Alida Winternheimer, our favorite editing and writing coach, is back this week to discuss point of view, how too much showing can strangle your narrative, and her new upcoming book The Story Works Guide to Writing Point of View.
Long-time listeners will remember Alida Winternheimer from previous RSP Episodes #58 and #165, but for those who are just meeting her here for the first time, Alida is an author, editor, mentor, and writing coach. Through her company Word Essential, she has helped countless writers become better writers, including Chris Fox, Mike Stop Continues, and Eustacia Tan.
“I really consider myself a teacher, so…as a developmental editor, my focus is on helping people become better writers through working on this one specific project and their personal goals.”
You can read more about Alida’s editing and coaching services at her website WordEssential.com, which is filled with great resources for writers, including Story Works Round Table episodes where she discusses various elements of fiction-writing with fellow authors Kathryn Arnold and Robert Scanlon.
To further her goal of helping writers, Alida is also in the process of creating a fiction writing series that covers the most important elements of creating great fiction: Characters, Point of View, Revision, Setting, and Plot. Her first book in the series is The Story Works Guide to Writing Characters and will be released in October 2016.
Her second book, The story Works Guide to Writing Point of View, is due out soon.
Narrative Point of View
When discussing POV in storytelling, we usually think of 1st or 3rd person POV, and, if we’re feeling a bit godly, Omniscient. But one POV that isn’t often considered is the POV of the narrative.
“The narrative has a point of view that is related to the point-of-view character, which then shapes how the reader experiences the story and the point-of-view character. The author doesn’t exist in the world of the story. The narrator is the storyteller who is responsible for everything on the page.”
Narrative exposition makes up, on average, 60-80% of a story, and it is what guides the reader through the story, cluing them in to clues with sleight-of-hand mentions of detail or cleverly disguised foreshadowing, dictating the whole emotional vibe of a story through word choice, pacing through sentence length, and giving the lay of the land, among a hundred other things. It is the “voice” of the story, and it has its own POV that writers need to pay attention to.
One common mistake that new writers make, Alida mentions, is taking the oft-cited show-don’t-tell advice and making it gospel. While showing a scene allows for a deeper reader experience when clued in to sensory details and inner thoughts versus the one-dimensional telling of what happens in a scene, using the POV character to show everything to the extreme can choke your narrative’s voice and make a scene drag. While readers want to be able to “see” a setting of a scene in their minds, they don’t necessarily need to read about the main character running his/her hands over every item and describing every little detail. As always, one should aim to strike a good balance that carries the reader deep into the world, as well as forward through the story.
Choosing Your Story’s POV
There are many considerations to choosing a POV character. 1st person allows the reader to really get into the character’s head, but it’s difficult to show what’s happening elsewhere in the story where the character is not. 3rd person is great for being able to jump to different characters in different scenes, allowing the author to show happenings in different places occurring at the same time. Omniscient allows the author complete freedom to delve into any character’s head, actions, behavior, the road up ahead, the past, the future…a tricky POV, to be sure. (Alida recommends writers check out The Known World by Edward P. Jones as a great example of Omniscient POV done well.) And of course, there’s always 2nd Person POV, usually associated with “Choose Your Own Adventure” type stories.
While all the POVs offer different advantages and limitations, “a great starting place,” Alida advises new writers, “is to write a closed, third person, single point-of-view character, past-tense narrative. That is your standard for contemporary literature…”
Writing point of view can be a complex element to learn and become good at. Alida offers lots of resources on her website for understanding POV, as well as her upcoming The Story Works Guide to Writing Point of View; however, listeners of RSP can, for a limited time only, sign up for Alida’s The Royal! package for a substantial discount. The Royal! includes the following: a storyboard critique; 1 hour of coaching via Skype; a comprehensive developmental edit of 10,000 words; and a follow-up hour of coaching via Skype.
It is a fantastic opportunity to have a one-on-one coaching session/master class on your current work in progress.
Tips to Gain a Better Understanding of Narrative and POV:
- Alida suggests taking published books in various genres and highlighting the exposition in order to gain a deeper understanding of how narrative and its POV works and shapes the entire story.
- Download Alida’s free PDF worksheet on choosing the right POV character.
Out of curiosity, are there any authors out there who write novels in using an unconventional POV like Omniscient or 2nd Person? If so, how have your readers responded to it?
Leave a comment below or get in touch with Simon by email at firstname.lastname@example.org