My Point of View On Point of View

Over the years I've judged many writing contests, read countless self-published and small press books, and too often have found the author didn't understand the proper use of point-of-view. Frankly, I had a hard time with it at first, not really know what people were talking about when it came to books.

The first thing an author has to decide is whose story is it? Are you going to tell the story in first person, using the I character, or third person, she or he.

First person is by far the easiest and with less chance of getting into POV problems. The author is telling the story as if he or she is the heroine or hero.

In third person, there is more than one way to go. You can write in third person, sticking with that one person throughout the book. This means that you'll only write what the person sees, thinks, hears, smells, does.

If you want to use more than one point-of-view, stick to one POV per scene. Decide which character has the most at stake in the scene, and tell that part of the story through him or her.

As the author, put yourself inside the character and look out through his or her eyes. You can only tell what that character is seeing, feeling, experiencing, smelling, touching, doing and thinking. You can not tell what anyone else is thinking or feeling--only what the POV character can see or surmise.

If you want to tell the story through another character's POV, put in a space break or start a new chapter. Do NOT jump from one person's head into another in a scene. I see that far too often in new writer's and self-pubbed author's work.

Editors and publishers notice when authors don't handle POV correctly and will reject manuscripts because of that. In writing contests, it can be the deciding factor for whether a manuscript is a winner or not.

When writing in first or close third person, the narrative is coming from the POV character so it isn't necessary to say I thought or he thought or he saw.

For instance: Up ahead, a giant tree had fallen and blocked the road, rather than, I saw a giant tree had fallen and blocked the road. The reader knows this is all what is happening to the main character. With third person, the same thing, the story is coming from the POV character, it is what he or she is experiencing.

When moving to another character's POV stay true to that character. He or she should sound different, think differently than the previous character. Be sure you only tell what that character would know.

In my Deputy Tempe Crabtree mysteries, I write nearly the whole book from Tempe's POV. In Dispel the Mist, the first chapter is in another person's POV, someone who is important to the rest of the story. What I wanted to convey about this person was best told from his POV.

My Rocky Bluff P.D. crime series is much different. There are an ensemble of characters in each one of those books. I use multiple point of view to tell the stories. However, there is a space break when I change to another person's POV. It is immediately obvious who the POV character is. Because there are several plot threads going on at once, using several POV characters works best for this series.

I hope this is helpful to anyone struggling with POV in their writing. Of course people break the rules and manage to write wonderful books. However, it is important to understand the rules first before you break them.

Marilyn
http://fictionforyou.com

Comments

Cheryl said…
Thanks for bringing up POV. I feel I struggle with it and I'm not sure why. Every once in a while I will get a comment from a critiquer that mentions something about POV and I never saw the problem when I wrote it. What I thought was clear, was a bit murky.

Cheryl

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