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'09 Authors Insider Tips

Everything About Epublishing
by Angela James
Digital Publishing & Print
Common Myths of Epublishing
Ebook Formats and Devices


FictionCraft
by Louisa Burton
Compelling Characters
Point of View, Part I
Point of View, Part II
Learning to Love Conflict
Story Structure
Keep ‘em Guessing
Keep it Simple
Keep Your Writing Real
The Importance of Pacing


Literary Streetwalker
by M. Christian
New World of Publishing
To Blog Or Not To Blog
Meeting & Making Friends
Thinking Beyond Sex
Selling Books
Walking the Line
e-book, e-publisher, e-fun
Still More E-book Fun


Shameless Self-Promotion
by Donna George Storey
Our Journey Begins
Pitches and Bios
Websites, Blogs & Readers
Publicists, Press Kits and...
Viva the Internet
Adventures in Cyberspace
Promoting In the Flesh
Make Your Own Movie
Bigger is Better
Looking Back, Planning Ahead


Two Girls Kissing
by Amie M. Evans
Questions to Ask Yourself...
Tough All Over


The Write Stuff
by Ashley Lister
Ideas
Practice Makes Prefect
5 Books for Fiction Authors
Poetry In Motions
Six Serving Men
Ashley Lister is Anal
Stealing Ideas
Celebrating Poetry


2009 Smutters Lounge

Ashley Lister Submits
by Ashley Lister
Myths
Graduation


Cooking Up A Storey
by Donna George Storey
A Year of Living Shamelessly
Adultery, Exhibitionism ...
John Updike Made Me Do It ...
Story Soup: Forbidden ...
Lessons from Amazon
Naked Lunches ...
Erotic Alchemy
Secrets of Seduction
Are You a “Real” Writer?
Don’t Fondle My Sentence


Cracking Foxy
with Robert Buckley
The Passionate Taphophile
Havens on Earth
A Knight Without Armor
Jail-Baiting
Magic Carpet Rides
Getting Hammered
Keep It Quiet
Hang Around for a Spell


Get All Worked Up
with J.T. Benjamin
Worked Up About Why
Worked Up About Why, Part II
All Worked Up About Porn
The Catholic Church
Purity Movement
The National Crisis
The Future
About Homosexuality
Public Indiscretions


Pondering Porn
with Ann Regentin
Premature Ejaculation
Auctioning Off What?


Sex Is All Metaphors
by Jean Roberta
Who's Who Around the Table
Retro-Shame
Ritual Sex
Mixed Legacy
The Spectrum of Consent
Drawing the Line
Marriage without the Hype
The Distracting Smirk
Innocent Guns
Gardens of Earthly Delights


Provocative Interviews

Between the Lines
with Ashley Lister
Anneke Jacob
D L King
Kristina Lloyd
Lisabet Sarai
Mitzi Szereto
Portia Da Costa
Shanna Germain
Sommer Marsden
Susan DiPlacido


Guest Appearances

Marketing a Self-Published Novel
by Jeanne Ainslie

FictionCraft

by Louisa Burton

Point of View, Part I
POV in Fiction and Why You Should Care About It

 

In fiction, point of view is defined as the perspective from which the story is narrated—in other words, the viewpoint in which we, as readers, experience the unfolding of events. Whose eyes are we seeing them through? Whose thoughts are we experiencing? Whose feelings are we feeling?

POV has always been a keen interest of mine, because I see it as being at the heart of character-driven fiction, in which your major characters make the choices and decisions that drive the story forward. In the most effective and powerful fiction, your reader will feel a deep emotional investment with these characters, prompting them to continue reading in order to find out what happens to them. A strong, well-executed point of view is essential for establishing that investment, so understanding POV and utilizing it well are critically important skills for the fiction author.

Many aspects of fiction writing are intuitive, requiring little analysis on the part of the author. POV isn’t like that. There are few “musts” in writing, but I don’t think anyone could argue with this one: You must decide, before you write the first word, which narrative viewpoint you’re going to employ. Will your first line be I woke up missing Jim terribly, or Sally woke up missing Jim terribly, or Sally and Jim woke up missing each other terribly? First person, third person, and omniscient—and their variations—are worlds apart not only in terms of which personal pronoun you use for your protagonist, but in terms of the impact of the story upon your reader. And there are other issues to be resolved: Will you write the story from just one character’s viewpoint, or from several? If from several, which character gets to narrate which scene, and how do you switch from one to the other? True artists don’t make decisions like this carelessly. Point of view is one area of writing where you need to learn your options and make educated choices.

Students in my point of view classes often start out bewildered and intimidated by a subject that’s really pretty straightforward, sometimes even confusing the concept of narrative viewpoint with that of tense. By “tense,” we’re talking about whether the piece is written in the usual past tense or the less common present. It doesn’t really have anything to do with POV, however by manipulating tense and POV together, as with the occasional use of the “historical present” (more about that next month), you can achieve pretty interesting results.

