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July 8, 2011

One of the most dreaded “rules” of fiction writing, and one of the least understood by new writers, is point of view (POV). POV is either whoever is speaking, thinking, driving the scene, or who is telling the story.

Because there seems to be a host of arbitrary rules for new writers doesn’t mean they’re not good ideas. POV is the perfect example. Have you ever read a book and discovered there was something about it that didn’t sit right? Maybe you skipped whole paragraphs, sections, or reached certain points where you were confused, lost, and had no idea what was going on. POV could be the problem.

Before we get into the mechanics of using POV, let’s discuss a few (but not all) types of POV. There is first person, where the story is told through the eyes of the character. In this type of story, you will see a lot of I’s, me’s and my’s throughout. I picked myself off the ground and rushed to the door. Many authors prefer this viewpoint as they feel the reader will become more immersed in the character if they’re seeing what that character is seeing through their eyes. I personally despise that point of view, but that’s a whole ‘nuther blog and not the point of this presentation.

Another type of viewpoint is omniscient. The story is told through the eyes of “God,” an omnipotent viewpoint as if it were being told by an all-seeing being. The story is not seen or told by a character but by a narrator (the author). Things are not seen through the eyes of the characters. If it is told well, the viewpoint is neutral. If not, it gets into something called author intrusion which jerks the reader out of the story and into the personality of the author. The characters see and know things they shouldn’t and couldn’t because the author (or God) tells you ahead of time. The author might spoil things for you by foretelling events you shouldn’t know until the characters discover them.

The most commonly used POV is third person, past tense (versus present tense). In third person, the story is told through the eyes of a character, but as it has happened. In other words, instead of “I put on my hat and rushed through the door.” It would be “Jim put on his hat and rushed through the door.” In third person, you, as the author have a lot more leeway to describe things and show things that first person doesn’t allow. In first person, action scenes don’t play out near as well as they do in third person.

Since I mentioned past tense, I should also mention present tense. Either first or third can be written in present tense. Some authors feel that the story is more immediate or more urgent if written in present tense. For example, in first person, “I put my hat on and rush through the door.” Or in third person, “Jim puts his hat on and rushes through the door.”

For me, as a reader, I find that anything written in present tense drives me nuts. It’s a personal preference, but I’ll put a book down because I can’t get through one written in that style. I won’t mention the author’s name (but her initials are PC… cough cough). I’m still a big fan when she writes third person, past tense. Unfortunately, she tends to write this wretched first person present tense. It’s so irritating, I can hardly get through a paragraph let alone an entire book. I know another author that writes third person present tense. Same thing. Can’t read it.

Some authors like to mix POV’s. In the writing world, that is perfectly acceptable and seems to be a trendy thing to do, though it can be hard to pull off successfully. The most common used to be third person and omniscient. However, keep in mind that these POV shifts are from one chapter or scene to the next, NOT mixed together! Another style that is becoming more common is first and third person. That is why I always leaf through books by authors I haven’t read. I’ve been tricked before. I don’t like first person, and I don’t like present tense, so I specifically leaf through a book and look for those features.

Regardless of which POV you decide to go for, there are some mechanical rules you need to follow. We’ll go over them in part 2.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 8, 2011 5:14 pm

    I like first person! There I said it. Not he said it or you said it. IIIII said it.
    Sometimes the first person works well if the author’s ‘voice’ comes across as the protagonist telling you their story. Oops. I said telling. Showing you their story. That’s another blog, too.

    • July 8, 2011 11:19 pm

      Hah! I know, a lot of you prefer first person. It’s all a matter of what you prefer and what’s comfortable for your writing style. Boy, that’s a lot of personal pronouns!

      I DO use first person if I’m telling a personal story, like one of my goofy life stories, but they are not fiction. That is the only time I give first person a pass for myself. Check out the Zorro story on my short stories page.

      Most of the manuscripts I’ve edited the past few years have been first person which has been torture for me, but they were still good stories for the authors and for their audience. I just think they would have been better in third. I stated my opinion, was voted down, and that was the end of it! I can’t change someone’s style and don’t really want to. It was just suggestive. In one case, the author sent it to her agent and the agent made her change it to third! Go figure.

      Anyway, I always appreciate your comments. Keep them coming. You are a great writer and I always enjoy when you read. Unfortunately, I usually have to leave before we get to you on the list! I DID get to hear you last time though. Keep it coming. And, I always appreciate your comments when I read.

  2. Donald Riggio permalink
    July 13, 2011 10:28 pm

    Well, Fred as you well know, I’ve been gigged more than an a few times because of “author intrusion” or, as you put it POV “violations” you also know my writng for the most part is told through the voice of an omniscient narrator. Though he/she cannot see the future he/she sees all and knows all in a particular secne and conveys that information to the reader.

    I cannot for the life of me see a love/sex, fight, or chase scene told in the limited constraints of remaining in one character’s POV.

    It works for me.

    Donald Riggio – Author “Seven-Inch Vinyl”

    • July 14, 2011 3:09 am


      Thanks for the feedback! I was specifically thinking of you when I was talking about omniscient! I think you did it pretty well, especially for an entire novel.

      As for intense action scenes, third person, was made for them. To handle other POV’s, the main character driving a scene can see many things through the actions of the other characters within that scene. When it comes to something they can’t be part of, change scenes and the next character takes over for a while and they can see things through a group of characters. There is nothing wrong with changing scenes as long as there are not too many of them in a row within a chapter. That goes into another blog about structuring chapters.

      Anyway, thanks so much for stopping by. Seven-Inch Vinyl is one rockin’ book!


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