Point of View or POV, is one fiction area where many writers get confused. But getting viewpoint right doesn’t have to be a problem.
Writing Tip for Today: Let’s review basic POVs and what they mean to writers and to readers:
I, You, He, She, Us?
The “I” voice, or First Person, has gained in popularity in modern fiction. Some readers feel uncomfortable with so many “I’s” on the page, but First Person’s advantage lies in its ability to feel very intimate and immediate. Readers often want to “become” the character, and with First Person, it’s easy to feel as though you’ve become whomever the “I” voice belongs to. The main disadvantage is that this “I” voice must be present for all the story events.
Second Person, or “YOU” voice, is a tricky POV to pull off. The repetition of you seems to feel like a lecture to readers and must be handled skillfully. Well-known authors Jay Mcinerney and Lorrie Moore write with skill in Second Person, but it’s not for beginners.
Historically, fiction writers use what is called Third Person POV. It’s the familiar “he said, she said” POV. Using Third Person (Limited) means that you write as though you are following behind a character, but also privy to thoughts and feelings of the Limited character. Limited refers to being only inside the head of one character. This popular POV can rival First Person for intimacy as long as a Deep POV is also employed. More on that later. Omniscient POV, or the God’s Eye view, goes into multiple characters’ heads in the same scene. This POV has fallen out of favor as modern readers aim for a more intimate experience. The difference between omniscient POV and a Multiple POV story is that with Multiple POV, you give readers a definite sign that you’ve switched to a different character’s point of view—such as a scene or chapter break—and that unlike omniscient, Multiple POV only sees one character’s viewpoint at a time.
Choosing a POV
One way to decide on a POV for a story is to rewrite the same scene in several POVs. Evaluate these POVs for the type of story you’re writing, the level of suspense and how you plan to deliver information. For example, a murder mystery might feature a protagonist who tries to solve a murder, but the killer isn’t on stage at the same time as the detective. How will you provide clues and info to your reader? In romance novels, writers commonly rotate POV between the love interest and the love target. Romance readers want to experience these emotions from both sides of a relationship, so it works. But generally, keep these POV changes limited to scene breaks or chapter breaks, to avoid reader confusion. Some writers also label section with the POV character’s name.
First-time novelists often try to manage Multiple viewpoints. While it’s a popular form, Multiple POV is far more than simply letting new characters put in their two cents. Each new scene must advance the story, regardless of who’s viewpoint we’re in. It’s not enough to simply rehash the previous character’s scene from a new perspective. In fact, doing so can feel redundant. Also, even if you have ten POV characters, be sure that each one has an important role—in fact, a crucial role—to play. It’s not enough to think of Multiple POV as making a story more colorful. Each new POV must perform a role that is critical to the story as a whole. Add that to readers’ demands that your story be MAINLY about one of these characters. Ask yourself, “Whose story is this?” Since each POV is different, the story would unfold quite differently for each character. Decide who your main protagonist will be, which will give readers satisfaction. Readers will keep turning pages, knowing that they are investing their time and emotions in a character with a passionate or desperate goal, worthy obstacles to overcome and that POV character’s determination and redemptive transformation to follow. Overall, the POV character you choose should be the one person without whom the story couldn’t exist.