Point of View

Anneli Purchase

When I first began to write seriously, I was surprised to find out that using the omniscient point of view as our great authors of 200 years ago did, just wasn’t done anymore!

“What the heck is point of view anyway?” I wondered. I thought all I had to do was pretend that as the author, I knew everything and I could see into every character’s head and tell what each one thought and felt.

That may have been all right in times of old, but apparently it is frowned upon in modern times, and aspiring authors certainly don’t want to be frowned upon before they even make their debut.

Point of view, usually called POV, is not, as some might at first think, someone’s opinion. It refers to the character through whom we are seeing the story unfold. As the writer, I can pretend that this main character has a camera mounted on his or her head and whatever this magic camera can see, hear, touch, smell, or feel, is allowed to be told. The camera cannot know what another character is thinking, unless the thoughts are spoken aloud in dialogue. So I am limited in what I can tell about another character’s emotions. I’ve had to become more skilled at letting the reader know what a secondary character might be feeling, through dialogue and by showing that character’s body language. Are his fists clenched? Is his jaw working? Are his eyes filling with tears? Are his eyes narrowing and his brow furrowing?

POV can be a problem if the character who has been the POV character is not present in a scene that needs to be told. For that particular scene, the main character may be someone else, and the camera can be in that person’s head for the duration of the scene. The writer needs to stick to one person’s POV for that scene and not go head hopping throughout the telling of the story.

Some of the most popular POVs used are first and third person (“I” and “he” or “she”), and can be in the past or present.

I would like to give you some short examples of some POV types.

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Here is an excerpt from Julia’s Violinist. We are in Karl’s head (with the camera) in third person POV:

“Where are you off to?” Julia asked.

“Where else? Town. Job hunting.”

“You smell like you’re going to the opera.”

“Good, huh? Give me a kiss.” He put his arms around Julia, kissed her head, her ear, her cheek.

“My God, you smell like a perfume factory.” She pushed him away gently.

“It’s the city boy in me. People I do business with respect a person who has city experience. It wouldn’t do to smell like an old turnip like some of the farmers around here.”

“There’s nothing wrong with being a farmer.”

“Sure, sure, but I’d rather not smell like one.”

Karl liked to dab on aftershave lotion before going to the weekly card games. His hard facial stubble was the antithesis of the fine silky blond hair on his head. He felt tough and refined at the same time.

*****

And here is an excerpt from The Wind Weeps, in first person POV with the camera in Andrea’s head:

The Wind Weeps [1]

I could see his face in the wheelhouse. His jaw was set in determination. When he pulled alongside he grinned.

“Hello, Andrea,” he said pleasantly. “What brings you out here on a day like this? A bit chilly for a joyride, isn’t it?”

I pulled on the oars desperately and as he reached down to grab the one closest to the boat I took it out of the oarlock and swung it at him, clipping him on the shoulder. He jumped back. I tried to row away from the Hawkeye but with one oar out of the oarlock I flailed uselessly.

Robert reached for the oar again, and again I swung it at him, but this time he caught it easily and kept a firm hold on it. I let it go and tried to row with my remaining oar, but I knew it was over. He held the skiff pinned down with the oar, reached down, and fished out the bow line. Then he let the skiff drift back and tied its line to the davit at the back of Hawkeye. He disappeared into the wheelhouse and gave the Hawkeye a burst of fuel, turning the boat back towards our isolated cabin in the bay. I sobbed and shivered in the skiff.

*****

Which POV you choose is often a personal preference, but if you’re not sure, just rewrite a chapter in both first and third person and then choose the one you like best. Happy writing!

My novels are available at all amazon outlets and at smashwords.com. Just click on the cover image at the left side of the blog.

Please visit my other blog at http://wordsfromanneli.wordpress.com

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8 thoughts on “Point of View

    • Thanks, Darlene. It was an exercise to find the right POV for each one. Julia’s Violinist, with many more characters lent itself better to third person, and The Wind Weeps, with fewer characters, seemed to work better in first person.

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    • I’ve found quite a few novels that still use first person, but I agree that third person seems to be preferred. First person works well when you are telling the story of one person with a limited number of other characters, but one of the problems with using first person is constantly having to say “I did this” and “I did that.” The overuse of “I” can drive the reader crazy if it isn’t done carefully. Generally I prefer third, but sometimes first works better.
      But good for you, Vanessa, for rewriting with a change in POV. What good practice that was for your future writing!

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  1. Loved this post on POV! I prefer to write in 3rd person which gives me the freedom to let my characters wear that “magic camera” as you referred to it, Anneli. The examples you included clearly illustrated the differences… and were interesting snippets from those two novels.

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