Saturday, August 18, 2012

So What's Your Point of View?

[Thank you for your patience last week.  The short version of the story is that my brother-in-law got quite ill. I took him to the ER.  His health is improving now.  Thank God.  So I'm back to blogging.]

                 WRITING BASICS TOPIC TODAY: Point of View, Part 1

Many people misunderstand what Point of View means as a writing term.  In everyday conversation, the phrase has come to mean "position" or "stance."  "Well, my point of view on the healthcare system in this country is...."  That is not what a Point of View means in writing.  The literary terms for position, stance or point are thesis (non-fiction) or theme (fiction).

So what then is Point of View?  In writing, Point of View is the perspective from which a story is told or a paper written.  There is a direct connection between this and grammatical Point of View.  In grammar, there are twelve (yes, twelve) Points of View.  They are:

First Person Singular Subjective
First Person Singular Objective
First Person Plural Subjective
First Person Plural Objective

Second Person Singular Subjective
Second Person Singular Objective
Second Person Plural Subjective
Second Person Plural Objective

Third Person Singular Subjective
Third Person Singular Objective
Third Person Plural Subjective
Third Person Plural Objective

Are your eyes rolling back into your head yet?  Actually, it's not as complicated as it looks.  Really.  It all boils down to which pronouns will be used CONSISTENTLY in a piece of writing.  And the good news is: Second Person only uses ONE pronoun.

First Person Pronouns: I, me, we, us

Second Person Pronouns: You, you, you, you

Third Person Pronouns: He, She, They, It, Him, Her, Them  

[Note to the Grammar Police: Yes, I left out possessives.  I'm trying to make this BASIC]

So what's all this got to do with writing Point of View?  All writing, even non-fiction, has a narrator.  There is a voice with which the writer communicates the information or story.  That voice is an entity and it has a perspective.  That perspective is the lens through which the written word is communicated and it is a single lens.  (Remember the first writing basic: consistency.)  In a single piece of writing, the perspective or lens should be changed ONLY if there is a really good reason for doing so.  Sometimes people need to put on reading classes to read more easily.  Sometimes the author can change a POV lens briefly in order to make something clearer.  However, when the author keeps changing the POV, it can make a reader dizzy.  Think about eye exams when the doctor keeps switching lenses on you and saying, "Which is better--A or B? What about B or C?  A or C?"  You get to the point where you have no idea because he never stays on one lens long enough for you to know.  By the same token, a writer who keeps changing POV will either confuse his readers or give them a headache.

Now if you were paying close attention, you may have noticed that the paragraph above was written from the Third-Person point of view with a short change of lens to Second-Person in order to illustrate the point, then back to Third-Person.  If you didn't notice it as you read, good.  Point of View shouldn't distract the reader from what the writer is trying to communicate.  Anyway, look at the pronouns list, then re-read the paragraph and notice not only the pronouns, but the nouns, e.g., a narrator, a voice, the writer.  All of these nouns can be replaced by third-person pronouns.  The Second Person pronoun you (meaning "the reader") only shows up in the example and there is no mention of me or I.

How much a writer has to worry about staying in a consistent POV will depend on the type of writing he / she is doing and who his / her audience is.  If the writing is informal, an email for example, the writer can worry less about consistent POV -- as long as it is an informal email.  Writing an email to a prospective employer doesn't qualify as informal.  If the writing is more formal--a business letter, a college paper, a piece of writing the author hopes to publish--a consistent POV becomes a non-negotiable.

Next time: Narrative Points of View and examples of how to use them.

Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Family Emergency

Due to a family emergency, I am unable to write a post this week.  I'm sorry.   Please check back this weekend for a new blog.


Monday, August 6, 2012

And Fiction Too!

     While I pursued my degree in writing, I took a number of writing workshops.  Peer critique was the main element of these workshops. I have few specific memories from those critiques.  There is one, however, that has stayed with me. This memory is from a poetry workshop.  There were two members of the class whose poetry always was incomprehensible.  Now, it's okay for poetry, unlike prose, to be a little difficult to access.  In fact, good poetry should have levels of meaning.  Even so, a good piece of poetry will have something that reader connects with, whether it is the beauty of the words or something in it that stirs the reader / hearer's emotions. Exceptional poetry is visceral.  The reader / hearer doesn't have to understand immediately (or ever) what the poem means as long as the poem moves the person. The poetry of these two classmates, however, didn't move the rest of us; it just confused us. For a few weeks, people were polite and gentle in their feedback, but finally, someone told one of these poets that his poetry just never made any sense.  The author haughtily replied, "It doesn't have to make sense.  I write poetry for myself.  You don't have to understand it." I still remember my reaction to that statement. I thought, "Fine.  Then write, read it, put it in your drawer and don't bother other people with it."  I was offended by his condescension and his callous disregard for his readers.  In last week's blog entry, I said that it's important to keep your audience in mind when you write.  Most of my examples were about non-fiction writing and I promised that I would talk about fiction today.  So here it is.  In creative writing AUDIENCE MATTERS!

