Who’s Point of View Is This Anyway???

I’ve been talking to my publisher and other writers about point of view. In fact I lead an American Christain Fiction Writers (ACFW) small critique group that specializes in deep point of view.
So, what’s all this about point of view, or POV? The crux of it is, someone’s got to tell the story. 

The writer’s choice of POV is perhaps the initial most important determination to be made for the story. It is the primary tool the author will use in crafting the story. Whatever vehicle the author decides to use in telling the story will be the author’s persona. There are quite a few POV choices, but I’m only going to talk about the three most prevalently used ones…

First Person: Imagine there is a tiny invisible video camera fastened to the narrating character’s forehead. Via this camera, the reader can see only what the narrating character sees. That’s first person point of view. The author is writing the main character  as “I” or as the narrator. Although the author is using this character’s persona and in some stories there might even be an autobiographical quality, the personality, foibles, quirks, and moral values belong to the character. The danger is if the reader is seeing too many “Is” it gets tedious. However, it’s a wonderful tool for showing the protagonist’s thoughts, feelings, and inner motivations. There could be multiple narrating characters (first-person accounts by two or more characters).

So, do you just write down whatever your main character sees as if the main character is chatting away telling the reader? That could be a huge mistake. First of all the reader doesn’t need to know every single thing the character sees or know everything the character knows. The reader only needs to know what the character sees and knows that will also move the storyline forward. Another danger is rambling or even ranting, depending upon the character’s personality. No matter how charming the main character is, eventually the rambling or ranting is going to get boring.

Perhaps the biggest mistake with first person is that it’s so easy to just go along telling and to forget about showing. Unskilled authors who write in first person will almost totally rely on the characters sense of sight, which leads to one-dimensional writing.

Third Person Omniscient: The all knowing, all seeing eye. The narrator in a god-like position. The narrator says: this happened, then this happened, then this, then that, and this is what the characters thought and felt about it and what they did and how they interacted. This was the form of fiction writing used during most of the 19th century. It is especially useful for broadsweeping or epic stories that span continents and time periods. A major drawback is that the reader may not know which character to form a bond with.

Third Person Limited: This is what we see a lot of in fiction writing these days. It’s the default POV.  With all third person stories, but particularly with third person limited, the reader has not doubt this is a work of fiction. It’s made up. Never actually happened.The story is told through one or more (often the heroine and hero) character’s POV. Since the reader knows it’s a work of fiction, it’s the job of the POV character to create a bond with that reader that allows that reader to suspend his/her disbelief. However, the story should only be told through one character’s POV at a time. No head hopping. The POV breaks usually come between chapters, but they can come between scenes. In that case the author should skip down a few lines before changing POV.

6 thoughts on “Who’s Point of View Is This Anyway???

  1. I do have a question. I have an important scene between the two main characters. I'm wondering which of their viewpoints makes the scene more powerful? Any ideas on criteria for that decision?


  2. Crystal, You could ask yourself which of the two main characters has more at stake in the scene? Which has more to loose if things go badly? If you use that main character, you would get deep and right insights and feelings, not to mention tension in the scene.Hope that helps.


  3. Tracy, This is something that's on my mind. I have been writing and publishing in Third Limited.But I'm now working on a first person and I like how it feels writing it. I did notice that I had took keep a keen eye out for "I" taking over the ms.


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