How to write a novel 101: Point of View

Point of View is an aspect of writing I hadn’t considered as a reader, but once you get started revising your novel you realize how important it is to get right. Most of the novels I read are written in one of the following three points of view:

  • First Person
  • Third Person Limited
  • Third Person Omniscient

Each of the three have their advantages and disadvantages and, to be honest, I simply wrote what felt right to me at the time when I started out. I wouldn’t recommend my initial approach because it made for some serious rewriting once I realized what I’d done wrong. I certainly don’t claim to be an expert, but do yourself a favor and choose a POV and stick to it!

Here’s a quick rundown on what each of the three mean:

First Person: The character is telling the reader the story.
Third Person Limited: The narrator watches the action as an outsider, but is able to elaborate on what the current POV character hears, sees, feels, and thinks.
Third Person Omniscient: The narrator watches the action as an outsider,but is able to elaborate on the viewpoint of any character in the scene and what they hear, see, feel, and think.

At a point well into my first draft I discovered several books that taught how to write fiction. I’ll list them all out at the end of my humble little 101 series, and I suggest you have a look at them too to help educate yourself with the craft. They are the pros, my goal here is to point you in the write direction.

For my novel I (sort of) naturally fell into Third Person Limited (TPL), well a schizophrenic version of it anyway.  I liked TPL because I wasn’t comfortable with writing in the First Person voice. TPL has you focus on the POV of one character in the scene allowing you to pull the reader into the story, as opposed to watching it from the sidelines. You only know what one character hears, sees, feels and thinks at any given time.

It took me a long time to get a handle on POV, and a lot my education on the matter came thanks to my copy-editor Marcus Trower. That’s right, he’s an editor, but he goes above and beyond to help his clients! If you’re a complete newbie like I was, there are some ways that authors delineate between the POV. You’ll notice when reading that there might be a divider in a chapter such as *** or ### or possibly just a space. Typically, that is the point where the author moves from one character’s viewpoint to another character. In my case, the transition happens (except in rare cases) with a new chapter. So to put that into the bigger picture, when you think of a scene, you need to consider whose viewpoint will be used, and make sure you only look inside that character (i.e. – hear, see, feel, think)

Why all of this POV madness you ask? It helps the reader to maintain intimacy with the story when you limit it to one character at a time. At least for me that was the reason to stick to a single viewpoint character at any given section of the book. For the other characters in the scene you have the challenge of conveying their state of mind by actions and description.

Your next question is obvious – how do you do that? Simple, one way is to consider what physical reaction a character in a particular state of mind would have and work that into the scene. (i.e. – sweat beaded on his forehead —, his hands were trembling —, the scowl on his face had given him the answer he was looking for…) Another good way to convey information is through dialogue. When someone tells you to “Fuck off” it’s pretty clear how they feel about the situation.

The best way to wrap your arms around POV is to read, read, and read some more. Analyze and dissect what your favorite authors are doing and take away what works for you. If you neglect to do this up front, you’ll probably have some (potentially extensive) cleaning up to do later.

Go to: How to write a novel 101: Pacing