Sunday, May 27, 2012

Point of View Demystified

Point of view: it's a way of looking at the world, or, in the case of writing, it's the lens through which your readers will see the world of your story. There are an enormous number of points of view in writing. Trying to distinguish between them (much less use them) gets extremely complicated extremely quickly. That's why--for my peace of mind as much as anyone's--today's post will be about what each point of view (POV) is, as well as the costs and benefits of using that POV.

Note: some of the thoughts below come from Randy Ingermanson's excellent book, Writing Fiction for Dummies. If you're interested in reading more about POV, be sure to check it out!

1. First Person
-- What it is: write from inside the head of one character, using the pronoun "I". For example, "I walked into the street and looked around for Karla. 'What's taking her so long?' I wondered. Just then, someone clapped a hand over my mouth." You stay inside that character's head, seeing their thoughts and reactions, for the entire scene.

-- Benefits: It's extremely close and personal, allowing readers to connect easily with the character.

-- Drawbacks: You can only use first person for one person per scene, and when you're looking from that character's view, you can't write anything that the character wouldn't know. Plus, if you change around the point of view characters in different chapters or sections, the characters can start to sound alike unless you're careful to make their thoughts sound different. Lastly, the first person voice can be too close and personal for some readers, who would prefer distance.

2. Second Person
-- What it is: write from inside the head of one character, using the pronoun "you." For example, "You walked into the street and looked around for Karla. 'What's taking her so long?' you wondered. Just then, someone clapped a hand over your mouth." In 2nd person, you can choose whether or not to show the character's thoughts (as I did in the example above).

-- Benefits: it's unusual, so it will catch a reader's attention right away.

-- Drawbacks: It's even more personal than first person because, in a way, it feels as though you are a character in the story. So if the narrator in the story (the 'you' character) does something the reader wouldn't do, than the reader will almost certainly balk and stop reading. Also, because it's so rare, readers aren't used to reading it, so readers may give up after trying to read a little.

3. Third Person (Limited)
-- What it is: write from inside the head of one character, using the pronoun "he/she." For example, "He walked into the street and looked around for Karla. 'What's taking her so long?' he wondered. Just then, someone clapped a hand over his mouth." Again, as with first and second person point of view, you can only show/tell what the character is thinking, seeing, or experiencing.

-- Benefits: it's still fairly close and personal, allowing readers to connect with the character.

-- Drawbacks: again, you must stay within that one character's head during the entire scene. Plus, it can seem slightly more distant than first person, depending on how often you introduce the character's thoughts into the story.

4. Omniscient
-- What it is: write from inside or outside the heads of multiple characters, or write from the perspective of a god-like persona who knows what's going on in and out of everyone's heads. For example, "Jimmy was a paranoid man. As he stepped into the street, he glanced nervously around, wondering where Karla went. Across the street in a parked car, Karla fiddled with her nails. Although normally a calm woman, she could not help but wonder what was taking Jimmy so long. Then, a man dressed in black clapped his hand over Jimmy's mouth."

-- Benefits: your readers know what's going on in and out of most characters in the story, including the villain. This can be helpful in some scenes (although often it's simply confusing).

-- Drawbacks: Omniscient point of view tempts authors to add in little bits of explanation and inner thoughts that aren't strictly necessary. One note of warning: few modern authors write in omniscient point of view, especially as it's very close to the very confusing head-hopping view (see point 6). For an example of effective usage, see The Godfather by Mario Puzo, or portions of Dune by Frank Herbert.

5. Objective
-- What it is: write from outside the head of a focal character or characters, using the pronoun "he/she." In this point of view, the reader never gets to see anyone's thoughts. It's very scientific and, as the name signifies, objective. For example, "Jimmy stepped into the street. Karla waited in a car across the street. Suddenly, a man in black clapped his hand over Jimmy's mouth."

-- Benefits: if you're going for a scientific feeling, then this view can be helpful. It makes the story very visual, almost as though there's a movie camera filming the scene.

-- Drawbacks: you can't use inter emotions or show the inner thoughts of any of the characters, so the characters can feel extremely remote from your reader. And when writing in this point of view, don't cheat by having the characters voice their thoughts in a phony way.

6. Head-Hopping
-- What it is: write from inside the heads of multiple characters in the same scene, using the pronoun "he/she." For example, "As Jimmy stepped into the street, he thought, 'Karla isn't waiting for me. But where could she be?' Karla, sitting in the car, bit her fingernail and wondered, 'Jimmy's sure takin' a long time. Wonder what got into him?'"

-- Benefits: the readers know what everyone in a scene is thinking.

