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 The Artistry and Craft of the Bard (V)

Point of View: Avoiding Common Mistakes 

© 2002 by Lifetrekker
All rights reserved.
 

So you have a story to tell. You have the plot, some dynamite characters, and you have chosen your point of view. Last month I wrote, "As you are writing, pay special attention to point of view. If the point of view does not work, you can always go back and start again. Unless you must meet a deadline because of a contract, writing is more often a long-term commitment and an endurance marathon, than a sprint. Donít become frustrated. If you have to, experiment and work on a story from several viewpoints and figure out which works best. When writing, remember, play is good." This month Iíd like to provide a couple of tips to help maintain point of view.

  1. Remain Consistent: Donít change point of view in the middle of a scene. If you are working in the omniscient viewpoint, be careful that the shift is not jarring. While the plot might take your reader on a rollercoaster ride, the point of view should not. I have written of this rule in all of my earlier articles. Past articles may be accessed by clicking on the Past Issues link at the top of this page.
  2. Beware of Pronouns: Remember pronouns must have an antecedent noun. In other words, first use the specific noun, then the pronoun. Go from specific to general.

Here is an example of how poor crafting of pronouns can blur point of view. A good writer must take note and not rely on the reader to sort it out.

  • "Two shots rang out and she flinched. Jenny's stomach twisted into a dozen knots and the bile in her stomach made its bitterness known in the back of her mouth."

Questions immediately arise. Who is she? Is she the same person as Jenny?

The fix here is easy. If she and Jenny are the same, make Jenny the antecedent noun. All else follows:

  • Two shots rang out and Jenny flinched. Her stomach twisted into a dozen knots and the bile in her stomach made its bitterness known in the back of her mouth.

Now if Jenny and she are not the same person, substitute the name for the pronoun. Here:

  • Two shots rang out and Robin flinched. Jennyís stomach twisted into a dozen knots and the bile in her stomach made its bitterness known in the back of her mouth.

Notice how the viewpoint in the last example has changed from third-person limited to omniscient. The author not only sees Robin flinch, but knows what is happening to Jennyís internal plumbing. So be careful. If the author intends to maintain control and the limited voice, then the passage will need greater care and more reworking. Example:

  • Two shots rang out and Jenny saw Robin flinch. Her stomach twisted into a dozen knots and the bile in her stomach made its bitterness known in the back of her mouth.

Here limited viewpoint is maintained. We see and feel what the viewpoint character, Jenny, sees and feels. You might ask,

"But donít we have two antecedent nouns? Won't that make the "her" ambiguous? Even if limited voice has been consistent, couldnít the reader still misread the second sentence?"

Good question, but there should be no problem. In the example, Two shots rang out and Jenny saw Robin flinch. Her stomach twisted into a dozen knots and the bile in her stomach made its bitterness known in the back of her mouth, Jenny is the one seeing Robin flinch. Robin does not see Jenny watching her flinch. Jenny, therefore, retains her place as the point-of-view character, and "Her stomach," which is the subject of the next sentence, relates to Jenny and not Robin.

"Remain Consistent" and "Beware of Pronouns" is a short list I know, but they are the essentials.

Now go play and write, write, write. Have fun and donít let point of view intimidate you. I wish you peace and may the muses be with you!

Lifetrekker
www.lifetrekker.com


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