WRITING TIPS: POINT OF VIEW

There are five points of view in writing each with its own disadvantages and advantages:

  • first person
  • second person narrative (tricky and rarely used, don’t go there)
  • third person single point of view
  • third person multiple points of view
  • God’s eye view

This post is about God’s eye view. This is what Evelyn Waugh had to say about the beginning of Graham Greene’s novel The Heart of the Matter.

“The affinity to film is everywhere apparent in Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter. It is the camera’s eye which moves from the hotel balcony to the street below, picks out the policeman, follows him to the office, moves about the room from the handcuffs on the wall to the broken rosary in the drawer, recording significant detail. It is the modern way of telling a story … Perhaps it is the only contribution the cinema is destined to make to the arts.”

The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Donat Gallagher, 1983

The last line is a bit snooty but then Waugh was. 

So, with a camera’s eye you can swing that lens where ever takes your fancy. As a writer I have used God’s eye view relatively little, torn between enjoying the exhilaration of being able to whizz about anywhere I want and the fear that it is self indulgent and that the result is well, a little bit ripe. 

But what the hell, let’s give it a go:

The pilot in the four engine A380 descending towards Heathrow was thinking about what he was going to eat for lunch when he landed. Nothing as decent as he could get in Dubai that was for sure. Down below him on the South West London streets an  Openreach worker dressed in orange neon clothes had just pulled up a heavy stone paving slab with a tool akin to an enormous yellow spanner and was staring morosely down onto  balls of tangled, multi-coloured spaghetti wiring. The shutters of the ground floor flat next to where he stood were pulled back and the window yanked up and a young woman began speaking, extending her arms and  gesticulating wildly. The movement of her arms was like an upset E.T. She made a rocking motion with her hands as if to indicate that whatever he was doing in the street, the moving of the slab maybe, was creating a reverberation in her room that she could not tolerate. He said something to her and then seemed relieved to be joined by a colleague. The two men became lost in conversation, ignoring her as she continued to complain until she slammed shut the window and pulled the shutters to. A harassed looking man was being walked by his Scottish Terrier, a little general of a dog who threw himself to the ground (admittedly not far to go on those legs) when he had had enough and demanded to be walked home. Across the road from the Openreach workers, a woman sat in the window of a mansion block looking at the ragged, red geraniums on her windowsill which she’d been meaning to deadhead for about ten days.  A bee nosed the red petals and then flew away. A sudden gust of wind blew a combination of crisp packets, plastic bags and dead leaves into the air. They spun around the Openreach workers and the little dog, making the terrier sneeze into his beard and the men squint and choke. The woman in the mansion block got wearily to her feet to go and get a pair of scissors but standing on the threshold of the kitchen forgot what she’d got up to do. She walked over to the fridge, wondering if she’d manage to get another day out of the hummus or if a thin covering of green mold would greet her, meaning a trip to the Co Op, could no longer be delayed. She opened the pot and shook it a little; two days past its sell by date and a little watery but it would do.

Victoria Blake 4/10/22

Hmm, needs pepping up would be my verdict and it goes a bit third person at the end but you get the general idea!

An author I’ve been reading recently who enjoys using God’s eye view and does it well is crime writer Mick Herron in his Slough House series. Have you read him? At the beginning and end of each book he does a bravura God’s eye piece on Slough House which contains the repulsive offices of his group of no-hoper, failed spies. Publishers and reviewers are always keen to compare writers to other writers and I’ve seen Herron compared to Graham Greene and, Len Deighton. He’s not really like either of them but seems to me to be originally and gloriously himself. He’s very funny and darkly satirical and he has a splendid anti-hero in Jackson Lamb. Lamb is the boss of the no hopers. He’s repulsive, flatulent, overweight and scathing but it turns out he’s rather a good spy. At the heart of him is someone who does care about his job and is not simply motivated by vanity and ambition.

The first of Herron’s books, Slow Horses, has recently been turned into a series on Apple TV with Gary Oldman playing Lamb. Before I saw it I wondered if they’d cut out the farting but it is there and Oldman does an excellent job of bringing Lamb to life. How Herron gets the reader to care about his band of failures and misfits is perhaps worthy of another post. Failure, of course, is a much more fertile ground for a writer than success.

Finally, what’s the down side of God’s eye view? Perhaps that the reader is held at arm’s length and is therefore less engaged. So best to use sparingly I think.

As a reader or a writer what do you think of God’s eye view writing? Do you have any favourite pieces to share?

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5 thoughts on “WRITING TIPS: POINT OF VIEW

  1. Your example reminded me of John Lanchester’s Capital, but I think from memory (which is appalling) he switches between different pov, including God’s eye. Whatever he did, I do remember thinking it captured the inhabitants of a street really well!

    I’ve read the first two Slough House books and enjoyed them a lot. I couldn’t imagine Gary Oldman as Jackson Lamb, but I do rate his acting so great to hear he pulls it off!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Madame B it’s good for scene setting and fun to write. Ah, that’s interesting about Capital. A classic scene I love is the beginning of Bleak House the Lord Chancellor and the fog etc. Oldman does a really good job of making himself quite as disgusting as Jackson Lamb. I thought they’d have to tone him down a bit but not at all. Well worth seeing if you get the chance.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. On 22 July 2022 Mick Herron’s sardonic spy thriller series called Slough House deservedly won him the Theakston Old Peculier crime novel of the year award. If Jackson Lamb had won it he’d have had a huge hangover this morning but let’s not dwell on what that might have sounded or smelt like. Both Mick Herron’s Slough House series and Bill Fairclough’s Burlington Files series of espionage thrillers were initially rejected by risk averse publishers who probably didn’t think espionage existed unless it was fictional and created by Ian Fleming or David Cornwell. It is therefore a genuine pleasure to see an anti-Bond anti-establishment novelist achieving immortality in Masham. Let’s hope Beyond Enkription, the first stand-alone fact based spy thriller in The Burlington Files series, follow in the Slow Horses’ hoof prints!

    Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for your comment – We try on a pro bono basis to help promote crime and espionage books (especially non-fiction) where the profits from publishing go to noble causes related to the authors’ experiences. The Burlington Files ticks all those boxes and just as happened to Mick Herron’s now famous Slough House series, the series was rejected for spurious reasons by mainstream publishers in pursuit of profit. In other words when Mick first approached a publisher about Slow Horses the publisher replied Neigh!

        Liked by 1 person

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