-- Drawbacks: Humans find it easiest to identify with one character at a time. Head-hopping can become confusing and distracting, and makes the story less vivid and precise for your reader. This method of narration is highly discouraged by most writing teachers. However, there are still plenty of novels that head-hop a good deal (Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, for one).


Hope you enjoyed that (not-so-short) summary of points of view! Now, what about you? What point of view is your current story written in? Have you ever tried writing it in a different point of view?

Sweet Halloween Dreams, by begemot on Deviantart

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Books on Writing

I'll be the first to admit that my writing could use improvement--and a lot of it. And, while there's plenty to be said for gluing yourself to a chair and typing until your writing improves, there's a lot more to be said for using the writing resources that others have already created. So in today's post I've listed some of the major books on writing that have helped me in my writing journey.

Yes, I know what you're thinking -- more books to read? Well, think about it this way: it's an investment into your writing and yourself. And, what's more, you don't need to buy these books (that's what libraries are for!). Once you get them, just read them a little at a time (a chapter every evening, for example) or skim them for the most helpful parts. Don't be overwhelmed; check out the links and bookmark them/write them on your library list for future reference!

Now, without further ado, my writing resource list:

Techniques of the Selling Writer, by Dwight Swain (I also have a blog post on it here.)

Writing Fiction for Dummies, by Randall Ingermannson

Live Writing, How Writers Work, and A Writer's Notebook, by Ralph Fletcher (They're written for young writers, but still have plenty of wisdom for the rest of us.)

The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White

Plot & Structure, by James Scott Bell

Stein on Writing, by Sol Stein

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Brown and Dave King

Outlining Your Novel, by K. M. Weiland (Even if you don't enjoy outlining, read this book, and you may be surprised.)

Getting into Character, by Brandylin Collins

The Art of Fiction, by John Gardner

Story, by Robert McKee (Essential for all writers of screenplay, and good for the rest of us too.)

Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass

Writing Magic: Creating Stories that Fly, by Gail Carson Levine

Seize the Story, by Victoria Hanley

For fantasy writers in particular, I highly recommend reading J.R.R. Tolkien's essay "On Faerie Stories" (from Tolkien's Tales from the Perilous Realm). I also recommend Orson Scott Card's How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy.

For poetry writers (yes! at last!), I absolutely love Mary Oliver's A Poetry Handbook and Ted Kooser's The Poetry Home Repair Manual. Both are invaluable to any aspiring poet.

Now it's your turn: what books on writing and/or writing resources have you found to be most helpful?

Friday, May 11, 2012

What are You Writing?

Over the course of this blog, we've discussed a lot of different subjects: creating fantasy worlds and beings, writing villains, constructing fantasy fashion, favorite books and authors, and much more.

Today, though, I'd like to take a look at something we haven't touched on at all: what you are writing.

Yes, you.

Do you write melodious poetry? Or fantasy stories of swashbuckling princesses and dragons-in-distress? Or historical fiction from out of the mists of ages past and auld lang syne? Or modern stories of cell-phone-toting heroes and heroines struggling to make a dent in the cosmopolitan frenzy of the 21st century? Jane Austen fanfiction? Fairytale retellings? Or something else entirely? Please, do tell!

I suppose I'd better mention what I'm working on, too. Currently, I've got two projects underway.

The first is a fantasy story (naturally). A teen girl becomes "lady of the lands" through a series of strange mistakes and struggles to reconcile the independent Ranger faction and the rulers of the seven lands (especially the Lowlands, which is threatening to secede) in order to face the "forces of evil" warring against the realm.

As you can probably tell, there are a lot of knots to strangle out in that story, which is why (for the moment) I've turned to a new story, one that really matters deeply to me.

It's about a 15-year-old Japanese girl caught in Japan's 2011 earthquake and tsunami. On one level, the story is about survival, but in a deeper sense, it's about friendship, family, and forgiveness. For me, having grown up in Japan and having been there last year on March 11th, it strikes close to my heart. I pray that it may do the same for others.

So, that's my stories. Now, please, let me know: what writing are you concocting now?

Friday, May 4, 2012

And the Winner Is...

Last month, I asked everyone whether they would like this blog to stay just a fantasy blog or expand it into something more, something deeper, something grander, something--okay, don't let me get carried away here!

Well, the overwhelming conclusion is that people want a blog with more than just fantasy (in fact, I think that was the only poll choice that had zero votes!). Thus, I am proud to announce that Of Faerie & Faith will no longer be simply a fantasy blog.

Now, that said, we come to an even more significant question: what shall I name this expanded and (hopefully) wonderful new era of blog-ship? Whether or not I change the blog name, the url will remain the same ( Again, here's a poll to help you decide. Please do add your comments below!

What shall the blog name be?