Literary POV

Today on Book Riot, I published a short introduction to POV (point of view) in literature:

For my short, introductory essay, I focused on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person. Tense is important to narrative too, but that was too complicated to get into. A lot of books are written mostly in the past tense, but they have to use past pluperfect and imperfect to describe what had already happened earlier (pluperfect) or what happened habitually (imperfect). I got way better at this as a fiction writer after taking French in high school. Bilingual writers are often great at it.

I recently read The Map of Salt and Stars, which does a great job with split timelines and POV. Nour, the first-person, present-day narrator, narrates in present tense. She also tells, in third person past, the story of Rawiya, a mapmaker from 1,000 years earlier. The setting and tense make it instantly clear which timeline we’re in. I loved it.

To recap: if the book is mostly in present tense, past actions are simply in past tense. If the book is in past tense, most of those actions that are further past have to be pluperfect or imperfect: what “had already happened” or “used to happen.” Writers have to deconstruct language and put it back together–in Derrida’s sense and many others.

I admit it can be confusing! A lot of people think To Kill a Mockingbird is narrated by 6 to 9-year-old Scout, for example. It’s first-person Scout but as an adult, remembering events when she was 6-9 years old.

Also, not to pick on Throne of Glass too often, because I enjoy the SJM coloring books even more than the novels, but it had terrible dangling participles and head-hopping. At the beginning of Crown of Midnight, Celaena is in the throne room with the King and his son, Dorian. And in the next paragraph, it’s like, He wished he could impress this girl…I was like, Who, Dorian? We’re in his attraction to Celaena now? I was just starting to get into her head, and it’s a paragraph away from the end of the chapter. He could start a whole new chapter, but no.

%d bloggers like this: