About Point of View
Who am I? What am I?
Starting with Point of View.
Let's start out with an overview of the
different Point of View approaches and how they work, and then zero in on your characters and how they perceive the world, and then we'll talk about ways to use POV to increase the reader's experience of the story events.
One thing I want to establish upfront is: There is no right answer. I'm a purist myself, but I know multiple POV can work too. I think
third-person is generally the most sellable viewpoint, but my best-selling novel was a first-person book.
And POV choices change with the author, because different authors have different purposes:
Judy might be the best person to narrate this event if I'm writing it, while Bob might be the best person to narrate if Sheila's writing it...
because we have different purposes for the scene.
So stay open and flexible-- there is far more than 1 choice to make with POV, and you won't necessarily make the same choice every time you're presented with an opportunity.
What is viewpoint or point of view? It is the perspective from
which the reader experiences the story. That's the simple definition. As
you might expect, it gets more complicated the more you explore the
Point of view is the vehicle your reader uses to travel through a story. That is, point of view is reader-oriented, but author-controlled. You use character viewpoint to control whether your
reader experiences this battle scene through the perspective of the general who is commanding the army, or the raw recruit trembling in that trench, or the war correspondent who reports but does not fight, or the nurse waiting in the hospital tent for broken bodies to mend-- or all four perspectives.
So always keep in mind the experience you want the reader to have while reading your story. If the reader is going to want to puzzle out who the villain is, you for sure don't want to blow the secret by going into the villain's viewpoint (unless you can still hide the identity
then). On the other hand, if the reader should be experiencing the horrible twisted mental processes of a psychopath, you will want to do
extensive passages from the villain's crooked perspective.
Now I better confess my own bias. I am a purist-- that is, in general I use only one pov per chapter. I know I'm stricter than most. Even most purists change POVs from scene to scene, and I have done that. But mostly
I stay in one for a chapter-- that's about 12-15 pages. See, I tend to write very long scenes! So I might have only one scene in a chapter.
But this is a personal thing-- it's what works best for me. I think other pov approaches are also valid. No rules! I'm just going to offer
guidance on how to decide what works best for you and your story, and how best to exploit its potential for characterization and information
To tell you the truth, many editors prefer the single-pov per scene because it's so easily controlled. That doesn't mean you have to do
that! Only that if you don't do it, you have to fool them. :) That is, you have to do what you do so well...they can't object. :)
Let me say right off though that single pov is NOT A RULE. It's a very effective tool, but you don't have to do it. You can use multiple or
omniscient... depends more on the type of story. But as I said, some editors are squitchy about this, so be prepared to defend your choice. (I have to say that in my experience, many editors are NOT very well-educated about point of view, and that's why they tend to go for the simplest-to-edit method of single pov. Writers are generally more more savvy about how to use pov.)
Nonetheless, keep in mind that no rules doesn't mean anything goes. You can ruin a reader's experience of your story by refusing to use the
powerful tool of point of view.
Remember this: Point of view doesn't exist until you create it. I recently read the opening of a book that had no point of view– no real
sense of a viewpoint through which the reader was supposed to experience this event. It was just a relating of the sound and sights of the scene, as if a camera had been set down in the middle of the room and was recording whatever passed in front of it. I didn't get beyond that first chapter, because I had no idea who these people were and why I should
care. The author, I think, did not have any grasp of point of view, and I as a reader noticed that lack.
But by developing this element fully, you'll bring control to your prose and depth to your characterization-- and give your reader the experience you plan.
For example, if you want the reader to have a more intellectual experience (such as solving a mystery), you can use a distant POV. If the
reader should be chilled and thrilled, you'll want to go in more closely.
If you want the reader to sense the hero has a secret, but not what the secret is, you will have to be more cagey. :)
And you can vary the LEVEL of POV, so that when an event calls for a distant POV, you do that, and during an action scene, you might stick with the protagonist's physical experience of the action, and during a more emotional scene, you might go very very deep. ;) All in the same book-- and maybe all in the same character's viewpoint!
Most important, you will sometimes (perhaps all the time) want the reader to experience the WORLD as the viewpoint character does, through her eyes, her nose, her fingers, etc– her perceptions. This can only be done
through tight control of point of view– but the effort is worth it, as the reader gets greater participation in the story, and at the dawn of the new millennium, interactivity is something readers are seeking.
So first of all, think about your own story, and your own purpose, and what that might mean for POV choice.
I'll be adding more in a little while-- here's something about First-person POV, and here's something about the basic types of POV-- but in the meantime, I wrote it all down in a book called The Power of Point of View, available on Amazon.