POV for all
A few weeks ago Amazon made me an offer I couldn’t refuse—three months of Kindle Unlimited for $1. I’m not a big fan of Kindle Unlimited because I believe that Amazon has too much market share already and I don’t like that books have to be exclusive to Amazon to be enrolled in the program. But three months of essentially free books? Yeah, I couldn’t pass that up.
The very first thing I did with my new Kindle Unlimited account was to get some books by authors I’d never read before. I downloaded a Regency romance that sounded really good… and then I began to read it. It was written in the omnipotent point of view. We knew what everyone was thinking all the time—even a young clerk who we meet for three pages and then disappears forever. The heroine wakes up in the hero’s home, not knowing where she is and sees “Ruth” come into the room. She doesn’t know this person, she’s never seen her before in her life, and yet she knows that it’s Ruth? How? Because the author knows that it’s Ruth and we’re in Ruth’s head at the same time that we’re in the heroine’s mind.
Needless to say, I stopped reading after three chapters.
But it did make me think that perhaps I would start off my new writing craft blog series with talking about Point-of-View.
Why is POV so important?
Because it’s how we, the reader, experience a story. Point of view is the eyes and mind through which we live the story and not everyone sees the world in the same way. We can learn a lot about a character by seeing the world through their eyes. We understand what’s important and what’s not. I can walk into someone’s living room and the first thing I’ll notice is the dog laying on the floor in the corner. My husband will notice the color scheme and whether the sofa looks comfy… and then he’ll see the dog. I’ll see the people, notice what they’re wearing and not even hear their names (assuming we’ve never met before). My husband is great at remembering names, but don’t ask about someone’s family because he won’t remember. I will. We’re different people. We see and hear and notice different things.
When we read a story, if we’re in the heroine’s point of view, she’ll notice particular things depending on who she is, how she grew up, and what is important to her. I, as the reader, want to know this. I want to see the world through her eyes. It puts me directly into the story so that I can live it right along with the heroine. It allows me to become her.
But if there are too many points of view, I don’t know who I am. I can’t relate to any one character. I’m kept at a distance. One point of view at a time and I’m there. I am that person. Too many and I’m nobody, but an outsider looking in.
So can a book have more than one point of view? Absolutely! Just not at one time. Each scene should be seen through just one person’s eyes. The more scenes you have from that person’s point of view the closer the reader will feel to them. So, yes, you can have five different points of view, but your reader won’t get close to any one of them. Give just one or two different eyes to see through and I can become and identify with that person, or those two people.
Here’s a quick run-down of your options for point-of-view as a writer:
Omnipotent – you are god. You’re in everyone’s head. The reader is kept at arm’s length.
Objective – you are no one but a fly on the wall. You don’t know what anyone is thinking. The reader is kept at arm’s length.
First person – pronoun used is “I”. The reader sees the story through the eyes of the first person protagonist. The reader only sees what the protagonist sees, knows what they know. This is great for mysteries where you don’t want to give away too much information to the reader. The reader is very close to the protagonist and can “become” them.
Third person single – pronoun used is “He/She/They”. The reader sees the story through the eyes of one character, but the slightly more distant pronoun is used.
Third person multiple – pronoun used is “He/She/They”. The reader sees the story through the eyes of the POV character for that scene. You can have more than one point of view character, but usually only one per scene unless the scene is something intensely dramatic like a fight scene or sex, then switching part of the way through the scene might happen so that the reader can experience the action from the point of view of both of the people involved. The is commonly used in romance novels so that the reader can become emotionally attached to both protagonists.
One word of warning with multiple third person is “head-hopping”. This is where we hop from one character’s head to the other and then back again quickly (within a sentence or two). Head-hopping can be very confusing to the reader since they can easily lose track of whose head they’re in. Like the omnipotent pov, it can push the reader away.
One last thing I’d like to address is multiple points of view in one book – can you have parts of a book in first person and other parts in third?
Yes! Absolutely! There’s no reason why not.
In my fantasy series, The Children of Avalon, most of each book is written in first person from the point of view of the protagonist of that book (there are three books, each with a different protagonist). However, the scenes from the villain’s point of view are all written in the third person. Why? Because I don’t want my readers to become as emotionally attached to the villain as I do for the protagonist. J.K. Rowling does something similar in the seventh Harry Potter book. The prologue to the book is written in Objective point of view. We see the action, but we don’t know what anyone is thinking. Chapter One starts with Harry and we’re in his point of view for the rest of the book. We become Harry Potter because we’re in his head. In the prologue, we’re kept at a distance. We’re a fly on the wall unable to know what anyone is thinking or what their motives might be. But with Harry, he’s an open book to us. We know what he’s thinking and feeling so that we can think and feel it too.
Think about this as you’re writing. Who do you want your reader to associate with? How close do you want them to get to your protagonist(s)? Based on your answers, you’ll know what point of view to use.