About Writing on Wednesdays: What’s Your Point of View?

Ok. There is a lot more to point of view (pov) than I realized and it took the pros at Stellarcon to point it out to me.  Ed Schubert, Laurell Ann Hill, David Coe and Gray Rinehart were the panelists for this discussion at Stellarcon.

David Coe spearheaded this panel and was able to point out the ways a writer can manipulate their story with different points of view. This was a very interesting and informative discussion.

As every writer should know the point of view is the eyes, ears, thoughts and emotions through which the reader sees the action of the story at any one given time in the story.

First person is what I call the “I” books. The story is told from one pov in the character’s voice. There was some discussion as to whether this is more intimate and conveys stronger emotion. I think it is and does.

In the book All Is Quiet on the Western Front the story is told through the narrator’s eyes and because it is I think the end is devastating in a way it would not have been otherwise.

David Coe gave his opinion that first person doesn’t work well in epic fantasy although it can be done.

Second person. ‘You’. It is rarely done and everyone agreed they did not like it. Yeah, I’m not sure how it could be done without sounding accusatory. The panelists did not have any examples of that. Does anyone else?

Third person. Personal pronouns such as ‘he’ or ‘she’ are used. Everyone agreed this pov adds tension to the story. It is the most used pov and the most popular.

Omniscient. Tells the story from the distance. There was general agreement that this pov is hard to do in today’s market. Readers want the writing to be up close and personal.

An unreliable narrator is used in multi pov books. The story is told from the pov of a character who doesn’t see everything therefore doesn’t know what is going on. This is most effective if the character is blind to his or her faults.

Multi pov is when you tell the story from more than one character’s pov. It gives the readers more information than they might normally have. Use as many povs as necessary but do not overwhelm the reader.

There are ways to manipulate the multi pov to keep the reader on edge. The reader should be left disappointed when moving on to another pov.

To create tension a character should be in trouble when you move to another; have one character know when another is stepping into a dangerous situation or; kill off a character and bring in another with a different pov.

If done carefully writers can move from first person to third but I think this is one of those things that only very experienced writers can do well.

Talyn and Hawkspur by Holly Lisle are two examples of moving between povs. There was some criticism of head hopping in the books but I had no problem following who was thinking what and I loved the books.

Head hopping is when the pov goes from one character to another with no transition. Ways to avoid this is by having stars between paragraphs, start a new chapter, have the name of the character head a new paragraph or chapter. The best pov to use for head hopping is omniscient.

Guy Gavriel Kay, J.R.R. Tolkien head hopped but these days it is discouraged because it doesn’t sell.

When used the pov of an alien or monster should be consistent, have a developed culture and a developed background.  The trick is to have the alien humanoid and the humanoid seem to be alien. Remember humans will be reading the story, not aliens.

So here is my little problem with pov. What I am writing is a fantasy/fairy tale type of story. I am still struggling with the introduction which is from the point of view of an infant’s soul; a soul that has been separated from its dying physical self.

In an intense writing session I sat down and rewrote the introduction not too long ago and it’s pretty darn close to where I want it to be except so many of the critiques, ok all of the critiques, say that the soul has to think like an infant.

Maybe it’s just me but I thought if the soul is separate from the physical self it would not necessarily think like an infant or even as a human but in otherworldly terms so I’m puzzled with the critiques. Instead of third person maybe use omniscient? What do you think?

What is your favorite point of view and why? Just curious.

For more information about povs the panel recommended reading Orson Scott Card‘s Characters in Viewpoint.


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Diane
    May 18, 2011 @ 01:57:21

    First, a link to 2nd POV example.

    Next, learning when to listen to critiques and when to ignore them is a difficult process. I now ignore all suggestions to change the plot, because it is my story. Any other questions or suggestions can be individually analysed and changed, or not, if they do not change the plot.

    My favourite POV is Close Third Person.

    Also, I agree, only change POV when starting a new scene.

    Remember, your soul is your character, and needs to be what you want to fit in your plot. It is your unique character, not a repeat from other story characters. 🙂


    • curiocat
      May 20, 2011 @ 18:30:51

      Thanks for the link, Diane. I forgot to check there Wickipedia and it even gives examples. Excellent.

      You’re right; it is my character. That’s why I’m not giving up on it and will try to work it out.


  2. Tiffany A White
    May 18, 2011 @ 16:29:29

    I’m writing my first book in Multi 3rd POV – really only focusing on a few characters (protag and antag) with obvious spacing or chapter breaks to clarify. GREAT post, very informative and necessary!


  3. garridon
    Jul 12, 2011 @ 21:53:11

    Omni — and the description of it isn’t quite accurate. It’s all seeing narrator who tells the story. One point of view. And it’s out there and still popular. Just when it’s well done you don’t know it’s omni. Tolkein writes in omni, as does Prachett, Clive Cussler, Tamora Pierce, Philip Pullman, James Rollins, and Vince Flynn.


    • curiocat
      Jul 12, 2011 @ 22:11:44

      Hey, Linda. Thanks for coming by. I appreciate the input and you’re correct. I’m reading LOTR again and Tolkien does it very well indeed. Omni is not intimate enough for me; I don’t think I could write it. How about you?


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