POV: what is it?

We can craft point-of-view (POV), but we can’t write it. It’s ineffable and effervescent. It’s the current, not the river. To craft POV, it may be helpful to consider the elements from which it comes. After this discussion, we’ll venture further to consider how to craft POV via character, dialogue, setting and even sexier elements such as failure, game, expertise and so much more.

We all know what POV is. We know when it’s activated and when it’s not. We smell it. We’re drawn to it or repulsed by it. But if it’s activated, our own POV is provoked. POV is what decides if an action is a success or a failure. Whether repair is in order or it’s time to move  to greener pastures.

To craft POV, consider its basic elements: perception, attention and meaning. POV requires all three.

Perception: our sensory apparatus, and that of our characters, has to receive the billions of bits raw data flowing to us from present circumstances every minute of every day. We are cold canyon wash of raw data: weather, temperature, tones of voice, physical sensations, instinctual urges and so on. But different circumstances cause different data to flow. To hike a trail in the Pyrenees in June is to be flooded in the red dirt and dust of mountain vineyards and their deafening quiet. To hike a trail in Toronto’s High Park is quite different than running London’s Hampstead Heath. POV has its roots in the raw data being received.

Attention: data is always coming in but we don’t become aware of most of it. We only become aware of the bits of data that we care about. No care, no attention. We come to care for one bit or parcel of data over another based on our physical and psychic-emotional histories. This could involve anything from wounds suffered earlier to intergenerational conditions (poverty, alcoholism, violence, etc.). This apparatus is centered in the vagal nerve systems and the amygdala/reptilian part of the brain. These systems, particularly the vagal nerves system, is conditioned over time. As we engage with our present circumstances throughout our life each of our vagal nerve systems sends particular bits to our brain. When this sensual information is received by the brain, it crosses the neural cell walls and creates an ERP (event-related potential). An ERP is a spark of electricity which we can measure on an EEG. The ERP is new matter in the universe which would not have been possible without that human, engaging with those present circumstances. When a sensual quality reaches our awareness, it becomes experience. And there’s no going back. As the human engages, the vagal nerve system learns what helps or hinders our journey. At a base level, we come to care about what our systems have learned will keep us alive and functioning or not. POV depends on care.

Meaning: once data has been received and brought to our attention, we humans attach a story to it. On its own, bits of raw sensual data being received and paid attention to means nothing. That’s where we humans come in. We are compelled to give raw sensations (increased sensation in the solar plexus, wobbly knees, shortness of breath, etc.) meaning. And when we give sensations meaning, we often put that meaning to work when we choose actions.

Perception, attention and meaning collude to create POV. POV is always active. Now it’s up to writers to take advantage of it.

Try this: consider an orange, a dog and a worker of some sort. Do a short free write (about 3 mins.) including the orange, the dog and the work.

Then, review what you’ve written for clues as to which POV is being activated.  When a POV jumps out at you, do another free write from that POV. After, consider doing two or three more short free writes, this time allowing the POV to shift based on perception, attention and meaning. Go for it.


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