Point of View – Why does it matter? – by Bob Rich
by Benjavisa Ruangvaree
Point of view – Why does it matter?
A journalist tells a story, referring along the way to the opinions of people s/he has interviewed. Fiction writing has an entirely different convention. To be effective, the author must become invisible.
When you watch a movie, you are a passive recipient. Someone, or more exactly, a team of people, has done the creative work for you and you merely need to sit there and take it in.
Reading is different. A story provides you with raw materials, which you need to translate into imagined experience. The creator is the READER, not the author. The author’s job is to provide all the necessary information to allow the reader to create a world that has a close relationship to what the author had intended.
When I write a story, I translate my intentions into arbitrary symbols. Reading it, you go through a complex deciphering process. First, a series of funny little marks are transformed into experiences that could equally have come from listening to speech. You can probably ‘hear’ the words in your own voice. Almost instantly, but as a distinct second stage, these internal sounds are looked up in a dictionary, and assigned meaning. The resulting words are assembled into phrases: meaningful statements.
That’s the raw material you are working with when you create an imaginary world based on my writing.
If I was successful, you will soon imagine yourself to be one of my characters. If that is not possible, you will imagine yourself as seeing the action, as if you were an invisible spectator. Or at least, you might see it as if on a screen. And if my writing hasn’t even achieved that, then you will probably put the book down unfinished.
My aim as a writer must be to allow you to make your construction about my world as vivid and real as possible, to have you lost in it, so that while you are reading, it is more captivating than the actual world around you.
Point Of View (POV) is a major tool in achieving this. In a well-written story, every word is from within the inner experience of a character.
Now, what happens if the writer gives me some information, not from within the current witness’s POV, but the way a journalist does?
I get abruptly pulled out of the story. My illusion is momentarily broken, perhaps never to return. Read this passage from Chapter 1 of my SF novel Sleeper, Awake
Artif commanded, “Flora, move your legs and arms.”
Flora tried, and to her relief was able to move almost naturally. She sat up and looked around.
Her cocoon for a millennium and a half seemed to have remained unchanged since that time, subjectively an instant ago, when she’d last closed her eyes. Cool pastel blue walls were glowing with indirect lighting. She knew that almost all the wall space consisted of doors hiding the equipment that had kept her alive without deterioration all this time: mechanical and electrical muscle stimulators, hygiene maintenance devices and the like. She had been fuzzy about the details even when Dr Martin had insisted on explaining them to her.
There were no windows, only the closed, airtight sliding door that was almost indistinguishable from the rest of the wall. Her elevated bed was in the middle, with the tubing descending from the low cream-coloured ceiling.
The only addition was a hovering ball that rose to be level with her eyes as she sat up. It was the size of a very large watermelon, Flora thought, only it was translucent, and filled with something resembling swirling white clouds.
I could have given all this description in the way a playwright sets the stage. These however are instructions to the director and actors, not to the audience. The audience is expected to SEE the setup, not to be TOLD about it. So, instead, I have inserted a couple of little snippets: “She knew that…” and “…Flora thought.” These keep the reader within POV— and make all the difference.
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