of Point of View:
Make Your Story Come to Life
By Alicia Rasley
Reviewed By Christina M. Stachura
Copyright © 2008 by Christina M. Stachura, All Rights Reserved
It's easy to tell that Alicia Rasley
enjoys writing about her subject matter. She has already written several
articles as an editor on the subject, which can be found on edittorrent,
http://edittorrent.blogspot.com, co-authored by Theresa Stevens,
also an editor. A book surely intended to lessen much headdesk-ing, and
worry about issues of point of view (POV) and the problems it can
create, The Power of Point of View lives up to its word in a
comprehensive manner. Readers will find it is meant both to define the
basics and to probe some of the difficulties inherent in the essential
elements of POV.
At the beginning, Rasley delves into
each separate point of view in depth. She then provides exercises after
each section she has covered, and includes a list, at the end of every
chapter, of great books that are examples of each point of view
Rasley makes a bold and important
statement during the basics of viewpoint: when thinking of POV one
should be asking oneself what works best for the reader and the narrator
of the story, not for the author. Too often, books get written based on
the POV that works best for the writer. Rasley flips that idea
upside down and sideways. It's easy to think, "What will work best for
me as I write this?" It's much harder to ask, "What's best for the
story?" Rasley stresses that, as one writes POV, one should always
consider the reader first, and what he or she will run up against.
Readers do sense when something is not right with POV, although they
might not know precisely that it's POV that's causing the problem.
They'll perceive the book as being "jumpy" or "hard to follow."
There are many illuminating sections on
The Power of Point of View, and one such section includes getting
into the character's POV. Rasley calls this "sitting in the character."
She literally sits down, takes a deep breath, pictures a scene her
character might be in, and then sort of goes inside the character.
Rasley says she tries to feel both the inside (emotion and thought) and
the outside (the fictional environment), but always from the character's
perspective. For the non-visual writer, as Rasley purports to be, this
exercise isn't easy, as it's hard to "see" a scene. Some might find it
easier to start with tactile input, or all of their other senses, to get
into the character.
If that doesn't work, Rasley suggests
interviewing the character. This is not a new technique, but the
questions that she proposes are unique, such as: "So [name], how did you
get into this mess?"; "What is it you want? Why do you want it so
badly?"; "How did you feel when [fill in the blank with some event]
happened?"; "Why are you so upset?"; and so forth. These are questions a
writer can certainly dig her teeth into to get to the heart of her
character and his motives.
In Part Two of The Power of Point of
View, Rasley introduces each different POV choice in depth,
beginning with first person. She starts each by giving a rundown of the
basic advantages, and how each advantage can easily become a
disadvantage if not handled properly. Rasley reminds one that first
person is limited in scope, because the narrator can only be in one
place at a time. She then gives several well-chosen examples of how
great authors have taken that limitation as a gauntlet thrown down at
their feet and risen above it marvelously. Interestingly, the author
herself has chosen to write her book in the first person narrative and
admits that, for her, this is also difficult to maintain and manage. At
the end of the chapter, as Rasley does with each POV, she gives a
wonderful list of books to read as exemplary examples, including Jane
Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, and The Sound and The Fury by
Second person POV garners the shortest
chapter in the book. This is partly because, as Rasley states, most
readers have a hard time distinguishing themselves from the "you" in the
story and think "Oh, I would never do that." She says it can also be a
distancing device when the topic may be emotionally threatening. While
this can be a problem, it can as well be a saving grace if used
correctly. "You" sounds like an incrimination, but it can also create
compassion with the reader. "This suspension of disbelief and cultivated
empathy is the power of second person," states Rasley. As always, there
are exercises at the end of the chapter to help one further understand
second person POV, as well as the reading list, which includes such
books as Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney, and If on a
Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino.
Rasley then explores impersonal third
person POV. This form encompasses objective, classical omniscient, and
contemporary omniscient. Third person objective is often called
"camera-eye POV" because there is no sign of an actual person behind the
camera. So then, readers don't get to participate in the scene per se,
but are only privy to what they can see and hear. It's sort of like
watching a movie. One only gets to see what the director wants one to
see. While objective POV is not useful in "romances, women's fiction,
coming-of-age novels, and family sagas" - in short, character-driven
fiction - it can be useful in thrillers and horror stories. Objective
can also be helpful in duplicating a sociopath's POV, watching but not
Classical omniscient viewpoint usually
highlights a narrator who "knows everything about everything, including
what's going to happen in the end." Omniscient, Rasley says, works best
in "social" stories, which are more about the happenings of people in a
group rather than one person's personal journey. Moreover, many
omniscient writers pick this style to feature their own excellent strong
Additionally, says Rasley, irony and
perspective are the purposes of classical omniscient. She cites Jane
Austen as an excellent example of someone "ironic, detached, and amused
by all these mere mortals." It's as if the narrator and reader are
sharing something funny at the cost of the characters. Also, like a
movie director, the narrator can pick and choose which character to zone
in on whenever he pleases. This, though, is not "head-hopping" because
the narrator will go into one character's head, come back into
omniscient POV, then go into another character's head. It's all very
easy to follow, when skillfully applied.
Contemporary omniscient mainly differs
from classical POV in that there is no narrative persona, yet still
narrative control. This POV is most helpful in books with bigger casts,
many settings, and a broad angle. It also works to make smoother shifts
between many parallel events (Meanwhile, on the deck of the USS Fishtail
...). One of the biggest downsides of contemporary omniscient POV is
that without the narrator as in classical omniscient, it can quickly
dissolve into head-hopping if one is not careful.
Rasley lists, at the end of the
chapter, The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris and The Kay
Scarpetta Series by Patricia Cornwell as good reads for objective POV;
Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian and Psychlone by
Greg Bear for omniscient POV, among several other books as examples.
In the same way as all of the above,
Rasley then delves into personal third person: single POV as opposed to
personal third person: multiple POV. Single third shows an entire scene
through the eyes of one character, and sometimes the entire novel.
However, it is more likely that one person will be featured in one scene
and then another character in the next scene when helpful, and so forth.
Single POV is a great technique with protagonist-centered books when one
wants to build reader empathy. The question one needs to ask as an
author is "What do I most want the reader to experience and how can I
make that happen?" Rasley then gives some definitive reasons to go with
one or the other viewpoint when dealing with more than one POV character
in one's book. Still, it all comes down to a single question: "What
effect do I want to have on the reader at this moment?"
A few book recommendations for single
POV are Sole Survivor by Dean Koontz; Bee Season by Myla
Goldberg; Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf; and The
Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka.
The reason third person multiple POV
has earned such a bad reputation is because it's easy to do it badly.
Multiple POV can quickly fall into head-hopping. Hit-or-miss switching
between character POVs is disturbing to many readers. Rasley writes
that it helps to "think of a continuum of involvement starting with
'hardly involved' and ending with 'highly involved.'" The most involved
characters are often the best characters, and are the ones who bring
their own plans to the scene.
Some book recommendations for multiple
POV are: The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis; Ain't She
Sweet by Susan Elizabeth Phillips; and A Tale of Two Cities
by Charles Dickens.
The Power of Point of View
is a comprehensive book, which
proves helpful to both new and veteran writers. It was enough to make
this particular reader decide to change the POV of a book after it had
already been written, all for the sake of the story and the readers.
Rasley explains things well and has an easy writing style. This is a
book not to be missed.
The Power of Point of View: Make
Your Story Come to Life
By Alicia Rasley
Published by Writer's Digest Books