Point-of-View in the 19th Century
In his fictional work, A Million Windows (Giramondo 2014) Gerald Murnane writes:
“At one extreme is the boldness and directness of the nineteenth-century writer of fiction who informs the reader, as though possessing an unchallenged right to do so, that this or that character is contented or disconnected or weighed down with remorse or uplifted by hope. Many a writer of this sort ranges freely from character to character, even within the same few pages, with the result that the reader might be enabled to know the intentions of each of two characters in a dispute between antagonists, for example, or a proposal of marriage.”
“One such passage that occurs to me reports the scene (…) in Tess of the d’Urbevilles, by Thomas Hardy:
Tess’s sense of a certain ludicrousness in her errand was now so strong that, notwithstanding her awe of him, and her general discomfort at being here, her rosy lips curved towards a smile, much to the attraction of the swarthy Alexander.” (p. 26).”
These are Kaitlin’s idea:
“Point of view is important to your story, and it must be established immediately. Why? Because the reader needs to know whose “head” they’re in, whose story this is. Your hero is the reader’s access point to the story. They will experience the story along with the hero–through his or her point of view.
There are a couple mistakes I’ve seen made frequently with point of view, especially by new writers. I think these come from the writer trying to do too much and trying to show the reader everything.”
“When you’re writing a scene, make sure you only stay in one character’s head at a time. Switching back and forth between characters is known as “head hopping” and it’s jarring to the reader.
So what does this look like? Here’s an example:
Melissa wondered why Tom had asked her to meet him in the middle of the night. She leaned against the tree at the edge of the park, watching him approach.
“Hey,” she said, “Is everything all right?”
Tom took her hands in his. How could he tell her what was happening? He didn’t want to frighten her. “I’m fine. Listen, I need you to leave town for a few days.”
“What do you mean? Why?” What was going on, Melissa wondered.
“I just need you to trust me,” he said, hoping she wouldn’t argue. “Take this.” He pressed the train ticket he had purchased that morning into her hand.
Melissa shook her head. She wasn’t going anywhere until she had answers. Tom saw the look on her face and knew she wasn’t giving up easily.”
“It’s like watching a ping pong match, isn’t it? We keep switching back and forth between Melissa and Tom’s head, and not only is it disorienting, but it’s boring.
But why is it boring?
Because we’re being told everything. There’s no work left for the reader. There are no blanks for us to fill in, nothing for us to guess at or wonder. The writer has unintentionally deprived the reader of one of the joys of reading.
Now, of course this doesn’t mean you can’t use more than one POV in your story. Stories with multiple POVs are fantastic! The rule is to stay in one character’s POV per scene. If you want to change POV, then you need to switch to a new scene.
One of Kaitlin’s favourite short stories, so it might be a good one to study in terms of consistent POV usage.
Kaitlin Hillerich finishes with:
As a writer, you have to choose from whose POV it’s best to show each scene. This isn’t easy, and I know it’s tempting to show both, but don’t. You can’t show the reader everything and you shouldn’t–you need to place trust in her that she can fill in the blanks.” See more at Ink and Quills.