Myths about point of view



What is point of view? Well as one writer puts it, “Point of view is not determined by the main character. Viewpoint is not determined by any characters, no matter which of them the novel focuses on. Point of view is not determined by setting, time period…” and so the list goes on. So what is point of view?

“Mostly stated,” says Sherri Szeman, Author of ‘Mastering Point of View’. “It’s how the novel is written. That’s all there is to it. How the book is written.”

In the first chapter of her book, Sherri goes on to explore 10 myths on point of view, some of which I found nothing short of intriguing. So without further adu, let’s have a look at some myths about point of view.

  1. Commercial fiction is always written in unlimited point of view. False! “An exploration of the classic books of commercial fiction reveals as many books written in first person perspective as in unlimited point of view,” answers Sherri.
  2. Literary fiction is always written in first-person point of view. False! Again, there is just as much literary fiction in first person point of view as there is in other points of view.
  3. You can’t write from a man’s perspective if you are a woman (or vice versa), even if you’re using first-person point of view. “There is a long list of male authors who are unable to create realistic female characters,” states Sherri. “As well as an equally long list of female authors whose male characters are not considered realistic.” However, there are also plenty of examples of perfectly well represented pieces of writers of the opposite gender. “The author’s gender does not matter as much as the author’s willingness to enter into the thoughts, feelings, desires and motivations of his character, and the author’s ability to separate himself from the character he is creating.”
  4. You can’t switch point of view in a novel. “There is a difference between switching point of view and lapsing from your chosen point of view,” states Sherri. “Lapsing means you’ve erroneously slipped out of the point of view you’ve chosen, and that’s simply a writing mistake. But not switching point of view? Of course you can. How often? That depends on the work itself and on your skill as a writer.”
  5. Each time you describe a different character, you are changing point of view. False! “This is not true unless you also go from first person to unlimited (or vice versa) or from any point of view to another. Simply changing the focus of your writing does not change your point of view.”
  6. First-person point of view is easier to write than the others. False! “If you’re really faithful to the character’s perspective, as opposed to your own,” states Sherri. “Writing in first person, because it is always a limited point of view, can be extremely difficult and demanding.”
  7. It’s easy to write in outer limited point of view because you’re pretending you’re a camera, so you just write down everything you see. False! “Outer limited is, without a doubt, the most difficult point of view in which to write,” states Sherri. “As a camera, or a fly on the wall you must remain absolutely objective, nonjudgmental and nonhuman. Your emotions as the author must not be revealed in this point of view. Whether or not you like or approve of your characters and their actions must not be revealed.
  8. Even if you’re writing fiction, you can only write about aspects of your own life from your own point of view. Otherwise you’re ‘trespassing’ into other people’s lives and experiences. “If this was true,” states Sherri. “Then most of the world’s fiction would be eliminated. Fiction authors have a moral obligation to tell good stories and to write from perspectives other than their own.”
  9. There are really no limitations to first-person point of view; you can shift to something called “objective narration” and then into unlimited point of view as long as you do it in stages. “The limitations to first-person point of view are the same limitations any human being has: Each of us only knows what’s in her own head and heart; everything else is viewed externally. If you’re authentically writing in first-person point of view, then you cannot shift into unlimited – no matter how subtly or in how many stages you do it.”
  10. Famous writers like James Joyce often change point of view, sometimes in the middle of a sentence. If they can do it, so can other writers. “…Not many people besides Joyce scholars read Ulysses,” states Sherri. “So if you want to take a chance on having an extremely limited (and possibly confused) audience, then shift point of view as often as you want with no purpose whatsoever.”

Sherri then goes on to explain how to use her book which delves, very descriptively, into how to master the art of point of view. For aspiring writers and novelists, it is well worth a read.

Happy Writing!



Source: Mastering point of View by Sherri Szeman



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