Point of View How-To

 

What is point of view?

When we read a book, we see a story through the eyes of a character, or narrator, which is called the point of view. The reader gets to be someone throughout the story, so it’s important to choose an intriguing POV.

Many authors choose the protagonist as the narrator. For example, in The Hunger Games, it’s Katniss Everdeen who tells the story. But sometimes, the central character is not the POV character. In The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby, the rich neighbor, doesn’t tell the story—it’s Nick Carraway, the cousin to Jay’s love interest, who provides the POV.

Ask yourself the following when choosing a POV: 

·      Which POV will be the most effective?

·      Whose take on reality will the reader relate to the most?

·      Which POV adds a certain depth or value?

Why do you think Sir Arthur Conan Doyle chose John Watson to narrate the story of Sherlock Holmes? Would Sherlock himself have served the purpose as narrator? Maybe. But Sherlock would’ve told the story in a page or two—he’s nothing but cold facts. Watson came along and romanticized the stories—something he was scolded for, actually. What mystery would there have been without Watson?

So what about multiple POVs?

Many editors are completely against this, only because it comes across as jarring. I just finished reading The Help and didn’t find it jarring at all. But why? Because it was done properly. It’s very easy to ruin a good book with multiple POVs. They can distract the reader and cause them to toss the book to the side.

Keep these things in mind when using multiple POVs:

That special spice: What can Narrator #1 add to the novel that Narrator #2 can’t? What can he offer? Does he have information that narrator #2 doesn’t? And vice versa.

Sing a song: Each POV must have a different voice. For example, if one male narrator is a hillbilly, that must come through in the POV. If the other narrator is a sophisticated, intelligent woman, that needs to be obvious. Make them distinct.

Serve a purpose: Your multiple POVs have to serve different purposes. If they’re all telling the exact same story without adding in value, then take out the extra POV.

Define the end: Use a different font type and/or separate chapters to show when a different POV is narrating.

Pick a number: Decide how many POVs you’re going to have. It’s good to keep it between two and three. Some authors say six is the max. I think, personally, that’s going a bit overboard, but hey, it’s your book.

Finally, ask yourself this: Is my book truly made better by adding multiple points of view?

As a bonus thought, one reader asked, “There’s the kind we’re taught in school (first person, third person), and then there’s the POV character that can change in the course of the book.”

What we’re talking about here is a character who matures, who grows, who changes. A good example is Flowers for Algernon when a man named Charlie, with an IQ of 68, becomes a test subject for a surgical procedure to increase intelligence. The book begins in the voice of the slow, handicapped Charlie, but as his intelligence increases, a new voice arises.

An amazing author knows how to write characters (or narrators) who grow throughout the story. Do you think the character of Harry Potter was written in the exact same point of view in the first book as he was in the last book?

No, because he overcame conflicts and matured as a character.

So what do you think? Do you have any questions or comments about point of view?