Point of View

By Christina Rich

powerpovWhat is your point of view? Do you know?

There are several types of point of view (POV), but the most common in fiction are first person, third person, omniscient. Another, less common, point of view is second person.

First person POV is told by the narrator as if he is the character. The story events unfold by the use of pronouns such as I, my, we. Stories told from first person rarely stray into other points of view, which means the entire story is told as one person sees it. It also means that the story is limited only to the narrator. The author cannot convey the internal thoughts of any other characters.

Example: The keys dangled from Michael’s hand. Had I heard him right? “What did you say?”

In third person, the narrator tends, and should not be intrusive. Pronouns used are he, she, they, it, etc. In third person, the author can move from person to person, revealing internal thoughts of other characters, but there are some rules to this, which is something I will cover later.

Example: The keys dangled from Michael’s hand. Had she heard him right? “What did you say?”

In my opinion, omniscient is a more difficult point of view. I think of it as how God perceives the world. He sees all, knows all, hears all. But just in case you don’t quite comprehend, let’s look at what omniscient actually means. According to dictionary.com omniscient means to have complete or unlimited knowledge, awareness, or understanding; perceiving all things.

Example: Michael’s tie seemed to tighten around his neck. The look in Sarah’s once trustful eyes killed him. His grip on his keys slackened.

“What did you say?” Her hand rested on her round belly. What was she going to do? Where would she go? The life she’d dreamed about with Michael Mahoney would become just another page in her scrapbook.

The hurt in her voice cut into Michael’s heart, slicing and pulling. He had no idea how to comfort her. It didn’t help that she’d suffered one rejection after another. It didn’t help when he said he hadn’t been at work, she assumed that he’d been unfaithful.

He had only hoped she’d understand and trust that he’d find another job, one that would support her and their baby.

Okay, as you can see, I find omniscient very difficult to write and I’m not even sure I did it correctly, but I think you get the picture. The narrator knows how Michael feels, knows what is going through Sarah’s mind. Michael has no way of knowing what Sarah is thinking, but the omniscient narrator is completely aware, therefore, so is the reader–this is omniscient.

You’ll find certain genres tend to use specific point of views. I’ve noticed women’s fiction tends to use first and romance, especially historical romance, tends to use third person. Outside of the classics like Dickens I haven’t read too many omniscient point of view stories. I’m not quite certain it is still a preferred style.deeppov

Now let’s delve into something I do know a little about–third person.

As a reader I prefer third person, so I guess it’s a given that I prefer to write in third, too. I write romance. I like to know what is going on in my hero’s and my heroine’s head as the plot unfolds. What fun would it be to torture and torment my hero and never get a glimpse of what is going on inside his head? It wouldn’t. If he’s eating burnt fried chicken with a smile on his face, I want to know why.

The problem with third person is, you have to be careful to not author intrude and not commit the awful head-hopping. What is head-hopping you ask? Essentially, it’s hopping from one character’s head to another without a smooth transition. There are a few well-seasoned authors who can pull this off, but not very many. Head-hopping can leave your reader’s head spinning with confusion. You want them to turn the pages, not toss your book at the wall.

Here is an example of head hopping, again not the best. This is from a rough draft I’m working on.

Even in the pale moonlight she could see his eyes harden. His brow furrowed and she imagined his nostrils flared much like they had when she had treated his wounds. “You of all people should know, Abigail, family can turn against each other, even a Levite’s family.”

Her jaw dropped and she looked toward her cousin. He didn’t wait for her to respond. It was obvious Abigail had led a sheltered life. Sheltered enough to be ignorant of the atrocities her parents had committed against their own flesh and blood.

The first paragraph is from Abigail’s point of view. The second from his. In my manuscript these two paragraphs are actually separated with *** to indicate a switch in the point of views. Now you don’t want to switch point of views every paragraph, or even every other paragraph. My tendency is to write about 1000-1500 words in one and then switch to the other before ending a chapter. And yes, for me at least, I usually stick with only two points-of-view in each chapter, which means if I start with the hero, I end with the heroine, then end the chapter. Not everyone writes that way. I’m a numbers gal and I have a bit of OCD–okay a lot–but it works best for me to keep it simple.

If you’ve entered contests, you might have received a comment about a POV slip. Here’s an example:

Lisa opened the door with a smile splitting her face, but soon paled as blood drained from her face. Arley had returned.

There is a POV slip, because Lisa wouldn’t be able to see that her face had paled, though she may have felt the blood drain away. Arley, however, would be able to see it. So if the writer wanted the reader to know the main character’s reaction in detail, she would need to change to Arley’s POV.

viewpointShe could also write the scene from Lisa’s POV then switch with a scene break and write from Arley’s.

Here is another minor slip, but a slip nonetheless:

“You’re… my… mom?” she managed to squeaked out.

Now you can’t know this from this short piece, but the point of view character is not the speaker of this dialogue, so the point of view character would not know the speaker managed to squeak out.

Simple fix: …mom?” she squeaked. Personally, I would not even use “squeaked” but would try to show the speaker’s angst in another way.

The books pictured on this page are some of my favorite go-to books for tips on POV. I highly recommend them, if you struggle with point of view. If you click on the pictures they will take you directly to an Amazon link. One thing to note, occasionally Rivet Your Reader with Deep Point of View can be found free on Kindle.

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