Point of View and Jane Austen

Point of View and Jane Austen

First, Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Have a wonderful day!

Now, for our topic of discussion: point of view. In this case, I’m referring to staying ‘inside’ one character’s head only, until there is a chapter or scene break, at which point you may switch to a different character or not. At this time, many writers and publishers believe in keeping to a very strict point of view, but it wasn’t always so. It wasn’t that way in many of the books I read growing up, and it certainly wasn’t that way in Jane Austen’s time. That puts us, as fan fiction writers, in an interesting position. Do we adhere to modern trends, or do we go with Miss Austen’s style?

Point of View by Sarah Clemens
Point of View by Sarah Clemens

Before we delve too far into the topic, I would like to share an image. I purchased this print at the World Fantasy Convention last month. When I picked it out, I didn’t look at the title. It wasn’t until I went to buy it that I saw it’s called Point of View. As I was already planning this blog topic, I decided it was only right I share an image which so serendipitously came into my life at the same time. It’s by Sarah Clemens and you can find her work at www.clemensart.com.

Back to the topic at hand, whenever I consider writing and publishing trends, I always ask myself why. Why have we moved to a strict point of view? I can think of several reasons.

Foremost is clarity. Maintaining a single point of view keeps the reading experience clean. It prevents confusion. I have definitely read works where a single point of view was not adhered to and confusion abounded. To the author, it may seem clear who is thinking or doing what, but to the reader, it’s a chaos of thoughts, emotions and actions that can’t be sorted through. That said, I have not once had that experience while reading Miss Austen. Does that mean that if you write well enough, you may take liberties with point of view?

The second reason I can come up with is the abundance of visual media. That may at first seem contradictory, but as an author I’ve thought long and hard about what books have to offer. While the whole of that would be a separate post, the relevant feature here is, with books, the reader is experiencing the world as the point of view character. The reader gets to be there, inside the person, inside the world. For all of the amazing media experiences we have now, there is still nothing that offers the full immersion a well-written book can. To my mind, keeping to one point of view capitalizes on this important feature.

The final reason I have to offer today is mundane: A lot of publishers ask for a strict point of view, and publishers still rule the publishing industry. However, I don’t believe their requirements to be arbitrary, though some seem that way. I believe that publishers are inundated with submissions and that necessitates rules. Rules to make their job easier and more efficient, rules based on what is most likely to sell well, and rules simply for the sake of rules. The last category is the one that seems arbitrary, but to my mind it is a sorting device. Does a publisher really want to put time and money into working with an author who can’t follow a few rules when there are plenty out there who can? Of course, as many Austen Fan Fiction writers self-publish, this can also be a moot point.

You’ll notice I didn’t give a reason as to why the second of my three points shouldn’t apply to Fan Fiction. That’s because it is the point I most strongly believe in and the reason I keep to a strict point of view in my work.

As Authors: Do you believe in keeping to one point of view at a time? If so, why? If not, why not?

As Readers: Do you prefer to read a book that keeps to one point of view at a time, or is it something you don’t notice or don’t care about?

25 Responses to Point of View and Jane Austen

  1. Dear Summer, thank you for this great post, I totally agree with you on all the points. Really enjoyed reading this – the thoughts of someone which are so close to my own.

  2. The only “rule” should be doing whatever makes the story worth reading. I’ve played around a lot with different POV’s in all of my stories, and I’m convinced that good writing dies when we value the rule over the artistic effect of whatever POV we choose. That means that one particular book may use strictly first person, but another story may be more effectively told by multiple POV’s. Use whatever works and the readers won’t care what it’s called.

    • Hi Elaine,

      I do agree with you. No writing rule isn’t worth breaking. I think, at best, they are guidelines. Nothing new or great will likely come out of strict adherence to rules at all times. I likely overdo them, as I am a rule following sort of person 🙂 Luckily, we all get the chance to write what we want and read what we want.

      To me, it’s like painting. When I learned to paint, I had instructors who were very strict about leaning to draw and paint as realistically as possible. There was a lot of emphasis on aspects like technique and perspective. Once I moved to higher level classes, those same instructors encouraged more abstract work, if that’s what a student wanted to focus on. Why, then, make everyone learn to paint a perfect bowl of fruit? It all boiled down to technique. It wasn’t that the instructors didn’t think painters should break rules. Let’s face it, some of the best painters every to live broke as many rules as they could find. It was that, when I painted an abstract work, they wanted to be sure I meant each brush stroke. If you don’t learn the control to create deliberately, when you break the rules it’s difficult to tell if you’re being abstract or if you lack the ability to do what you want.

      Now, I don’t think writing and painting are exactly the same, and I’m completely sure there are exceptions to my instructors ideas about abstract painters being forced to learn various techniques before tacking the abstract. I did appreciate their point, though. It’s good to know what rules or conventions are out there so that when you go a different way, you’re doing it on purpose from an educated standpoint.

