Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Who is going to tell your story?

Point of View: The combination of collective opinions, prejudices, tastes and attitudes of your story's character(s). (According to James N. Frey in How to Write a Damn Good Novel.)

How important is Point of View (POV)? It's so important that it will affect almost everything in your story. According to Joel Rosenberg, Choosing Your Storyteller, "Your point of view choice is also important in that point of view affects how much the readers can believe in the story being told. A proper choice can lead to the willing suspension of disbelief."

We all know how important POV is. The questions I get from my writers are What POV should I use? and What's the difference between the POVs?

Let's see if we can answer those questions.

What's the difference between the POVs?

Joel Rosenberg tells us that we have three basic choices: first (me), second (you) or third (him/her). He quickly dispenses with second POV as a poor choice because it puts the writer/reader in the story as a character, which the reader would probably never believe and would probababy leave your abilities as a writer in jeopardy.

First Person POV is where one of the characters tells his/her story. A beginning writer usually finds this the easiest way to write. However, it takes quite a bit of skill to manipulate first person POV. According to Mr. Frey, "You cannot go places the narrator couldn't have been and show things to the reader the narrator couldn't have seen. Not without a lot of burdensome explaining."

One of the best examples of first person narrative done right is J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye.

Third Person POV can come in various forms: omniscient, camera eye, single point of view, and sigma character.

Omniscient is the God-like POV. It's where the narrator of the story knows everything about every character and reveals all of their thoughts to the reader.

Camera Eye is the exact opposite of Omniscient. Instead of the reading knowing all, the reader only knows what is going on in front of them, not getting the thoughts of feelings of the characters. Just like watching movie.
Single POV is exactly what it says. The POV for the reader comes from one character only throughout the entire story.

Sigma Character is also known as multiple POV. According to Janet Evonovich in How I Write, she points out that "With multiple points of view, the action moves from person to person." It's important to understand; however, that with the changing of character POV, you should do so in a practical manner. Do not change POV in the middle of scenes in the middle of paragraphs. Make sure you use proper scene breaks or chapter breaks to indicate the changes of POV.

Ms. Evonovich says it best, "When you change a narrator's point of view, always use a transition such as a scene break or a new chapter. This tells the reader that he is now inside the head of a new character. It's best to limit the POV to a few characters because the more you use, the more confusing it is to the reader."
So, what point of view should you use?

According to Mr. Frey, the question isn't "what point of view?" but "Who can tell this story best?" Remember, to make your story the best it can be, you want to tell it from the character's POV that can best reflect your image of your story.

Again, according to Mr. Frey, "the selection of the narrative voice is based upon a consideration of genre." In his opinion, "for most genres, you are probably well-advised to use author-invisible, third-person, limited omniscient viewpoint. That's the standard; it's what readers expect and what editors want. You should deviate from the norm only for powerful and persuasive reasons."

In my opinion? I think all the experts have differing opinions. What's most popular? Depends on what book you're reading at the moment, actually.

Point of view is something that needs to be worked on individually with each writer with each story. What I hope I've done here, is helped you understand POV a little better.


  1. Vicki,
    This is such a wonderful site for anyone who wishes to learn the art of writing or refine their skills. Your information is practical and so clearly laid out that we can take it away and put it to use immediately.
    Since the author's POV is critical to every aspect of their work, this post was especially helpful. I really feel like I understand so much more and can make a far better choice the next time I put pen to paper. Thanks!

  2. I'm going to pass this on. Very well done.

  3. Vicki,

    POV is definately an issue that a lot of writers have to battle. To conceal all, reveal all, shift it around...but ultimately the best story teller may not have the best vantage point (depending on the construction of the characters). Wonderful post and look forward to visiting...have fun growing your blog.


  4. Marilyn, you're so right. POV seems to be the hardest part for writers to overcome. Thanks for reading.

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