Authorities on point of view approach the subject in very different ways:

In his otherwise excellent book Writing the Novel, Lawrence Block doesn’t address the (usually godlike) omniscient point of view at all, just first (I woke up...) and third (Jim woke up...).

In Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer, (no link here, ‘cause I’m frankly not crazy about this book, although it’s inexplicably popular) I don’t recall any mention at all of first person or omniscient, and I found some of his information questionable.

John Gardner, in his wonderful The Art of Fiction, offers a fairly thorough treatment of the subject, but I must take issue with his opinion on the best and worst POVs. According to him, the most artistically righteous viewpoint is omniscient, then third person limited, then third person cinematic (which I’ll explain, along with all the other various viewpoints, in next month’s article), then first. In my view, such a pecking order is all but meaningless. The right POV is the one that suits you and the story you’re telling. Period.

The best and most thorough breakdown of the various points of views that I’ve read—although still a tad incomplete—can be found in Orson Scott Card’s Characters and Viewpoint. This book, which is helpfully illustrated, is one I’ve often recommended to those who are in the market for a longer treatment of the subject.

There’s a recently published book by Alicia Rasley called The Power of Point of View that looks promising, although I’ve yet to read it.

Of the books with which I’m familiar, not one examines the variations of the essayist-narrator or first person viewpoints. And, too, their authors utilize a variety of different terms for the same concepts, which only adds to the confusion. What Card calls omniscient, or third person omniscient, Gardner labels authorial omniscient. I’ve seen this same POV referred to as omniscient observer. (And of course, Swain and Block left this viewpoint out of the discussion altogether.) The POV that Card calls third person cinematic, Swain has dubbed author objective. You might also see this POV referred to as objective third person.

The bottom line is that all viewpoints fall into one of two major divisions, OMNISCIENT or LIMITED. The latter is also known as subjective, and it encompasses first and third person.

With an omniscient viewpoint, your narrator or authorial presence can relate what different characters are thinking and feeling, what happened in the past and is going to happen in the future, and what’s occurring in different locations at the same time. Often you’ll notice bits of omniscient in third person novels, especially at the opening or closing of a scene, but there aren’t many novels written entirely in this POV anymore.

With a limited viewpoint, your narrator is restricted to the thoughts and feeling of one viewpoint character, or at least one at a time. The vast majority of novels published today are written in first or third person limited.

The main problem some writers have with a limited point of view, whether first or third, is that you can’t always communicate what you want to communicate instantly, because your viewpoint character doesn’t know everything that’s going on. He only knows what he is experiencing. You may have to indicate another character’s feel­ings through facial expressions, body language, or dialogue. Or, if you’re writing third person limited with multiple points of view, you may want to add a scene or part of a scene afterward to indicate how the other character felt about what was going on, if it’s important. I personally don’t see these as disadvantages. At the worst, they’re artistic challenges.

The major advantage of a limited viewpoint is that it generally affords a deeper and more personal bond with the viewpoint character, encouraging the reader to empathize with that character. Empathy with your story’s protagonist is the most effective way to keep your reader turning the pages. Although opinions among writing experts differ regarding the effectiveness of the various viewpoints, most feel, as I do, that the omniscient perspective tends to distance the reader from emotional involvement with any one character. Because most people read fiction precisely for that emotional involvement, limited viewpoints are the most popular for novels. I feel the limited viewpoint results in more showing, rather than telling. To a large degree, the writing is ignored; the story just happens.

That said, in certain circumstances, the emotional detachment created by the omniscient viewpoint can actually serve the story you’re writing. For example, it’s frequently used in comic novels, such as those by Carl Hiaasen, because it’s easier to laugh at people with whom you don’t empathize too deeply.

Once you’re familiar with the various points of view available to you, and the effects they achieve, you can maneuver them in really cool ways. The book I like to use to illustrate this concept when I’m teaching POV is Stephen Hunter’s Black Light. This riveting suspense novel opens with an omniscient camera-on-a-crane perspective not only of a sprawling Arkansas landscape, but of the past and present. Gradually the focus narrows on our protagonist, Earl Swagger, until we’re solidly ensconced in his body, seeing what he sees and feeling what he feels.

Today, the book begins, you can drive south from Fort Smith down to Blue Eye in Polk County in about an hour, by way of the Harry Etheridge Memorial Parkway. It’s a bright band of American road, one of the finest in America, even if it didn’t quite have the anticipated effect of turning Polk County into the Branson of West Arkansas and even if some local cynics call is a porkway and not a parkway....

A few paragraphs later, he jumps back in time: In 1955 no parkway existed, nor could one even be imagined....

In the next paragraph, the camera in the sky stops sweeping across the landscape and history of Polk County and starts homing in on a car on the road in 1955: On a hot morning in July of that year, a Saturday, at the Polk and Scott county line on U.S. 71 about twelve miles north of Blue Eye, a state police black and white Ford pulled over to the side of the road and a tall officer got out, removed his Stetson and ran his sleeve over the sweat on his forehead....