      Of course . . . I could argue the opposite: That true talent is stifled and spoiled by being exposed to rules. As a middle child, I’m happy to somewhat agree with any opinion 😉

      Thank you for the post and I hope you had a great Thanksgiving,

      Summer

  3. I agree with Leenie. First person POV is not my favorite, though I’ve read some that are okay. Right before the coach accident in ‘Darcy Chooses,’ Elizabeth and Melanie are reading from Wollstonecraft’s ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.’ Darcy is eavesdropping and commenting in his head. This is only about two pages of head hopping that was necessary because it was concurrent with their reading the book.

    In my ‘Four Lords’ Saga Series Box Set,’ I had duplicate scenes in the last two books. So, I spent several hours comparing both books and adjusted the scenes to a synopsis in one book and full scene in the other. The POV in the first book’s fencing match was switched to the adversary in the second book, and additional scenes were added as well. One reviewer assumed all was cut and paste, but that was not the case.

    And I definitely agree the POV needs to be clear. Scenes need to be separated, and it needs to be clear who is speaking. Confusion in a book I’m enjoying is not to be borne. LOL 🙂

    • Hi Gianna,

      I’m sorry to be slow replying!

      Confusion is the enemy, unless the author is doing it on purpose for a good reason. I guess that’s why we make ‘rules,’ so we can create a clean reading experience. We all know rules are only worth so much, though, especially in writing. We have to do what works for what we’re trying to accomplish, and generally read what we enjoy.

      Reviewers . . . we love them and, well, sometimes feel other ways about them as well 🙂

      I hope you had a happy Thanksgiving,

      Summer

  4. As long as there is no head-hopping within a section, I enjoy a variety of POV styles. If it serves the author’s purpose and used skillfully, multiple POVs can even be what makes a book special – “The Help” was one such book.

    • Hi Diana,

      I’m sorry to be so slow to reply! I was traveling 🙂

      Different is good, I say. We would all get very bored were everything the same. So long as the author does it well, they should always do what they prefer. That’s how the best books are made, I would think.

      Thank you for the comment and I hope you had a nice Thanksgiving!

  5. Both as a reader and a writer, I tend to prefer the limited omniscient point of view or the omniscient point of view. Why? Well, I like to see as much as possible of what is going on “on stage.” It is like being able to change seats and view the action from the best angle at that particular time in the story. I am not a fan of an excessive amount of hopping from one view to another, and too many “story lines” is annoying. I like concise stories that don’t wander 😉 My least favourite point of view is the first person point of view because for me that narrows the viewing field so much. It is like being required stay in your seat which only has a limited view of the stage — not the most enjoyable experience, in my opinion.

    • Hi Leenie,

      I’m sorry for the slow reply. I was traveling. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving.

      I think ‘on stage’ is the perfect way to describe it. To me, omniscient is more like script writing, even if we are in people’s heads. It’s not my favorite for a novel, but that’s okay. One of the things I love about writing is there is room for every type of writer and reader. The more the better!

      As for first, second, third, etc. styles of point of view, I’m a big fan of third person. I’ve never even tried second, and I don’t love first. Not that any can’t be done well, of course.

      Thank you for the comment!

      Summer

  6. I’ve done both, and had readers like and hate both. There is no pleasing everyone, so I tend to do what feels right for the book. Thankfully, I am self-published and can pretty much do what I like. 😉

    I would have to say that, as a reader, my preference is to read books that do not stick to a strict point of view. I have read both, and either way is fine, but I never was exposed to that kind of thing when I was growing up (and I read A LOT) and tend to think that it’s a trend that will soon fall by the wayside. But, then, I’m kind of old-fashioned on just about every issue you can imagine! LOL

    Thanks for the interesting post! 🙂

    • I don’t think I’ve encountered a JAFF where the points of view were very confusing, actually. I have had experiences where it’s difficult to tell, at first, whose point of view we’re reading in. I think switching between characters is totally fine, and often good, depending on where the author is going. What I think is a good rule is not to switch between peoples’ minds within a section. One mind per section, broken up by section breaks. Of course, as noted, to each their own, and the better you do it, the less you need to follow the ‘rules.’

  7. As a reader, I can say that (and remember I read a lot of P&P variations) that I sometimes WANT to know what Darcy is thinking or the reverse, what Elizabeth is thinking. I can’t say that it is a negative when only one POV is written but it is a negative when there are no line breaks and the scene or the person speaking suddenly changes and it takes several sentences to realize that. It is the latter books that I will comment on how they need to make a change/edit that tendency in their prose.

    • Hi Sheila,

      I think that’s one of the reasons that keeping to a strict point of view in each section and separating them correctly has become a ‘rule.’ Confusing readers is generally something to avoid. Like all rules, I think it can be bent, but I’m a fan of it. I think it helps people create a better reading experience. That’s always one of my top goals.

