POV Concerns

I am working this through and talking to myself here because the question of point of view often comes up in my writing. I often write in first person from the viewpoint of a child. But the thing is that I often use some words or description or wisdom beyond a child’s years or understanding. And is that okay?

As for tense, when I speak in present tense from a child’s point of view, it is obviously not the child writing my story. I am placing my adult self in her point of view for a while. I am immersing my grown-up self into my ten-year-old self so that I can pull up memories and share them with the sense of immediacy that present tense affords.

In writing memoir or personal essays, I do not want to focus on I, I, I…. I want to bring in my reader and allow the reader to share the experience, to connect with it, to take away something memorable, to hopefully gain new understanding of himself. Creative nonfiction is all about telling a compelling true story and embedding reflection, speculation, and interpretation.

I transport myself back across the years and tell my story as though I am living it in the moment. Naturally, it comes out spilled across the page with the sights, sounds, smells, details, thoughts, and understanding of a little girl. But all of that is filtered through the experience of a woman because that’s what I am now.

Occasionally, I will shift the tense, as in at the end of a story, to be in future tense, prefaced by, “I don’t know it yet, but…” or “Years later, my sister will tell us….” This adds complexity, allowing me as the narrator to become someone who has knowledge of the past and also the future. Point of view and tense work hand in hand.

So I am not writing as the child/author/I, but I am writing from a constructed persona — a separate someone who has the innocent perspective of a child filtered through the eyes of an adult, someone who knows past and future. Someone who can lay it down on the line as with that fat multi-colored pencil I have that has red, blue, and yellow lead all meshed and formed into one sharpened point and as it slips and shifts in my fingers when I write the colors all run together to form the words.

3 Comments on “POV Concerns”

  1. Sherry says:

    The strands of primary colors leading you. Wonderful.

  2. This topic has been discussed in several writing workshops I’ve attended, as well as in writing critique groups. Most agree that you have to be pretty gifted as a writer to pull off what Harper Lee did with the child and adult voices of “Scout” in Mockingbird. The main thing, I think, is to keep the reader “safe”… so that she knows which voice is speaking. Some writers do this by changing POV from chapter to chapter, but keeping one POV within each chapter. Nicole Seitz does this in her new novel, “Saving Cicadas.” Thought-provoking post, Kathy.

  3. Kathy says:

    Fiction and creative nonfiction — is POV applied somewhat differently? Susan, you mentioned novels. In fiction, you lean on plot. In CNF memoir you lean on character…unearthing, pulling up soul, and you want depth and 3D and the whole show. Other CNF writers do this frequently. I think reflection, speculation, and interpretation are more effective with some shifting around of POV and tense. I’m just trying to think it through so that it is a part of me and not just something I see others do.

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