Every fiction writer beyond the beginner stage knows about point-of-view. It’s the perspective from which a story is told. It’s the eyes through which we are seeing, the ears through which we are hearing, the mind through which we’re processing, the heart through which we’re feeling.
POV is mostly the protagonist’s, but it can also be any other character’s (as in multi-POV), an observer’s (think Nick Carraway), or even the author’s. The prime directive of POV is also well known: keep it consistent, no head hopping within a scene.
There are choices in writing POV. There is close or intimate POV. There is objective POV. There is zooming in and out. Everyone knows where they stand on POV. Everyone’s got their preference. Is there anything new to say about POV? There is. Like everything else about literature, POV is evolving.
In recent years, POV has tended to become even more close and intimate than ever. So much so that it immerses us not in just what a protagonist or POV character sees, hears, thinks and feels, but in every thought, memory, musing, speculation, wonder and nuance of a character’s consciousness.
Immersive POV is not just a camera angle, or a mind meld, but a total subsuming of the reader’s being into a character’s. It requires the reader to not only see through a character’s eyes, but to become that character. It demands that the reader not just pay attention but completely submerge.
Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Goldfinch (2013) is written in this fashion. Its protagonist is Theo Decker, who at the age of thirteen is cast adrift when his larger-than-life mother dies tragically in an incident at New York’s Metropolitan Museum. Theo and his mother are not even supposed to be there. They are supposed to be on their way to a meeting (probably disciplinary) at Theo’s private school. But his mother gets car sick in a taxi and so they take a break in the museum:
For me—a city kid, always confined by apartment walls—the museum was interesting mainly because of its immense size, a palace where the rooms went on forever and grew more and more deserted the farther in you went. Some of the neglected bedchambers and roped-off drawing rooms in the depth of European Decorating felt bound-up in deep enchantment, as if no one had set in them for hundreds of years. Ever since I’d started riding the train by myself I’d love to go there alone and roam around until I got lost, wandering deeper and deeper in the maze of galleries until sometimes I found myself in forgotten halls of armor and porcelain that I’d never seen before (and, occasionally, was unable to find again).
As I hung behind my mother in the admissions line, I put my head back and stared fixedly into the cavernous ceiling dome two stories above: if I stared hard enough, sometimes I could make myself feel like I was floating around up there like a feather, a trick from early childhood that was fading as I got older.
What is this passage really about? In one way, it’s about nothing more than staring at the ceiling. Staring at the ceiling? For plot purposes, do we really need to know how Theo regards the Metropolitan Museum or its ceiling or how as a child he imagined himself as a feather floating around under it?
No. We don’t. [Read more…]