Point of view

Last night’s Renegade Writers meeting highlighted the difficulty of point of view (pov). One of the new members had written a very effective piece about a mother being taken away to a mental institution in what felt like the 1960’s, and the reaction of her 5 year old daughter, then the changes in her over a number of years until she was her mothers’ carer. The problem with it was it jumps from one pov to another. He wrote some really fine and moving passages, which I think we all appreciated.

POV is difficult to master. If you write first person then there are passages you want to include which show what another person is thinking, or action away from the readers’ viewpoint. There is also another issue which I started to bring up but Misha intervened to stop me complicating things even further for the poor man! That is not just whose viewpoint are you writing from, but from what time is it written. Are you living through the events with the characters in real-time; are you looking back and in what circumstance; is the narrator’s situation important to the story?

If the story is told looking back after the event (past tense) how does that effect what maybe life threatening situations, the reader knows you survive! If maybe written from a prison cell the reader knows you’ve been caught! It’s difficult isn’t it!

In The Tin Drum, Grass writes the pov from his ‘hero’ Oskar’s situation much later on when the he is now living in some form of institution, so the narrator can make comments on his past, and of his life in the institution which becomes part of the narrative, there is interaction with a guard, short descriptions of his life there. In his book Too Far Afield, Grass uses more than one narrator from a government department giving reported conversations during regular meetings with the two, linked through time, characters Theo (known as Fonty) and his constant shadow Ludwig, and we hear about the disintegration of their world when the Berlin Wall falls, in Fonty’s fight to save a paternoster lift inside what was once the Nazi Air Ministry. It is a highly complex novel and required me to stop after about 200 pages and read novels by the 19th Century German novelist Fontaine to make any sense of it!

Of course such complicated pov is not for a beginner. I was saying on my way home from Renegades how in effective novels you don’t actually notice the pov. Choosing a pov is probably one of the initial actions when writing. In my first big piece of writing, Underpainting, by default I chose to tell a story from an omnipotent viewpoint, I wrote characters’ thoughts, dreams, saw things from fly on the wall, looked back, wrote phone conversations from both sides. It could be said like watching a film, and that was a criticism many years ago, that it wasn’t literature but an extended film script! It probably is.

Today’s photograph is of the rear of my flat which is being cladded to improve the warmth as part of a government scheme for areas of deprivation. They have done inside at the front and will soon do the side. It was taken at 9.30 on a mildish getting brighter day.

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