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POV: More than pronouns -- by Megan Carney

One of the most important lessons I learned about point of view didn't come from a textbook. It came from Sounds Like Crazy by Shana Mahaffey.  This lovely book completely changed my point of view on well... point of view. :)

Early on we learn to identify the point of view in a book by pronouns. Later, we debate the relative structural advantages/disadvantages of first person vs third person vs omniscent, etc.

Slightly more advanced discussions will focus on common mistakes, like violating point of view by describing something outside the narrator's awareness. (e.g. "She didn't notice the man with the knife creeping up behind her.")

But what I haven't heard many people talk about, and what I think Mahaffey's book so aptly demonstrates, is that point of view is also about agency.  That how you describe a scene can put the narrator in control of their body (and make the reader feel things more directy), or make them distant from their own actions. 

This distance works in Mahaffey's book because the main character struggles with multiple personality disorder.  Holly often finds herself inside her own body, but unable to control it.  As I read the book, I noticed how differently Holly's actions are described when she's in control of her body vs. when her other personalities have taken over.

 To clarify the point, let's look at an obvious example of how to show someone else is in control:
She sashayed my body to the counter, retrieved the menu, and sauntered back.

A little further in the chapter, we see how this technique translates when control shifts mid-paragraph:
She ceded control [of my body].   A marker that something has changed.
My knees buckled.  Clearly shows she is not in control of this action.
I dove forward to catch my body just before it went down.  We know Holly is in control again because of the "I dove".   
When I felt the ground under my feet, I bolted through the kitchen toward the back exit.  More language to demonstrate that Holly is in control with "I felt" and "I dove"

And another example of when Holly is not in control, just to drive the point home:
My hand reached for the plate.  The woman grabbed my wrist.
Note how both of these sentences show the narrator observing the actions of someone else, though in the first sentence it's her own body she's describing.

There are other times when you might want distance between the narrator and their actions, aside from Holly's unique situation.  Like when a character doesn't understand why they are doing something, but they are doing it anyway.  Or for when an action is reflexive or compulsive. Or perhaps, if you're doing supernatural fiction, an otherworldly force has taken hold of the narrator.

Just make sure your character is as active (or passive) as you intend them to be.

Posted by Megan Carney 13 Sep 2014 at 00:11
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