In this six-part series, we’re shooting for the stars by adding some great stuff into our writing.
And now …
Shoot for the Stars Tip #6: Get That Close POV
Readers read to immerse themselves in a character’s life and world. They may want to relate to a character and feel a connection. They may want to understand a character who is different from them. Or they may want to experience a life they will never experience, through the eyes of a character.
You’re a writer, so I don’t need to tell you any of this. You know what pulls you into a book, and you know how important it is for you to care about or relate to a character you are reading about.
Point of view is how you build that deep connection for your readers … or don’t. Some points of view are more distant. Omniscient is a point of view that feels distant to me. When it’s done right, it pulls me into the narrator’s point of view, but I don’t think it’s done right often. Second person point of view also feels distant to me—the writer is deflecting and pointing the story back at the reader instead of really allowing us in. Or at least that’s how it hits for me.
The two best points of view for getting close to a character are first person and third person. And yet, writers often write in first and third person while managing to keep a distance from the reader. Some do it because they don’t yet know how to get a close point of view. Some do it because they haven’t yet tapped into something or are holding something back. Some do it out of a fear that going deep into character will slow the pace of their story, and it certainly can do that if a reader is getting pages and pages of interiority. But you’re a writer—you can do both. You don’t have to sacrifice one for the other. And getting that close point of view is what is going to make readers give a damn about what happens to your character.
I want to share with you a few of the opening paragraphs from the novel The Sportswriter by Richard Ford, which is written in first person.
“My name is Frank Bascombe. I am a sportswriter.
“For the past fourteen years, I have lived here at 19 Hoving Road, Haddam, New Jersey, in a large Tudor house bought when a book of short stories I wrote sold to a movie producer for a lot of money, and seemed to set my wife and me and our three children—two of who were not even born yet–up for a good life.
“Just exactly what that good life was—the one I expected—I cannot tell you now exactly, though I wouldn’t say it has not come to pass, only that much has come in between. I am no longer married to X, for instance. The child we had when everything was starting has died, though there are two others, as I mentioned, who are alive and wonderful children.
“I wrote half of a short novel soon after we moved here from New York and then put it in the drawer, where it has been ever since, and from which I don’t expect to retrieve it unless something I cannot now imagine happens.”
Ford gave us a few short paragraphs of a man describing his entire life. In the hands of another writer, it might have taken many pages to give us this information and it may have been dry exposition. It might have slowed the pace of the story. But Ford uses subtext here to pull us deep into the protagonist’s point of view. We can read between the lines to learn so much about him, and it’s not at all boring reading. It leaves us with answers, but it also raises questions we want to know the answers to. It pulls us into his story and keeps us reading.
This post isn’t to teach you how to write a close point of view. I’ve written about that before, and I’m sure I will again. My point here is that writers should learn how to write a close point of view without boring readers. And I think the best way to do that is by reading good, engaging fiction to see how other writers do it—what pulls you into a character’s head and into a story?