Why POV matters in fiction. And what resources can you recommend for the study of narrative point of view?

👩‍🎓 Narrative point of view is a fascinating area of study. I don’t (yet) offer developmental edits but it’s important that I understand the stages above/before copyediting so that any flaws which remain in the text (such as head hopping or broken binding) can be flagged for the author’s consideration.

As I study this stuff, I’m realising that I can already spot problems in narrative point of view but that I didn’t necessarily have the language to label what was going wrong. I suppose that’s unsurprising when you consider that I’ve been teaching literature for most of my adult life.

📚 I’ve been teaching literature that gets it ‘right’, so I’ve never needed to point out flaws, not in studied reading texts anyway. These works would not be considered worthy of study if they messed up their baseline POV for instance by inadvertently shifting from a retrospective to an embedded past tense and back again.

But I have seen point of view flaws in creative writing. With school students, we don’t get much beyond labelling first or third person and present or past tense. But, the thing is, there is more than one first person, more than one third person, more than one past tense. When stories haven’t quite worked, I’ve gone round the houses trying to explain why.

🔤 It’s all a domino effect though, isn’t it? At sentence level, flaws are going to emerge if the bigger structural elements aren’t right. If it’s a retrospective narrator, how old is the narrator at the point they are looking back from? Because that matters. The rhythm of the sentences, the syntax, the pauses, they are all going to be informed by that character at the point of the retrospection. So, even if they are describing something from their youth, it’s going to be through the lens of wisdom and experience. And then that has an effect on word choice.

Knowledge is power, right? Terminology doesn’t necessarily matter but I’m getting to the point where I can really clearly say to a writer – here is a part where you’ve done first person retrospective really well. Here is a part where you’ve slipped. Your point of view here is from the recent past, but there it was from further away. And I can see that in your verb choices, your tense aspects… Here. And here.

I would say to any aspiring indie authors out there, spend time on studying structure and point of view. Once you get that right, the rest will come a lot more easily and more successfully.

❓ Writers and editors who are further along in the process: any tips or resources you can recommend? I’ve heard ‘Characters and Viewpoint’ by Orson Scott Card is a good one so I’m going to add that to my TBR pile. Any others? Let me know.

Published by clairecherryedits

CherryEdits.com Indie Fiction Specialist. Line Editing. Copy Editing. Proofreading.

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