Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What's your Point of View (POV)

For the first of my discussions on “da rulz,” I decided to tackle point of view (POV). I think most, if not all the people following this blog have a good idea of what POV is, but in my reading up on the subject I found some new information that expanded my own understanding. So I hope this will be informative for both novice and seasoned writers.

POV is a huge topic. In my writing library I have several books that devote at least one chapter to it, if not more. I have one book that focuses solely on POV. (At the end of this post I’ll give a list of these books and some links if you want to purchase them.) It’s also the one writing technique that most fascinates me, because so much can be conveyed in a story through effective use of point of view.

Because there is so much that can be said, I’ll break the discussion of POV into several posts. At the end of each one I’ll have a little exercise y’all can do. Remember, everyone who posts comments to this blog will be entered into a drawing at the end of the month!

The basic definition of point of view is, “Who is telling the story?” Whose head are we in as we move through the action of the story. In school we all learned that there are several different types of point of view: first person, second person, third person, and omniscient. First person narration uses the pronoun, “I,” second person uses “you,” and third person uses “he/she.” Omniscient POV is an authorial voice, as if the narrator isn’t actually in the story but is recording the events from a distance, like a reporter. Knowing this much, we could identify the method of POV any author uses to tell a story.

Of course, writing effective POV is much more than deciding which pronoun to use or engaging in a simple recording of the events. POV is a powerful storytelling tool, with each form having benefits and pitfalls that must be carefully considered by the author. Alicia Rasley, in her book, The Power of Point of View, wrote that POV is “the vehicle your reader uses to travel through the story … ‘driven’ by one of the characters.” This is more than a clever description of the technique. Think about how you drive a car, compared to how your mother drives a car, compared to how a professional stunt driver might drive a car. Every ride is different.

Likewise, the way your POV character tells the events of a story will be different from every other character would tell the same events. Each character has his/her own voice, perspectives, opinions, experiences, and emotional reactions to what’s happening to or around them. It’s this voice we must tap into, these perspectives and opinions we must explore, these experiences and emotions we must use to propel the story forward. And in so doing, we give the reader a ride through the character’s world. We allow the reader to experience the story vicariously through the character’s mind and senses. Through the use of POV, our stories are more than a straightforward conveying of things that happen.

It is my opinion that POV is the most important technique a writer should master, because it is through POV that our writing moves from a sequence of grammatically correct sentences to an adventure we invite the reader to partake in. 

In my next posts I’ll examine each of the three major types of POV (second person is almost never used for fiction), and explore the benefits and pitfalls of each. In the meantime, I have a couple of questions for you. 

What form of point of view have you chosen for your current project, and why did you choose it?

Books I will be using for this topic:

Alicia Rasley, The Power of Point of View: make your story come to life, Writer’s Digest Books, 2008

Noah Lukeman, The First Five Pages: a Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile, Simon and Schuster, 1st edition, 2000

Sol Stein, Stein on Writing, St. Martin’s Press, 1995

Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel, Writer’s Digest Books, 2001

Orson Scott Card, Characters & Viewpoint, Writer’s Digest Books, 1st edition, 1988

Nancy Kress, Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint, Writer’s Digest Books, 2005


  1. I'll start us off. My current project, Running Lean, is written in third person POV, switching back and forth between two characters (roughly every other chapter). The reason I chose this method is first, because I'm very accustomed to writing in third person. It feels natural to me.

    I chose to shift the POV characters (a boy and a girl) back and forth because the plot dictated it.

    The story is about a teenage boy who tries to "fix" his girlfriend's eating disorder. While many novels have been written from the POV of the person suffering an eating disorder, few have been written from the POV of a loved one. This is primarily because eating disorders are so traumatic that the sufferer's perspective is most interesting, mysterious, outside of the expectations and experiences of other people. I'm taking a gamble having my protagonist be the boy watching his girlfriend starve herself to death. But I'm convinced that his experience is worth telling as well. Also, the symptoms of eating disorders render the perspective of the sufferer unreliable. Exploring the subject deeply and realistically can potentially make the protagonist unlikeable to the reader. I didn't want to have to sugar coat the realities of the disorder so as to foster reader empathy. The challenge I faced was making the boyfriend's perspective interesting enough that the reader will connect with him as he struggles to "fix" his girlfriend when other young boys might decide the relationship was too much trouble.

  2. Hey!

    I hope I keep up on your posts ;D I'm definitely in the learning stages of all the aspects of writing, and need the information!

    However, having completed two Nanowrimo Novels this year I can at least attest to POV.

    For my two novels I used 3rd person POV, and switched between two characters in one book, or in second book, three.

    Something that I'm extremely interested in is 1st person POV, I've read more of it than I realized, and I'm beginning to wonder if it's more my style.

    Can't wait to get more posts from you! Too bad we aren't going to look at second person....I've only heard about it on paper, I was interested in having it explained fully. Perhaps another time!

  3. Great post, Diana! As usual. =)

    I'm currently writing a short story in First person present tense POV. I decided to try out First Person because it's a more intimate POV and I wanted to learn how to bring a reader right in close with my main character, so that it feels like they're sharing the experience with my protagonist instead of reading about it on paper.

  4. My two YA novels coming out from Barbour next year are both 1st person POV. I couldn't imagine doing either of those any other way. On the other hand, I have an uncontracted YA manuscript called Wherefore Art Thou Ramon? (no comma) that is written in 3rd person. The POV shifts among both teen and adult characters, and I admit that every once in a while it falls into what some people would consider omniscient POV because so much of the story occurs within groups, and sometimes I feel the need to dip ever so briefly into the head of someone different from the person the scene is primarily about. One thing I like about that Power of Point of View book is that it describes the kind of approach I'm trying to use and emphasizes that it's not really headhopping.

  5. Cool post! I only write in first person past tense, although certain statements, which are the thoughts of my POV character, can be in present tense, or simulating it. I'm experimenting with a flow-of-consciousness sort of writing, where things happen linearly, and the reactions presented are intended to create the illusion of linear time. Attempting realism can be interesting. Here's an example of how I do it, from chapter 4 of my book Wolf's Bard:

    “Tiwyr!” Cnaef said, an awkward, shrieking sob. He began walking up the hill towards me, arms lifted high. His face was the picture of ecstasy; glowingly bright, translucent skin against curly red hair.

    He thought … he thought I had done it!

    He did not see the warriors.

    Staggering forward, I waved my arms drunkenly. A scream broke from my lips. Everyone I loved was going to die, NOW, and it was …

    All my fault.

    I should have GONE!

    I should not have STAYED!

    Look … look! Look what has happened!

    The archers thundered around the hill and aimed at my friends.

    Cnaef drew to a halt and stared at me aghast. He whipped a glance behind him and his hands suddenly shook.

    Without a word, the archers released. Like black rain shafts decended upon the defenseless warriors, and buried themselves deeply. My heart ripped and I tore down the hill tripping, skidding. Cnaef whirled about and caught me by the arm, pulling me back.

    I don't know how that looks in a comment, but it's easier to absorb in standard formatting. Kind of becomes natural to the reader. At any rate, that's how I write ;)

    ~Adele Hajicek