Friday, August 28, 2020

Point of View: Who’s Telling the Story?

More to the point: Who should be telling the story? I often see the comment from agents that they are looking for writers who have a “unique voice”. Therefore, simply develop an original voice. Right? But what exactly does that entail? First, decide who is telling the story. The point of view of the main character or characters has everything to do with voice. It’s not your personal voice but that of the character in your story.

For instance, this is one of the most important things in writing a successful young adult novel. It does not mean that you must write only from a first person point of view. However, teenage readers often respond well to a first person narrative. But voice has to do with choice of vocabulary and style as well. My YA novels, STACY’S SONG, THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER, and WITCH WISH are written in the first person from the main character’s point of view. Stacy has a sharp sense of humor as does Val while Danna is sensitive and artistic. These things influence how they tell their stories. Tip: It often helps to read your writing out loud.

With traditional romance, there are generally two viewpoints that move from female to male, usually written in the third person. They need to be distinctive from each other even in third person POV. I think it’s important for the hero or male protagonist to be represented in viewpoint. In HIGHLAND HEART, now in pre-release from Luminosity, the POV is weighted toward the heroine who is the key character, but the hero’s viewpoint is presented about forty percent of the time. In SINFUL SEDUCTION the viewpoints are equally weighted.

 Mystery varies more. Often these days, the first person viewpoint is the unreliable narrator who may not be telling the truth for a variety of reasons. It sets the reader up for the surprise or twist ending. Most common is the third person narration. This has the advantage of varying point of view with ease. But multiple viewpoints have one important disadvantage: they may cause the story to lose focus if mishandled. I prefer to write my mystery stories and novels from the third person viewpoint. In BLOOD FAMILY, my latest Kim Reynolds mystery, most of the novel is seen from Kim’s viewpoint since she is the central character/sleuth.
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With short stories, it’s best to set the point of view with just the main character. Have a clear focus as Poe recommended. Decide in advance who that key character will be and then present from that viewpoint.

Sometimes authors have multiple first person POV while others will use multiple third person. But changing viewpoints too often can confuse readers causing them to reject the work. Readers need to respond with a sense of connection to at least one character. So that character must seem real and matter to the reader on some level. When the POV of a key character resonates with the reader what happens to that character is something the reader wants and needs to know.

In the 19th century, omniscient narration was popular. The all-knowing third person narrator informed the reader. Occasionally, writers will still use second person narration as well, addressing the reader directly using “you” and “your”. We don’t see much of either one of these in modern fiction writing. However, an article in THE THE WRITER newsletter observes a “reason writers might strive for second-person point of view: They’re looking for immediacy. One example that springs readily to mind is, of course, the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series of YA/middle-grade books.”

Cross genre novels can be tricky. My novel DEATH PROMISE is a romantic suspense mystery thriller. The novel is mainly presented from the POV of the two main characters who balance each other. Did I manage it effectively? If you read the novel, let me know what you think. I’d love input and feedback.


As observed, in regard to short story fiction, editors tend to prefer one POV. Multiple viewpoints don’t work well because of limited length. The short story works best with a single focus.

With multiple POV the readers see and hear things from the unique perspective of the various characters in a story or novel. That is why you always have to consider the different style and vocabulary each narrator presents if you want to create the semblance of reality, verisimilitude, in your work.

Your thoughts and comments, as always, welcome here.



14 comments:

  1. POV can easily trip up an author. You've offered some good insight and tips. Writing with my partner, Pam Blance as "Jamie Tremain", our first series is in third person. We are developing a new series, where we have each taken a character in the story and write from first person POV, but in effect proving two POV for the story. Personally, I enjoyed the first person POV over the third.
    And I agree, finding a unique, distinctive 'voice' for characters is critical to keeping a reader connected to any character and therefore your story.
    Good article!

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    Replies
    1. Hi Liz,

      Nice to meet you! I've read successful YA novels in particular that alternate first person viewpoints between two main characters chapter by chapter. I have the feeling yours will be very interesting.

      Delete
  2. Great info and advice, Jacqueline! I still struggle with POV. Not as much as before but sometimes have to stop and ask myself.... Who's POV am I in?
    THANKS for sharing your wealth of knowledge.
    PamT

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    Replies
    1. Hi Pam,

      Point of view can be intimidating. We always have to stay in character.

      Delete
  3. Great topic. I teach creative writing, and POV is a huge part of the curriculum. I often encourage students to experiment by writing an opening scene in the POV of each character, separately. That way, they can see whose POV is the most effective in telling the story.

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    Replies
    1. Saralyn,

      That's a great suggestion and a worthwhile exercise.

      Delete
  4. Excellent overview of the question of POV in different genres. As you know, Jacquie, I've been reworking a ms from first to third, and the story began changing with the first line. Getting the right POV is the most important decision in a novel.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Susan,

      I hope the ms works better with the change of pov. Let me know.

      Delete
  5. Wonderful overview and important topic. I switched the POV in my current ms from third to first person. As Susan said, it changes everything. I tried to use very close third person in my last novel; had to study up on it, but it does make things more immediate and the character more real.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Kathy,

      As Susan observed, you can try switching to see which POV works best for a particular novel or story. And as you said, it does make a big difference.

      Delete
  6. I love the question of who should be telling the story, one the author must answer. The caution about head-hopping too frequently is one writers must recognize. I still find novels published (self-published?) where the internal thoughts of a secondary character intrude within the same scene being presented by the main character. That takes this reader out of the story. Some writers still seem confused by POV. If the narrator says Gregory walked his girlfriend to the bedroom, that does not put the scene in his POV.

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    Replies
    1. Fine observations. Using POV incorrectly can easily turn readers off a book or story.

      Delete
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