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Birch Bay Public Market

Friday, May 10 through the end of summer, Cathy and I will be selling her hand-made soaps, lotions, and toiletries, along with my photography, note cards, calenders, books, etc.

Come see us!

Across the street from the C Shop

4825 Alderson Road, Birch Bay, Washington 98230


I had an automated blogroll here, powered by Google Reader, but Google, in its near-infinite lack of wisdom, killed Google Reader. Prior to this murder, all I had to do to put a blog on my blogroll (or to take it off) was to place it in a Reader folder called, appropriately enough, "blogroll" (or, of course, to remove it). I use The Old Reader now for following blogs, but it seems to have no way to something similar regarding the blogroll. If you know of a way to do this, please let me know.

Sometimes, it’s the mote in the other guy’s eye…

…but sometimes, it’s the tree trunk in your own.

I just read a blog post on “How Not to Write Christian Fiction.” No, I’m not going to link to it. You can find it if you try hard enough. It does make some valid points, many of them, actually, but it’s also full of the same old dull, toothless saws we’ve all heard too many times. Things like the complaint against “He emerged, turning to lock the door.” This, it is said, implies that two things are being done at once, when they simply can’t be. Well, no such implication is made. Not with a comma there. But I’m not going to go into that.

I’m going to address the statements about POV.

First, a little background. I know that the vast majority of new writers and wannabe writers have this unsupportable belief that you’re “not supposed to” use the third-person omniscient point of view. I’m very used to remarks like the one I got from a local writer when I said I used 3PO: “But what do you do when you want to show what a person is thinking?” she asked. “I show you what she’s thinking,” I said. “But you can’t do that in third-person omniscient,” she said, in a very confused tone. Um… what part of omniscient did you not get?

There is nothing you cannot do in 3PO. Nothing. I can show you what this person is thinking in this second, and what that one is thinking in the very next second. I can tell you on page 22 that she wants nothing more than for her husband to unzip her dress on the back porch swing, and on page 123 that he’s been longing to do that for thirty years. He’s certain it would get him in trouble.

So whenever I see statements like “If you are telling Jane’s story, don’t ever show us John’s viewpoint,” or “Never tell us that she was sometimes unaware of the glances of men, because she is unaware of her unawareness,” then I know that yet another person has fallen into the trap of simply not recognizing the fact that 3PO is being used.

Third-person omniscient is quite possibly the oldest POV ever used in fiction.

As soon as your story-telling moves past autobiography (“Mommy! I saw a bird in the little place by the big rock, and it was brown!”) into fiction (“Once upon a time, there was a little boy…”), you move into 3PO, and you stay there until some unpublished MFA (or the unpublished MFA’s unpublished pupils) tells you that you “can’t” do that. But 3PO was good enough for Chaucer and Austen and Tolstoy and Dickens, and it’s good enough for me. In spite of all the wannabes running around quacking that “You can’t do that! You can’t do that!” it is still arguably the most common POV in use. In the excellent movie, Stranger Than Fiction, IRS Agent Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) tells Professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman) that the strange voice he hears narrating his life said “Little did he know that this seemingly innocuous act would result in his death.” Hilbert replies “Little did he know? I’ve written papers on ‘Little did he know.’ I’ve taught classes on ‘Little did he know.’” “Little did he know” implies, as Hilbert goes on to point out, the existence of someone who did know. It implies that the writer knows, and wants you to know. It implies the existence of an omniscient narrator (omniscient in the universe of the story). Little did he know, she had no idea, they could not know, she was unaware of the glances of men… Once you begin to look for them, these tags are everywhere.

More to the point, if you don’t like the way something was written, you are free to say so, but you cannot review the book you wish had been written. If a book is written in 3PO, then do not try to use the evidence of that fact as proof of “POV violations.”

POV violations are common enough, usually in the form violations of character truth or of character knowledge. You don’t have to make them up out of thin air.

5 comments to Sometimes, it’s the mote in the other guy’s eye…

  • “You cannot review the book you wish had been written.”

    You are awesome. That is all.

    Johanna Harness´s last blog post: Plot Arc

  • I know this is probably out of place, but I totally want to go back to the “best comment from a disgruntled reader”–the one who thinks reading the bathroom is disgusting, remember? NOBODY reads in the bathroom?? That’s DISGUSTING?? On what planet does this person live, pray tell? EVERYBODY reads in the bathroom. It’s the subject of endless comedy routines, television situation gags. . . I think I’ve heard of it in a sermon, for pete’s sake!
    And. . . I’m pretty sure you can live without that one reader.

  • Also, yes, thank you. I’ve tried using 3PO, but it seems to confuse my other writer friends as they struggle to figure out whose POV I’m writing from when I try my hardest to make it clear from the outset it won’t be from a particular character’s POV, and I make no references to the inner thoughts only the current action. It’s like everyone has forgotten that there are multiple ways to write in 3rd person. Or maybe I am just that bad at 3PO.

  • I’m sorry if it seems like I am ignoring people here, but in fact, my wife and I are traveling right now, having gone across the country to attend what we hope will be our last military graduation event (unless another of them decides to go through OCS or something), and we are on our way back now. Which involves a lot of driving for one of us and a lot of knitting for the other one. Guess which one I’m not. :)

    Anyway, as for being bad at 3PO, it is a bit tricky, but all it takes is practice. Think of your POV as the camera in a movie. If all we see is John’s face, and he is talking into a void, we have no idea what is going on, but if the director and editor are careful to establish that John and Sue are having lunch in a diner booth, then we have no problem when the POV switches from his face to hers and back again. The handling of POV in a movie can be very educational, actually, even though sometimes the education is in how not to do things.

    Movies, by the way, are almost always 3PO. When we are shown the bad guy walking across the roof with his sniper rifle in his hands, who, exactly, is watching him? The third person. The omniscient narrator.