under scrutiny at present is Point Of View. At this time none of us can predict where the pendulum will come to rest. (Yeah, yeah, I know, it stops at the bottom, but you get the picture). Everyone has their own interpretation, has formed an opinion and most can give convincing arguments. So all of us are left swimming in the soup, so to speak.
Point Of View in writing is one of the more difficult concepts to understand. And what we do not understand, we cannot use effectively. And what we believe we understand, but do not, can land us in hot water, out of favour with publishers, never landing that coveted contract.
One point I think most of us agree on is that published writing goes through trends, even fads, that what is considered ‘de rigueur’ yesterday is looked upon as passé today and may be acclaimed again tomorrow. Anyone who has read the classics will recognise the third person omniscient as the predominant point of view in those works. And we all love the classics, don’t we? They have endured and continue to be read and enjoyed. I expect they still will many years from now. For centuries they have been the gold standard in literature.
Over the past number of years the fashions in Point Of View have fluctuated with the weather, the only constant being that the Omniscient Point of View, for the time being, remains out of favour with editors and publishers, like it or lump it. We are told that we must not change the POV in a given scene, even if we write our opus in the multiple third person. If we use the second person, all of what we convey must come from ‘you’ or in the case of the first person from ‘I’. Single third person fares no better; only ‘he’ or ‘she’, may share what they think, hear, or see, or if named, Larry, Curly, or Moe, but not Larry, Curly and Moe. No no, that breaks the rules – some even call them laws. After all, rules have exceptions. So how do we navigate the maze? Who do we choose to please … the publisher, the editor, the critic, the public, our fans?
I learned to write mostly by reading. Classes in grammar, creative writing and composition never appealed to me. I distrusted the teaching process, believing that my own creativity would be boxed in with rules that were only the interpretation of whoever was teaching at the time. The next ‘teacher’ would have a new and contradictory interpretation. Result? I had never heard of Point Of View and naively thought I could write. Not! But I am a fast learner.
The first editorial review I got back for “Back from Chaos” accused me of ‘head hopping’ and told me the omniscient POV was not acceptable any more. I had no idea what they were talking about. But I learned, and the second review did not even mention POV. So far so good. I had obviously got a good handle on it. But I still felt mildly rebellious. It meant I had to leave out certain insights my characters had. One scene that had to be radically rewritten would have been humorous if both points of view could have been included. Much of that humour was lost. It became a real challenge with the rewrite to impart the same level of understanding to my readers that had been there in the first draft. Some things I just had to let go.
Did those changes make the book better? I think so. When I compared the two I could see some advantages. It became tighter and allowed greater identification with the main characters. With each scene written from only one point of view, the reader is not pulled to identify with more than one character at a time.
After a false start writing “Through Kestrel’s Eyes” (due out later this year) in the third person, and having Nino Ricci suggest it would work better in the first person, I decided to take on that challenge. I wanted to know if I could remain true to one voice, one perspective. I did cheat a little, as my protagonist is a seer, so has access to some information ordinary folk do not. Staying true to one perspective without accidental digressions has taken discipline, more than I thought I had. But I believe it has paid off. In my opinion it has made my character more real, more accessible, and pulls the reader into her world through her eyes. My editor agrees.
Did I do it to win a publishing contract? No. That is the one reason that did not enter into my decision. I did it because it felt right for this particular work. And that is, I believe, the key.
Writing is an art form; an individual, creative process. There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to make money from writing. Essentially that is what we would all like. So sometimes it is necessary to give the powers that be what they tell you they want. Most of us have to do that at least some of the time. But if you are creating a true work of art you must remain true to your own vision. The writers we remember long past their lifetimes are the ones who created the trends, not the ones who followed them.
The bottom line, for me at least, is that if we choose to buck the current fashions, that decision must be a fully informed one, based on solid understanding of why we do so and how it will affect our enterprise. And that’s just plain common sense.
“Don’t listen to critics. You have to write your own truth in your own voice–and who is more qualified to judge that than you? There’s only one rule in writing fiction: whatever works, works.” Tom Robbins
Morgen: Thank you Yvonne, that was great! And I love your cover, by the way. 🙂
Yvonne Hertzberger is a native of the Netherlands who immigrated to Canada in 1950. She is married with two grown children, (one married) and resides quietly in Stratford, Ontario with her spouse, Mark, in a 130-year-old tiny brick cottage, where she plans to live out her retirement. She calls herself a Jill-of-all-trades and a late bloomer. Her many past paid jobs included banking, day care, residential care for challenged children, hairdressing (her favorite) retail, and customer service. She enjoys gardening, singing, the theatre, decorating and socializing with friends and family.
Yvonne is an alumna of The University of Waterloo, first with a B.A. in Psychology, then and Hon. B.A. Sociology and stopped ½ a thesis short of an M.A. in Sociology. She has always been an avid student of human behavior. This is what gives her the insights she uses to develop the characters in her writing.
Coming to writing late in life, hence the label ‘late bloomer’, Yvonne’s first Fantasy novel “Back From Chaos: Book One of Earth’s Pendulum” was published in 2009 and is available in paperback and kindle eBook from Amazon. It’s also available from iUniverse. The second volume in the planned trilogy “Through Kestrel’s Eyes” will be available in the fall of 2011.
If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).