Point of view (POV) is a course in itself. Seriously. There are so many facets to think about with point of view – and many of them must be decided before you even begin to write your book.
Telling your story from the WRONG POV is very easy to do.
Imagine writing an entire manuscript in the wrong POV? All your scenes, all your narrative, everything that happens won’t work. Your story will lack tension and conflict. The POV character’s goals or motivations will be weak or uninteresting. Your story’s pace will be sluggish and unfocused. The setting, description, and inner story will all be affected because the wrong character is giving us the information–likely information that your reader doesn’t need or care about.
How do we get started on figuring out the best POV for our stories?
My go-to method is to ask yourself two questions:
- Which character has the most to lose in your story?
- Which character can give us the most compelling story?
These questions will help guide you toward understanding who your main character(s) is/are. Telling a story from any character’s perspective who doesn’t have their back against the wall does not give you (the author) much to work with in terms of conflict or story goals. This is true of a character who can’t give us the most interesting, most powerful, most compelling version of the story.
We’ve probably all heard “There is more than one side to any story.” This is applicable not just in the real world but in storycrafting, too.
Right now, as a fun writing exercise, test your story from a non-POV character and rewrite any scene he/she is involved in. Make sure you follow scene structure with goal | conflict | disaster | reaction | dilemma | decision
- How is that scene different now that someone else is telling us what happened?
- Is it more interesting? Less interesting?
- Do we learn more critical information through this character’s perspective?
- Does the reader learn something you don’t want him to know quite yet?
This exercise is actually a wonderful way to help us determine which character is supposed to be telling us what is going on. ALWAYS choose the character who will give us the most interesting take on events as well as who will lose the most along the way.
Your POV character needs to be the agent of his/her own story. Such a character has to have wants and needs and ghosts. Such a character needs to go through an arc, or at least be so influential, she propels those around her to change and follow her lead (think Wonder Woman).
All of that means you need to make sure you’re in the head of the right character, the best character to tell the story.
Think about Great Gatsby. The POV character Nick showed us Gatsby and his way of life. Another writer might have assumed that Gatsby should be the one to tell his own story, but Fitzgerald played it smart. He knew that Gatsby would have been an unreliable narrator and would not have told us the most compelling story.
While such narrators have told their stories effectively (Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye), Fitzgerald clearly wanted to reveal the decay of Gatsby’s life. Nick was the best character for the job.
Now, I’m a rule follower I admit, therefore it’s easy to ask what the rules are and I’ll go from there. Authors break rules quite frequently. I can think of two reasons why they get away with rule-breaking:
- The author already proved she’s a master of the craft and earned the right to break the rules
- The author did such a great job breaking the rules, no one even noticed or cared.
If you’re not CONFIDENT that you fall into either one of the two categories above, I suggest you follow the rules.
POV rules to get you started:
-The most popular POV choices are first-person and third-person limited.
First-person invites the reader into the head of the “I” narrator. Third-person invites the reader into the head of the “he/she/it” character.
-If you opt for first-person POV, only use one throughout your book. If the multiple first-person POVs are NOT distinct enough from each other, then it is incredibly difficult to keep track of who is speaking.
-Keep multiple third-person POVs to fewer than five. (You’ll see differing limits on this—just go back to my KEY guideline: if your POV character has everything to lose, then yes, we want that POV. If not? Ditch it.)
-No head-hopping! This is my biggest gripe. I honestly can’t deal with it, and I apologize now if you’re a writer who head-hops from character to character. Head-hopping is an amateurish way to present your story because it confuses your readers.
–> Head-hopping is when a writer jumps between more than one POV in a single scene. If you have multiple points of view, then your best is to write a different scene from each character’s perspective.
-Stay away from omniscient POV. ‘Nuff said.
Do you struggle with finding the perfect POV for your story? What are your methods for figuring out which character should tell the story?
Have a writerly day!