Point of View 1: Whose story is it, anyway?

Choosing a point of view (POV) for your book is probably one of the most important decisions you will make as a writer. Why? Because in choosing to tell the story through the eyes of a particular character, you are also determining the reader’s journey through the book.

Harry Potter 002Think about it. The Harry Potter series of books would have been very different had they been told from the point of view of Hermione, Dumbledore or even Lord Voldemort. Well, they wouldn’t be Harry Potter books for a start!

Of course, choosing your viewpoint character is only first step. You will also have to decide the narration point of view. Second person narrative (you) is very rare, so the most common choice is between first person (I, we) or third person (he, she, it) narrative. Next, you will need to choose between subjective narration (inside a character’s head and describing their feelings or thoughts), or objective narration (staying out of people’s heads and reporting only what you see)? Finally, you will need to decide whether your narrator’s point of view is limited (knowing everything there is to know from that character’s POV, but limited to that character) or are they omniscient (with an all encompassing knowledge of all characters, times and places).

What effect does a particular narrative point of view have on the reader’s experience of your novel?

Viewing a story through the eyes of a first person narrator, either observing or participating in the action, connects the reader directly with the narrator and imbues the narrative with the immediacy and energy of an eyewitness account (for example, Raymond Chandler’s gumshoe, Philip Marlowe, in The Big Sleep).

Ray Chandler 002A third person narrative puts more distance between the narrator and the story; the narrator is a not a character in the story but provides a bridge between the character and the reader. This still allows the reader to engage with the character, but allows the author to manipulate the narrative without interfering with the character’s viewpoint (the Harry Potter series – told from Harry’s point of view, third person narration limited).

So whose point of view is best for your story? That is a question only you can answer and exploring points of view can sometimes be what your first (and possibly second, third and fourth) draft is all about, as you try to figure out who is telling your story and why. So, if your novel is stuck in a rut and is refusing to go where you want it to go, maybe you should look at who’s telling the story. Just as in life itself, a completely new point of view or perspective can sometimes transform an old tale into a wholly new experience.

7 thoughts on “Point of View 1: Whose story is it, anyway?

  1. Pingback: A Fun Way to Learn How to Write From the Male and Female POV and Perspective- Part 1 | M. J. Kane

  2. I would agree with your editor, Johanna. I have two more blog posts on POV shifts coming soon, which I hope will clarify my take on the issue, but essentially, I think you did the right thing in cutting out the paragraph.

  3. Well I had a dilemma with this recently. I had two characters point of view weaving through the story and then I wanted a third character to have a point of view but only for one paragraph in a 90,000 word novel. My editor said it would distract the reader and wouldn’t be correct. I fretted over it for a whole weekend because I kind of liked the paragraph. I ended up cutting it out altogether because it was too unwieldy for me to convey her thoughts in any other way than having her own point of view.
    But what’s your opinion on that Book Nanny? If I’d left it in would you feel the need to chastise me for it too?

  4. And of course the biggest challenge is consistency… not jumping about the place from one POV style to another in the one paragraph. Easier said than done 🙂

  5. Thanks for writing my lesson plan for my workshop on point of view for next Wednesday! Excellent view point! I really enjoyed writing one of my main characters from 1st person POV. Helped get right into his head.

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