Ask Ann-Marguerite™: What is POV?
Updated: May 15, 2021
The wind is howling outside, so forcefully and loud that even Gaston and I can hear it from our alcove in Rousseau’s kitchen. We hoped to hide away from the ghastly storm, tucked neatly by the brick fireplace still alive in the petit café, but by the sounds—and sights—of things, we didn’t run far enough.
Gaston, hair damp from melting snow and mussed by the eighteen kph winds, leans in his chair to peer out the window behind us, his expression none too happy. “I will not make it to London by mai, at this rate.”
“Nonsense, mon ami. There is still time. The storm will die soon enough.” I infuse cheer and uncharacteristic optimism in my tone, though my fidgeting fingers betray me. Both Gaston and I have been looking forward to his trip to England for weeks; a nonfiction work of his was accepted last month by a publishing company based in London, and a representative was in fact hoping to meet him in person!
Although Gaston has high aspirations for becoming a novelist, establishing his name in nonfiction will make his career much smoother. I have been coaching him in fiction, while he has been sharing the joy in his accomplishments with me.
To say I appreciate his friendship is an understatement. Because of our newfound relationship, it is my duty to restore his hope and faith.
Even though all evidence points to the storm lasting at least another few hours and leaving enough snow behind to bar us into the apartment building until next month.
“You are a horrible liar, Ann-Marguerite Le Roux,” he says with a rueful smile, falling back against his chair and balancing it on two legs.
“And you are a consummate pessimist, Gaston Darcy,” I reply, my responding smile genuine and bright. He will make it. I know he will.
In the meantime…
I reach for the last crème puff on the plate M. Rousseay provided us with, catching the cream and crumbs in my mouth as I watch Gaston’s stare return to the window. “What should we do,” I mumble around my twelfth pastry, “while we wait?”
His hand instinctively reaches for the plate, but instead of snagging a crème puff, his palm splays flat and empty against the dish. He looks to me, sighing. “Je sais pas. What about a letter? Have you any of those you need to answer?”
I nod. My stack of mail, which I fetched before running into a snow-covered Gaston, rests on the counter beside the kitchen door, awaiting my perusal. “I left my typewriter upstairs.”
“Not a problem.” Suddenly cheerful, Gaston retrieves a leather notebook and pencil from within the deep pocket of his trench-coat and hands them to me, eyes alight. “You can copy it later.”
I chuckle as I rise, tucking the notebook beneath my arm, and stride toward the mail, flipping through a couple bills and junk mail before one hand-printed letter, the only one this week, peeks up at me. I gently nudge the envelope open and unfold the sheet of composition paper as I sit back down.
“Here—” Gaston wrenches the letter from my hands, nearly rending the corner “—let me read it for you.”
I raise a quizzical brow but pay him little mind. Of course he is antsy and probably bored of hearing my voice.
“‘My dear Ann-Marguerite,’” he begins, lifting his shoulders and peering down his nose as if he were a known oracle. “‘You are an inspiration to writers near and far, showering us with your wisdom and expertise. I am astounded by your intelligence and graciousness. You truly are a most belle demoiselle. I have one mere request for you, my lady, that you would assist me on my quest to become a—’”
I reach over and plunder the letter, tsking all the way. “You and I both know that says nothing of the sort. You are full of it, M. Darcy.”
“It should. Say it, that is. You are nothing if not the most intellectual and divine creature.”
I laugh, barely constraining a less than divine snort. And here I thought I was to be cheering him up! “You are no better liar than I, mon ami. You must work on your flattery if you are to be considered a true Frenchman.”
“It is not that I lack skill, ma cherie. It is that you doubt your own.”
I glance asquint at him, repositioning the letter with a crackle to—hopefully—remind him of its presence. “Better. Now, shall I answer this poor person’s question?”
“Mais oui. Who am I to stand in the way of your wise contribution?”
I roll my eyes, quickly rattling off the short and not flowery question this beginner writer posed. It is an interesting question, perhaps more obvious at first look than anything else, but very deep and important after giving it some thought. I most likely asked the same question at some time in my earlier years, receiving a curt reply that in no way prepared me for the world which laid ahead.
There is more than a one-sentence answer or explanation to the question of what POV is.
Firstly, it stands for point-of-view, perspective, point de vue. It is, to put it frankly, the owner of the narrative or narration of the novel. In a broader concept, it is the classification of the owner, their personal definition or category. In lesser terms, it is the voice, a specific character…
Ah, let me back up.
I sift through my thoughts, searching for the perfect example to employ, before Gaston taps my forehead with his fingers and garners my attention.
“What is POV?”
I grin, sensing the brightness that invades my voice. “It is the abbreviation for the English point-of-view. In everyday usage, it is defined as the perspective from which one comes at a picture or situation. In writing, it is the very important and technical term used for the specific character chosen for narration in prose. The point-of-view is just that, the vantage point used to view, describe, think about, or generate emotions for the subject in a novel. In an informative college essay, the POV would be an unbiased informant, whereas in a persuasive article, the POV would usually be of the one opposing or accepting the views presented. Comprenez-vous?”
