On POV in fiction
Who Is In Charge Here, Anyway?
On Point Of View In Fiction
You write because you have something to say, right? Sure. But how do you say it?
Ah, that’s the question. The first thing you have to consider after coming up with your plot is what point of view you need to use. Point of view: who is telling this story? You have several choices.
First person is writing as if you are the main character. “I screamed, turning, afraid to see what was seizing my arm.” The benefit is obvious. The reader relates directly to this character, immediately caring what will happen. On the other hand, if “I” am the POV character, I cannot see or think what anyone else in the story sees or thinks. It is limited but can work well depending on the story and desired effect.
Second person is rarely used, for good reason. It’s hard to pull off. “You scream, turning, afraid to see what is seizing your arm.” This puts the reader into the story and may get more personal than is comfortable for your reader. For instance, if it is a murder mystery and “you” happen to be the murderer, how many of us will want to relate that closely to that character?
Distant third person is a common and versatile narrative technique. “She screamed, turning, afraid to see what was seizing her arm.” This POV allows for the author to see into many different characters and gives her the ability to insert her own thoughts. It works well for longer fiction with several subplots or for a more rounded story where one point of view isn’t enough. It also works for a story that uses only one point of view.
Close third person is widely used in popular fiction. “She screamed, her throat straining. The clammy fingers grasping her arm blocked the blood flow she felt pulsing through the rest of her body, causing her head to throb.” Close third allows the reader to … that’s right, get closer to the character. We not only see what the character is doing, but also how she is feeling. This is a great technique for creating rounder characters, grabbing readers and yanking them in. Caring about characters is most often what keeps readers reading.
Along with close third, an author may decide to use stream-of-consciousness writing. Was it over? Was this how it ended? She debated. She could either turn and face the horror or close her eyes and let the fates decide what was to happen.” This passage tells us more about her. Whatever decision she makes and why she makes it tells us about who she is inside.
Of course, there is always omniscient point of view. With this technique, there is an unseen narrator telling the story who can see into every character's actions and thoughts. This one is as hard to pull off as second person. If an author isn't skilled in the technique, the reader is thrown and easily confused. The down side is that we don't tend to get as close to the characters. Omniscient viewpoint is similar to sitting around a campfire and explaining an adventure where your listener gets the story but isn't pulled into it deeply. The story line has to be strong for this one to work. Mark Twain did it well. Few modern authors use this one.
Whichever POV you decide to use, keep it the same all the way through. One mistake new writers commonly make is being in one viewpoint while telling us what a different character is thinking. We should be able to see only one character’s thoughts at a time and everything should be described from that character's viewpoint. Use section breaks or chapters to change characters when using third person with multiple POV. Allow only the thoughts of the main character with first person. Of course, if your point of view character is a mind reader, that’s a different story. Make sure we know he is.
Don’t feel constrained. If you have a story written in one POV and decide it isn’t working, try changing it to a different POV. That could be the only thing keeping your story from saying exactly what you want it to say.
© LK Hunsaker www.lkhunsaker.com