The Importance of POV

In my last post about the 2011 Write-Brained Network Writing Workshop, I revealed David L. Robbins’ bombshell that “write what you know” is a lie. This time I’m going to share his advice about what he considers the most important thing to know about writing: POV.

In a story, David explained, the point-of-view character represents the reader. He exists to link the reader to the page, to give the reader an emotional bond to the story. The stronger the POV, the better. That, David said, is the key to JK Rowling’s success — the Harry Potter books are strongly rooted in Harry’s point of view. (David did ellicit some gasps from the audience when he said Rowling could be a better stylist. FWIW, I agree with him, although I’ve heard her writing gets better in the later books. I love the movies, though.)

Although it’s okay to have multiple POVs in a novel or even a short story, David advised against switching point-of-view in the middle of a scene. It weakens the POV, and the reader’s attachment is cut in half. Instead, separate the different POVs by scenes or chapters.

As for which POV to use in a story — third person limited, first person, etc — David didn’t endorse one in particular, but he did caution againt using an omniscient POV. It leaves the reader behind, so they no longer have that emotional bond to the character. And first person POV requires mastery as a writer. To write good first person stories, you have to be a great empath.

So my takeaway from that is that third person limited is probably the best way to go. Which normally would be great news for me, since that’s pretty much all I write. Except I recently decided to change one of my short stories to first person limited. Hmm….

Anyway, in my next post, I’ll tell you what David taught us about the two parts of storytelling — the story and how you tell it.

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