  8. I tend to write in the two points of view style, but there is always a break indicated by the fleurons. I read a story this past week that had large sections written in the POV of a minor character. I felt it took away from the story. I call the two POVs style, the “soap opera” style…you know, how they switch back and forth during a story line.
    Happy Thanksgiving, Summer!

    • Happy Thanksgiving Regina 🙂

      I do like a good ‘back and forth.’ I agree, the key is to make it clear when the point of view shifts, and whose head the reader is in. I also like to keep them as organized as possible, giving both characters equal time. I do have a book with three points of view, and I have them very well organized. They rotate evenly and each character has even time. Of course, I’m a big one for organizing 🙂

      Another aspect is readers. For young adults, I prefer one point of view. I think it makes for a cleaner, more even and more immersive reading experience.

  9. For me, I guess it depends on the book in question and how well it’s written.

    A major example of multiple POVs is George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series which the Game of Thrones TV series is based upon. As far as I can remember, no two successive chapters have the same POV, but each chapter is titled by the POV character’s name. Sometimes, especially in later books, the chapter titles have been a bit cryptic but it usually becomes clear who it is fairly quickly.

    I think the most POVs I’ve seen in JAFF is the eight in Victoria’s book Chaos Comes to Longbourn but I really enjoyed that, considering it to be a JAFF farce.

    So I think you could say that I’m not a stickler for strict POV!

    • Hi Anji,

      You are definitely not a stickler for point of view, I agree! I’ve read the A Song of Ice and Fire series and the point of view shifts drive me nuts. Totally batty 🙂 That’s why we have so many different books, though. So we can all enjoy what we like. I’m glad you’re out there reading, as Renata’s and my joint books sometimes have many points of view.

    • I have read several of George R.R. Martin’s books and he drives me up a wall. There are so many story lines and he kills off the main characters without rhyme or reason. I do follow the TV series but have stopped in the middle of Book 3 knowing that The Red Wedding is coming up. Don’t want to read that blood and gore part. Maybe someday I will pick up those books again as I did purchase an additional one or two.

      • Hi Sheila,

        I’m on board with your thoughts on Game of Thrones. For me, the biggest thing is, Martin makes it difficult for the reader to know who the hero is, so you don’t know who to ‘love’ or rely on. I’m a heroic fantasy reader, and writer. That means a defined hero. That’s what I like to read. What he writes is also what I would consider epic fantasy, because it involves a broad, or epic, scope. I love epic fantasy, but I want it to also be heroic fantasy. Everyone doesn’t have to agree with me, though, by any means. That’s why we can have so many books. The wonderful thing about books is readers can have lots and lots of them, so we can all write what we want, and writers can write lots and lots of them, and write what they want. It’s such a happy occupation 🙂

  10. As a reader, I prefer a one-point of view story. It gives more depth to the plot and more insight into the main character. I do not mind two points of view, although it is not what I prefer and I sometimes sigh and other times I am hooked depending on the story. However when there are more that two points of view – and I recently read such a book – I am just annoyed because I do not want to bother for insight into so many characters. In the end I was not sure what I was reading, and I do like to imagine what is going in other character’s head.

    • Hi Nathalie,

      I prefer to read stories with one point of view as well. I’m okay with two. I definitely don’t like there to be many.

      I can appreciate the drama added by more than one, for no other reason than that you can cut off a scene at a dramatic part and stretch out how long it takes for the reader to find out what happened by putting in other points of view before you go back. As a writer I get that. It keeps pages turning.

      As a reader, I can’t stand it when authors do that 🙂

      I also don’t like when there are so many points of view that I forget what was going on with a person before ever getting back to them.

      All that said, I do sometimes use more than one in my own work. When I do, I keep them very regimented. When writing with Renata, who often uses multiple points of view, I generally go along with her.

      I think some good rules are to always start a new section with the point of view character’s name and thoughts right up front, so the reader knows whose head they are in and can be oriented. It also helps to add a dash of description, so the reader knows where they are, and to work in what other characters are there with them. In this way, changing point of view can be minimally disruptive to the reading experience.

    • You are rarely careless 🙂 I am a bit obsessive about it, though. I did let us have one slight slip in Courting Elizabeth because I knew most people wouldn’t notice. It was a ‘stage direction’ style one. That’s where the writer informs the reader someone is about to speak before they speak, instead of just having them speak. Like:

      Mr. Darcy looked at her askance, saying, “I don’t believe that to be the case.”

      If we’re in Mr. Darcy’s point of view it isn’t a PoV slip, but if we aren’t, it is. What would be better is:

      Mr. Darcy looked at her askance. “I don’t believe that to be the case,” he said.

      As mentioned, I’m obsessive about it 🙂

Your thoughts are precious!