By Barry Willis
Every piece of writing is founded on a point of view, or “POV” in screenwriters’ parlance. A story’s point of view may be objective or subjective, from inside or outside depicted events—sometimes called “interiority” and “exteriority” by writing teachers—and may have a singular perspective or multiple perspectives.
The most common point of view, one that we encounter daily, is the personality-free objective tone of news reporting: “An earthquake struck the eastern Mediterranean this morning, collapsing buildings in Greece and Turkey. Several people were killed, and dozens injured, according to initial announcements from the Greek and Turkish governments.”
This is traditional, straightforward news reporting. A subjective perspective might be a posting from someone who was there: “Our tour group had just begun walking through Izmir when we heard a rumble, felt the ground lift, and saw walls cracking and tiles falling from roofs. We heard people screaming in the distance but didn’t know where they were. It was incredibly scary.”
A personal account like this has much more emotional impact than a factual news report. Therefore, most films focus on a central character and his or her struggle rather than adopting a more distant overview. It’s the difference between a compelling drama about one soldier’s survival and a documentary about the war itself.
Many novelists attempt an unadorned pseudo-objective style while focusing on a central character. A fictitious example:
Sarah hadn’t seen Tom in months. She felt pangs of anxiety in anticipation of his visit.
There was a knock on the door. She took a deep breath and opened it slowly.
“Hello, Sarah,” said Tom. “It’s good to see you.”
“Hello, Tom,” she replied, and let him in.
Reporter-turned-novelist Ernest Hemingway pioneered this simplistic narrative-and-dialog style, one that has become the default for generations of American novelists. This-happened-and-then-that-happened. She-said-this-and-he-said-that. If you have a solid plot, you can tell your tale this way and it will likely find an eager readership. It’s not virtuoso writing but it’s an accessible style that millions of readers enjoy.
Point of view is arguably the most important aspect of the writer’s craft—assuming, of course, that you have a handle on grammar, spelling, syntax, and pacing. The same tale can be told any number of ways. Choosing which way is hugely important because it determines your readers’ experience. Your story’s point of view and your narrative style will appeal to some readers and not others.
Ultimately, you need to feel satisfied that your piece conveys what you want it to convey, both informationally and emotionally. If it works for you, after multiple readings and revisions, chances are that it will resonate for readers too.