Gaston nods slowly, considering his notebook in my hands. “Will you write that, then?”
“I think not,” I reply, continuing when I notice his perplexed stare. “There is more, shall we say, to the story than this. More to tell. More to learn.
“POV can be constrained to this context I gave you. It can be the background from which the writer himself comes, such as with an essay or article. But in fiction, POV means not something different, but something more. An omniscient POV is narrative written from the perspective of the author or a narrator, knowing and revealing all that goes on in the story, sometimes about different characters or situations in one paragraph or scene. Classics from the 20th century and before, such as Moby Dick, The Great Gatsby, and Gone with the Wind, were written in this manner, before more concepts of POV were invented.
“Now, we have four main POVs: omniscient, third-person, second-person, and first-person. Third-person is written only slightly different than omniscient. The narrator is usually a character within the story itself rather than the author or a selected narrator, but like omniscient, even the main or point-of-view character is described as “he,” “she,” or their name. In their perspective, only what they know is revealed until they themselves learn more. For example, in Agatha Christie’s mysteries, a side character (meaning one who is neither the detective nor the victim or suspect) is chosen as the point-of-view. Therefore, they know nothing but what the detective reveals to them or what they deduce themselves, which puts their character in much the same position as the reader.
“Second-person is far more rare than any POV. While third-person is found in most every book these days, or at least most historical fiction, second-person is hard to stumble upon and perhaps even harder to write. Instead of choosing a particular character to lead the reader through the story, second-person places the reader in that place. “You” is used instead of a character’s name. You walk to the store, you solve a mystery, you fall in love, you hold the gun. It is strange and unorthodox, and what is strangest to me is that there simply must be someone watching “you” do those things to thereafter describe them to you. Therefore, it is least common and at times not even counted in discussions of POV because it is so odd and difficult to employ.”
Gaston chuckles, rising from his chair to put our empty plate into the sink behind me. “No doubt it is uncommon. I do not think I have ever encountered such, but for nonfiction, and that is an entirely different situation.”
“Indeed. But second-person leads us to the final POV: first-person. First-person is rising in popularity, quickly eclipsing the use of the popular third-person because of its poignant, intimate feel. Like the example you gave of nonfiction, first-person was once only seen in biographies or memoirs, written from the author’s perspective as the main character or protagonist of the story. In fiction, however, it is the character which takes the author’s place. “I” is used in the place of the character’s name or a third-person pronoun. Unlike an omniscient narrator, the first-person character does not know everything, but they are describing all that they experience with their voice. First-person requires more attention, I should think, than any other form of POV. When you, the author, becomes your character, you must write them with a voice so distinct and real that the reader feels as connected to them as you are. This POV is found in almost every YA novel out there. Several adult genres, such as fantasy and romance, are half first-person and half third-person, while there are at least a small percentage of authors in every genre and age group writing in a first-person perspective. Some authors use both first and third, understanding which perspective fits which story or character. They each, all four POVs, have their challenges and their advantages, and not every POV is right for every story. Deciding upon one is as much a venture as writing from it.
“Once you have selected from the four POVs, the word takes on a new meaning. You can have multiple points-of-view in one novel, making for a well-rounded story that presents different opinions and perspectives of similar situations or characters. The specific characters who perspectives are chosen are then referred to as POV characters. They are not necessarily your main characters or your protagonists. They could be secondary or side characters, or even the villain or antagonists of the story.
“The choices do not end there. Tense is soon added to the equation. You can write from past, present, or future tense, which has much the same meaning as it did in grammar school. Most novels are written in past tense, no matter the POV, but several first-person stories are written in present tense. This only enhances the intimacy of your character’s perspective, but one must be careful not to miss any beats. Future tense is perhaps more rare than second-person. Ending all your verbs in i-n-g in not ideal.
“To summarize, POV is the perspective from which your story is written. There are many from which to choose and many different variables to consider. In the end, no matter what you choose, you must put your entire heart and soul into creating a unique, believable voice for your narrator or POV character. No one person talks or thinks in the exact same manner or of the same things. Characters must be individuals in the same way, describing certain things in their own way, thinking of things in their own process, and reacting to things according to their own personality. This, discovering and then mastering the voice of your character, is the most difficult and important of all in writing. Even if your plot is boring or full of inconsistencies, a beautiful voice may be your saving grace.”
Somewhere in my monologue, Gaston took his notebook from me and began scribbling down my lengthy answer. Once I finish, he snaps the book shut with a smile and then hands it to me.
“I had the very same question, so I appreciate your answer. You can return this to me when I come back from Britain.”
My mouth curves into a gentle smile. “You think you will make it now?”
“Look outside; the storm has stopped.”