This Business of Writing

POV Tips for Fiction

In Marketing Your Book on November 17, 2009 at 12:09 pm

Last night I was working with my critique group and they stunned me with some of the errors they found still hidden within my novel, “Born to be Brothers.” Two, (count ‘em), of those errors were in Point of View, or as it’s know, POV. With last night’s lesson clear in my mind, I thought today’s post should encompass that great bugaboo, Point of View.

Let’s first try to understand what POV is. In a sound bite, it’s who is telling the story. Is a single character narrating what is going on, or are a number, or even all the characters, telling the reader what is happening? POV is nothing more than the writer’s method of determining which character is presenting the narrative. See, it’s not all that mysterious.

As to the types of POV, there are four perspectives for telling your story, though some say there are five. Regardless, my focus will be with the three most common uses of POV in fiction, and then primarily upon the Third Person, as it is the easiest to use and most common POV in novels. Know that each POV has its advantages, disadvantages and typical uses.

The three major types, with primary subdivisions are:

• First Person POV

• Second Person POV

• Third Person POV

o Limited

o Omniscient

o Objective

Keep in mind when you write, you’ll settle into the one or two POV’s that serves your storytelling and writing style. In fiction, the primary POV is Third Person.

Let’s define these POV’s.

First Person POV First Person POV has the writer, or narrator, personally telling the story. In effect, the narrator is speaking to his readers about what is transpiring and it can be told in either present or past POV. It is most often used when one is authoring a book about ones’ personal experiences or opinions. You’ll see the writer using the common pronouns of I, me, my, mine, we, our and ours.

It can fit into fiction, but is widely used in memoirs.

An example sentence is:

As I looked at Jill, I knew she was upset.

Second Person POV

Think of this as how to write an instruction manual and extensive use of the word, “you.”

This POV is rarely used in fiction as it simply tells the reader what the characters are doing and what they see. It is an awkward way to write with limited access to creativity. However, it does grab the reader’s attention.

It can also exist in past and present forms.

An example sentence is:

You, Jill, will then purse your lips and furrow your brow.

• Third Person POV has three subtypes and we’ll discover each on its own.

o Third Person – Omniscient POV

Third Person Omniscient POV is having all the major characters in your novel telling the story. What is nice about this POV is the freedom it affords. The author can tell the reader what everyone’s motivations are and what it is they are thinking. It allows the writer to give or withhold information at will.

The difficulties lie in lack of control and its potentially cumbersome nature. If you are not careful, by showing what’s inside every character’s head, the reader receives too much information and can become frustrated as your POV loses cohesion.

You overcome this drawback by insuring consistency in your POV and by having only one person at a time tell the story. Also, eliminate any information that is not pertinent to the story. Have each chapter focus on one individual will help eliminate “head-hopping,” or jumping from one character’s POV to another within chapters.

Your example:

Jack wondered what Jill was thinking while Jill knew quite well what thoughts rattled around Jack’s mind. Bill was surprised by what Jill was thinking.

(See how this can get out of hand?)

o Third Person – Limited POV

Third Person Limited POV is perhaps the easiest to utilize and most popular when writing novels. Here the author writes from a single person’s vision throughout the entire book. In third person POV, you’ll see pronouns such as she, he, her, him, hers, his, it, its, they, them, theirs.

The disadvantages come with the writer’s limitation as to who sees what. The character telling the story cannot get into the head of another to read his thoughts. He can only surmise what the other guy is thinking by that person’s facial expression, actions and such. It’s also very easy to shift out of this POV.

Your example:

Jak understood Jill’s irritation, for her pursed lips and furrowed brow told him everything he needed to know.

o Third Person Objective POV

In this POV, the author only tells his readers what happens by way of action or dialogue. Their characters’ feelings or thoughts are never revealed. It is not the most effective POV for fiction.

Your example is:

Jack watched Jill furrow her brow and pinch her face.

When the major POV’s for fiction are broken down by types, it doesn’t seem quite so overwhelming, does it? In fact, as you read the names of each type of POV, it should be easy to remember each of them. Limited, has a limited number of narrators, Omniscient, (Omni = all),  has everyone telling and Objective has no one telling.

The secret to POV is to learn what type works well for your writing style and the types of stories you tell and then allowing these factors to drive your POV. Focus on the one or two you need and let the rest go for now.

I hope this has helped a bit, and I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

  1. I found this very useful. It is good to have things broken down clearly, it makes life a little easier.

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