The Writer’s Bag of Tricks

Point of View

I was at Colorado Gold Writer’s Conference last weekend, and I honestly do believe it is the best writer’s conference in the United States. The workshops were spectacular, so much so that even NYT best-selling author Jeffery Deaver sat in workshops and took notes. It reminds me that there is always more to learn when you want to improve your writing craft. While at conference I had a conversation with an aspiring author who had issues with a couple of things, but their main issue was a very confused POV.

So what is POV? Point of View or POV actually consists of two ideas; POV dictates whose head the reader is in to view the action (think about looking out through the character’s eyes as if they were a camera), and POV also dictates how intimate the viewpoint of the reader is (does the reader know the character’s thoughts and feelings?) Yes, this is confusing. It is even more confusing because different people use different terms, and sometimes the same terms can mean different things. Don’t get hung-up on the terminology. Think of yourself as a movie camera and what you see as you look through the view finder is POV.

For genre fiction, generally POV breaks down to the use of First Person Point of View (1st POV), or Third Person Point of View (3rd POV). There are other POV options, but I am going to focus on these two today.

1st POV uses “I” for the main character. If you think about POV as being a movie camera, then the main character is the camera and the reader can only see what the main character sees, and know what the main character knows. 1ST POV can also be the sidekick (think Dr. Watson in Sherlock Holmes) but usually 1st POV is for the main character.

There are advantages and disadvantages to writing in 1st POV.

The advantages:

  • It is easy for the reader to identify with the character because they can get in your character’s head.
  • It is easier to share the character’s thoughts and feelings.
  • It is a great tool if you want to have an unreliable narrator.
  • The writing can be less formal.

The disadvantages:

  • Your character must usually be in each and every scene (there are exceptions to this. Some authors use 1st POV for the main character and 3rd POV for supporting characters. Think Diana Gabladon).
  • It is more difficult for the character to describe him/herself.
  • It minimizes the tool of characterization where your reader learns about the main character when other characters talk about or has an opinion of the main character (unless your character eavesdrops).
  • The use of “I” constantly can be irritating.
  • It is much more difficult to use subplots in your structure which could require your plot structure to be very simple.

3rd POV uses “he” or “she” for the main character. 3rd POV is the most common POV in fiction and offers the most flexibility and variety of options for the writer. Think about being a movie camera and sitting in the director’s chair while two or more actors do a scene.

The advantages:

  • You can use contrasting viewpoints that will entice your reader.
  • Your reader (and you, too) can take a break when you shift between characters.
  • It can broaden the scope of your story by allowing for conflicting viewpoints of multiple characters.
  • It is easier to move between settings.
  • It allows for multiple subplots.

The disadvantages:

  • You must give each character a unique voice so they don’t all sound the same.
  • You can confuse the reader by switching POV too often.
  • It is easy to get lazy and narrate the action instead of show the action (show v. tell).
  • It is easy to head-hop (jump from one character’s head to the next character’s head in the same paragraph, scene, or chapter. *Use only one POV character per scene or chapter, and be sure to use a scene break if you are writing from multiple character’s POV within a chapter).

Mastering POV is important because if you don’t do it well your chances of success are minimal. You will frustrate or confuse your reader and they will throw the book at the wall, or worse, give you a horrible review on Amazon. Sorry. Mastering POV will give you the ability to write characters that your readers will love so they can’t put your book down, and, POV is essential to your ability to write a great plot that keeps the reader turning the page. It’s all connected.

Next time: More POV

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