Point of View: Why You MUST Get This Right

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Making a Scene: Writing Scenes that Work
March 11, 2018

Point of View: Why You MUST Get This Right

point of view

Many writers take point of view (POV) for granted, neglecting to give it the attention it deserves. Point of view is like a train that takes the reader through your tale–if it hits a bump, it derails and the readers go flying right out the windows. No one wants that kind of mass carnage on their hands, nor do they want a train-wreck of a story.

I’m going to tell you how to get this right.

First, Learn About Point of View

I don’t mean “skim over some random blog entries and get back to me.” I mean really, genuinely immerse yourself in what each type of POV means for your story. Study. Research. Get a book (or two) on POV and lose yourself in them. One that gives a lot of information and is FREE on Kindle Unlimited is this one by Aleda Winternheimer.

Once you’re done, come on back.

Now Choose One — JUST One!

Congrats, you know everything about the different types of point of view — all you have to do is choose one for your story. If you choose first-person narrative or one of the others that are no-brainers in the “who’s talking” department, you can skip the rest of this post.

If you choose third-person POV and you’re wondering whose POV to use and how many to use, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s take it step-by-step.

Step One: Who’s Talking?

How do you choose whose voice to write in?

If you’re only writing in one voice, then you may wonder which of your many characters deserve to have the talking stick (reference from the amazing show Absolutely Fabulous  — if you haven’t watched, do). Here’s how I’d go about it:

WHO’S THE STAR?

Which character is the story ultimately about? If your book is titled, When Shelley Went to London then obviously we should be hearing the story from Shelley’s point of view. If, however, your book is more of a What Happens in London Stays in London, then you may have more characters vying for leading lady or man (or any other gender that works in your book).

How do you choose? Simple.Which one plays the largest role? If you want to stick to one POV, use that character.

Still stuck?

  • Determine which character has the most to lose. Having the most to lose means a kick-ass character arc with lots of good emotive action.
  • Choose the character who’ll be around most. Sounds simple, and it is, yet this is often overlooked by newbie writers. Don’t waste POV on a character who’s not in the midst of the action or who dies in Chapter Two. You’ll be sorry and so will your readers.
  • Who has voice? You know what I mean — whose speaking voice (and thoughts and feelings) will be most appealing?

BUT I HAVE MANY STARS! NOW WHAT?

Ah yes, multiple POVs. It is possible to have more than one character speaking but you must be careful to keep that train on the tracks. Writing multiple POVs poorly results in a confusing, choppy novel that readers put down rather than try and figure out what’s going on.

Here’s how to do it well.

  • Do NOT switch POVs in the middle of a chapter. I can’t emphasize this enough. Don’t hop from one character’s head to another in the middle of chapters — and not even at the scene change. If the scene is a big enough deal to be told from another character’s perspective — give it it’s own chapter. If not, find another way to tell the information.
  • Don’t give every character a point of view. So many new writers think multiple POV gives them carte blanche to give any character that shows up their own POV, resulting in character confusion. Even high fantasy, one of the genres that can get away with higher numbers of POV, has its limits. Think of all characters in George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. Only a half-dozen or so got their own voices, which he sorted neatly by chapter.
  • Make sure your genre lends itself to multiple POVs. I mentioned Game of Thrones earlier because that genre lends itself to multiple POVs because of the sheer number of elements in that kind of story. Like a tapestry, all the threads weave together tightly to form one gorgeous entity.

Some other genres won’t work as well with too many POVs. Romance, for instance, normally has two, or even one, POV only, although more could be possible if you had two couples’ simultaneous love stories interwoven.

Practice Makes Perfect

The best way to master point of view is to practice writing different types to get a hands-on feel. Challenge yourself to write a short story of some flash fiction in first-person or even second-person POV, then move on to third person limited, multiple, and omniscient.

Pat yourself on the back for being so freaking awesome and kick back with an episode of Absolutely Fabulous. You deserve it.

 

 

 

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