     Writing is both a skill and an art, and creative writers tend to be highly aware of the artist aspect.  We tend to think of ourselves as artists, and we are.  That doesn't mean, however, that we need to rebel against all rules and conventions.  Rules and conventions exist for a reason, primarily because they are effective. I'm not saying creative writers should never go against convention and, say, put a unicorn in a science fiction novel.  I'm saying don't do it JUST BECAUSE.  "I'm an artist and I'm free to play it as I feel it" (to borrow a phrase from musicians) may feel good, but make sure to empty some drawers to put your unpublished manuscripts in.

     There is one writing rule that should never be ignored: keep your audience in mind.  What difference does audience make to a creative writer's work?  I'll just address two biggies: age and genre.  AGE: Vocabulary, of course, comes immediately to mind. Most writers know not to use the same vocabulary for a children's book that they would use for an adult psychological mystery.  Perhaps a little less obvious is the fact that a writer who uses vocabulary and a narrative voice appropriate for 9-12 years olds in story written for the hot Young Adult market (approx. 13-18) is going to fail.  Those audiences are different and, if you aren't aware of the difference, either do research or don't write for those markets.  Subject matter is another element to consider when thinking about your audience's age.  It's kind of a duh that a murder mystery / thriller would be inappropriate for 6-9 year olds.  In regards to the YA market, while many adults enjoy YA novels (e.g. Harry Potter), the focus of the YA story should be on the target audience's issues: coming of age, dating / romance, family issues, even sensitive issues such as suicide or abuse.  Of course many adults love romance novels, so if I write a romance novel, I don't have to worry about whether the audience is YA or adult, right?  Wrong.  An adult novel has an adult protagonist.  A YA novel has a teenage protagonist.  Also, sexual intimacy will be handled differently.  GENRE: Of course, entire blogs can be dedicated to the topic of genre, even one specific genre.  So I'll just make a couple of comments.  First, know whether or not you are writing genre, and if so, what kind. Know who your audience is and know that they know about that genre.  That means that you'd better know about it too.  All genres have conventions.  As I said above, that doesn't mean you always have to stick to the tiniest letter of the law of every convention of the genre, but if you are going against convention, know why you're doing it.  And doing it because you're an artist is not a good reason.  Genre readers read a specific genre because they like specific things about it.  There are things they expect to find when they read a book or story in that genre.  It's like when you eat ice cream.  You don't expect ice cream to taste like meat. You buy ice cream; you want to experience ice cream.  So readers of horror novels have certain expectations when they read.  They don't expect the narrator to sound like he came out of a Dr. Seuss book--unless that ties into the horror plot.  If you're clever enough, perhaps you could make it work, but know what you're doing and why you're doing it.  To go back to the unicorn example.  Although Sci-Fi and Fantasy are grouped together, they are two different genres, each with its own conventions.  Dragons manage to fly back and forth between the two from time to time, but unicorns have been consigned, it seems, exclusively to fantasy.  But it might be possible to write a unicorn into a sci-fi piece as long as the writer adheres to one unbreakable sci-fi rule: it must be scientifically plausible.  For example--and just for clarity, I like this idea, I'm copyrighting it and you can't use it.  Sorry :(  -- since unicorns are in folklore worldwide, a protagonist scientist who likes the idea of unicorns could pursue proving that unicorns existed before The Flood, find DNA evidence, maybe find a unicorn skeleton and carbon-date it and all this might ultimately lead to finding a herd of unicorn on a secluded mountaintop somwhere.  But in order for the unicorn to transition into a sci-fi novel, the science must be there and must be plausible. Trust me, the audience will know if it's not--and they will not be happy.  Nor will publishers, editors, agents.  Audience matters.  Really.  Ignore them at your own peril.

In what other ways does audience affect your writing?

Genre writers: in what ways are conventions restrictive?  How are they helpful?