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Kevin G Hare

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POV - Who's Eyes Anyway?

October 27, 2017

POV, or Point Of View, can be one of the most confusing aspects of storytelling for a lot of writers. POV is simply who's eyes through which you want to tell your story. This post aims to clear some of the murkiness of making that choice.

Firstly, it's best for you to know what the different types of point of view.

First Person

This is the easy one. The use of the pronoun 'I' tells all, where your main character tells the story for you, completely through their eyes and their perspective.

 

Second Person

Yes, there is a second person point of view. The pronoun changes to 'you' and is used for instructional writing - such as this blog post.

Third Person

Third person pov is further broken down into at least three sub listings:

Third Person Limited

I also like to refer this one as third person intimate. Using the pronouns 'he' and 'she' yet still telling the story through their eyes. You have insight into the character's thoughts and emotions but no longer having them describe the action.

Third Person Multiple

Same as limited however, the narration is widened to involve multiple characters.

Third Person Omniscient

The narrator takes full god-like authority here and knows everything about everything about every character.

How are each types used?

In my early versionof Anderoth's Dragon, I set up a narrator character, Romulus, to tell the story from an omniscient POV. I originally set the story up as The Romulus Accounts and Romulus was this timeless traveler who recorded history and told the stories. This is where I thought - you know, I actually wasn't thinking about it. I was a new writer and many new writers choose an omniscient POV because we either don't see the world through the eyes of just one of our characters or we just don't have the experience to know the difference. Here is the first paragraph from that original piece:

These accounts are of an age long ago. A time that granted life less to man and more to what come to be known as folktales in your bedtime stories. It was an age very rich of legend. Legends of great deeds and legends of terrible fates. For good or evil, the tales that shape this world need remembering for those who follow. Such is my interest, for here I am known as Romulus of History, collector of legends. Curiousity fuels my vigil and a small measure of guidance is the sum of my interaction in these events. Life is wondrous in its pursuits to maintain itself, mine then is the lonely duty, bound to treasure all the quests pursued by heroes of great and unexpected, and all the pursuits of the followers of dark paths.

This is omniscient. Romulus takes the god-like narrative to tell the story and there isn't really any reason why this wouldn't work because it's set up so the reader knows he already collected all of the information in the tale, he is merely reciting it. It's only the poor craftsmanship of the writing itself that makes it not work so well.

Opening paragraph of the final version:

Dragons and fire and goblins and warriors, these seem to be the only things that hold the short attentions of young boys. Felaney was the mother of these two particular children and she sat in her extravagant chair before the hearth and waited for them to gather their blankets and settle on the floor before her. The large study was the gathering place at the end of each day in the Halstaid Estate. The flames cast lively shadows over the books and rolls of parchment while the light cast a warm, orange aura over the furniture and their occupants. Be it an equally eerie aura, it did impart an ideal setting for stories of adventure. The boys pestered her for the last hour to tell them the story of the flaming dragon that escaped the caverns beneath Locksonon generations ago. Dragons and fire and goblins and warriors, and in this tale, elves as well.

I switched to third person intimate (limited) and removed Romulus as the narrator. He is still part of the story but only as a character now. Here, the scene is told through Felaney's eyes as she perceives things as they happen. There is a reason why I made this change which I detail below.

Here is the opening paragraph from a project I'm just getting started:

It was supposed to be my time of celebration. My time to shout to the world, 'I did something incredible!' and it all evolved around my latest project, the Bio-Resonance Field Generator. I haven't even had time to figure out a proper name for the friggin' thing let alone get an official demonstration set up with the Delegation of Scientific Endeavours before the God-damned troops swooped in and took control over my project. If that wasn't enough, they took me too. The bastards.

I deliberately chose first person for this book because I wanted to go nuts with the character. That means I have to understand this character is the central focus of the entire book. Every action, every scene, every bit of dialogue revolves solely around this one character. We never lose track of him, he never leaves the stage and for that to work, I have to create someone truly memorable.

I think new writers need to understand there is no rule for which perspective to use, there is only a choice. That choice is made by whichever POV suits the story you want to tell and how important the character is you want to tell it. I prefer not to stick with one perspective because I don't think all my stories will work the same. Switching things up from story to story offers the challenge of understanding the structure and proving you can, and it keeps some of your readers wondering what you will come up with next. This won't work for everybody because some readers choose their books on knowing what they'll get. That's just the way it is and we have to accept that as writers.

Know your story, know your characters. How far you widen the distance in point of view, the more you need to know about all your characters. The closer your point of view, the more you need to know about one or two of your characters. When using third person multiple, remember to use some sort of separator when switching between character POVs. A chapter, a horizontal line, an extra line break; anything to que the reader the change is taking place.

Note also, omniscient POV is rarely used in fiction anymore because it does not always allow readers to empathize with characters on a personal level. Readers get pulled into a story because they can relate, they can sometimes believe they are that character. If we do our jobs as writers correctly, the reader becomes committed to the outcome. If your readers get committed to your characters, they get committed to the story.

 

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