The camera steadily descends as it records a detailed physical description of Earl Swagger until, by the beginning of the next paragraph, we find ourselves inside Earl’s head, looking through his eyes: Earl looked about. The road was cut into the slope here, so that there was a high bank on one side, and on the other the land fell away.... It reminded Earl of other hot, dusty places he’d been: Tarawa, Saipan and Iwo Jima.

By the next paragraph, we’re not just privy to what Earl sees, but to what he’s thinking and feeling as well: Earl put his Stetson back on. A Colt Trooper .357 rested under a flap on a holster at his right hand; he hitched it up, for the heavy weight of the big pistol was always drawing his belt downward and it was a continual battle to keep the gun where it was supposed to be.

In crafting this masterful opening, Mr. Hunter employed a cinematic technique possibly inspired by his day job as a Pulitzer Prize winning film critic for The Washington Post. Indeed, visualizing the scene you’re writing as a movie can be a useful device when you set about playing with point of view.

Aside from occasional dollops of omniscient in a third person narrative, is it kosher, you ask, to switch points of view in the same book? The answer is one I often give in response to questions about literary technique: Writing is an art, not a science. If it works, do it. In fact, I recently read Harlan Coben’s The Woods, in which the protagonist’s narrative was in first person, while that of the other characters was in third, and it worked so well that I was pretty far into the book before I even realized it.

Uh-oh! Is that music I hear? What do you mean, wrap it up? I’m only halfway done. Yes, it appears I’ve run out of room and will have to conclude my exploration of this subject next month with an in-depth, seriously obsessive-compulsive breakdown of every point of view available to fiction writers, with all their variations in four part harmony. So be sure to check out my next FictionCraft article, “Point of View, Part II—Way More than You Ever Wanted to Know About POV.”

Louisa Burton
February 2009


Read more of Louisa Burton's FictionCraft in ERWA 2009 Archive.

______
"FictionCraft" © 2009 Louisa Burton. All rights reserved.


About the Author:
Louisa Burton is a multipublished author of some two dozen erotica, romance, and mystery novels for Bantam, Berkley, Signet, NAL, Harlequin, and St. Martin’s. A former publishing professional who is in love with the sound of her own voice, she has also taught numerous fiction writing courses and workshops. Way too much info about her current project, the Hidden Grotto series of erotic fantasy, is available at LouisaBurton.com.



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'09 Movie Reviews

Blame It On Savanna
Review by Byrdman

Cry Wolf
Review by Spooky

Faithless
Review by Spooky

Heaven or Hell
Review by Oranje

House of Wicked
Review by Diesel

The Office: An XXX Parody
Review by Spooky

This Ain't The Partridge Family
Review by Spooky


'09 Book Reviews

Anthologies

A Slip of the Lip (ebook)
Review by Jean Roberta

Best Women's Erotica '09
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Bottoms Up
Review by Ashley Lister

Enchanted Again
Review by Victoria Blisse

Frenzy
Review by Kathleen Bradean

Girls on Top
Review by Ashley Lister

In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed
Review by Ashley Lister

Libidacoria (Poetry)
Review by Ashley Lister

Licks & Promises
Review by Ashley Lister

Like a Thorn (ebook)
Review by Lisabet Sarai

The Mile High Club
Review by Ashley Lister

Nexus Confessions: Vol 5
Review by Victoria Blisse

Nexus Confessions 6
Review by Victoria Blisse

Oysters & Chocolate
Review by Kristina Wright

Playing with Fire
Review by Ashley Lister

Sexy Little Numbers Vol 1
Review by Ashley Lister

Up for Grabs
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Novels

A 21st Century Courtesan
Review by Donna G. Storey

The Ages of Lulu
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Amanda’s Young Men
Review by Kristina Wright

As She's Told
Review by Ashley Lister

Bedding Down
Review by Victoria Blisse

Broken
Review by Ashley Lister

Brushes & Painted Dolls
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Cassandras Chateau
Review by Ashley Lister

The Edge of Impropriety
Review by Kristina Wright

Exposure
Review by Kathleen Bradean

Free Pass
Review by Ashley Lister

The Gift of Shame
Review by Victoria Blisse

Kiss It Better
Review by Ashley Lister

The Melinoe Project
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Mortal Engines & The ...
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The New Rakes
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Ninety Days of Genevieve
Review by Victoria Blisse

Obsession: An Erotic Tale
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Sarah's Education
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Seduce Me
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Lesbian Erotica

Lesbian Cowboys
Review by Kathleen Bradean

Night's Kiss
Review by Jean Roberta

Where the Girls Are
Review by Jean Roberta

Gay Erotica

Animal Attraction 2
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Boys in Heat
Review by Vincent Diamond

Faewolf
Review by Lisabet Sarai

The Low Road
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Personal Demons
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Ready to Serve
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The Secret Tunnel
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Shuck
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Transgressions
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Non-Fiction

Best Sex Writing '09
Review by Kristina Wright

The Big Penis Book
Review by Rob Hardy

Erotic Encounters
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The Forbidden Apple
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Hollywood’s Censor
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Lady in Red
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Live Nude Elf
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Live Nude Girl
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The Other Side of Desire
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Scripts 4 Play
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