#286…science, religion, ETC: “Point of View: God’s or man’s?”


This is not about religion.


Discovering, or choosing, the POV is a quick way to get into a piece of fiction–whether you’re reading or trying to write it.


Actually, it’s a response to the interview of an author only days ago on NPR.


For more there’s the DOOR.




   “Why do you write fiction (novels) to address the mental illnesses you’re so concerned about?” asks the Interviewer.

   “Because with fiction it’s magical. You can tell what all the characters are thinking as well as what they’re saying,” the Author responds. “You can do so much with fiction.”¹


   That’s quite true. Getting inside everybody’s heads, and well as their mouths can be fascinating. It’s God-like. And you believe these thoughts are true because the words on the page say so. Many fine writers use this technique.

   But that’s just one strategy for a writer to use in creating fiction. Another prominent method is to be human-like: Get in only one person’s head, usually that of the main character. Tell his thoughts. Let all the other information about characters come from what they say and what they do. Is this limiting? Yes, but it’s more human and the way “limited” people act. We never see inside another person’s head. Never. The best we can do is “read” him (or her, of course), listening to his words and watching what he does and guess what that means. Deep secrets remain, just like the ones you have and never tell.

   Here’s are parts from two stories:.

   [A]  Henry walked up the sidewalk and knocked on the door. He could see Bel’s eye at the peephole. This has taken me to my limits he thought as his heart pounded. He tried to hide his feelings. Would she ever answer and understand? The door opened. She stood quietly smiling. He handed her the package. Slowly she began to open it. He noticed her hand tremble.

   [B]  Henry walked up the sidewalk and knocked on the door. After seeing her eye at the peephole, his heart pounded. Had he assumed too much? He hoped she wouldn’t think him too eager. On the other side of the door Bel couldn’t believe her good fortune. He’d come at last! She took the package he handed her and opened it. To win him over she felt she had to first slowly show genuine appreciation. Gushing over something trivial would send him running.

   [A] is human-like; we see into only one head: Henry’s. [B] is God-like; we add in the thoughts of Bel (marked in red). As one can see these come at the reader in different ways. In Bel, there’s little doubt or mystery as to where Bel stands.

   Though it’s debated, some say that [A] is the most realistic way to present a story. It’s the way I almost always write fiction (as in my novel at the right).

   Four more things briefly:

   (1) Using POV is a fascinating tool because every story is one way or the other (but check #2 below). It’s pretty objective in an otherwise subjective endeavor. Note that “heart pounded” rubs elbows with POV though it’s technically descriptive narrative. Worrying about this sort of thing isn’t worth your time. Note further that the God-like POV doesn’t have to invade every head, just more than one. (Knowing what everybody thought about everything would make a story monotonous and boring.)

   (2) Technically, there are 5 kinds of POV. You can check Post #109 in the search rectangle above left to learn the minor differences this causes.

   (3) Writing a good story involves using a consistent POV. Some can do this almost subconsciously, others, unconsciously. Writers should be aware of this tool and, maybe, if a story isn’t working it has the wrong POV.

   (4) This is a great activity for even elementary writing, or for projects for homeschoolers. Hence we give this a [♠].


   ¹ The “days ago” was when this was written and queued for future use. The author’s and interviewer’s names were lost and I’ve paraphrased what was actually said; the content of the interesting exchange, however, was not relevant to the discussion here. [This, by the way, led me to corner  an incredible 8-letter vowel dump for Scrabble:  “eeiuungq” yields “queueing.”]

Author: John Knapp