Friday, October 28, 2011

Four Viewpoints (Part 17 of 17)

Here are my concluding words of advice about POV.

1. Use first person if you want the entire book to have a limited, personal, and individual perspective.

2. If you want high reader identification with your character, first person is a good choice. Or go with limited third person.

3. If you want to describe your character from the outside, where you tell us "she thought" or "he said," limited third person works well.

4. If you want to experiment and can justify it, choose second person as a modified first person.

5. If you want perspective so readers can glimpse the attitude and feelings of several characters and grasp the plot from different outlooks or perceptions, the omniscient or unlimited third person might work for you.

If you're unsure, write a page or two in each POV. As you look at them and compare what you want to accomplish, ask yourself, "Which of these POVs would be the most satisfying to me?"

You have to decide the POV that works best for you.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Four Viewpoints (Part 16 of 17)

No rule exists that says you must stay in a single point of view. You can mix them from scene to scene. You might alternate from the hero's POV in one scene and the heroine's in the next.

Or write a chapter using third person and shift to first in the next. Rosellen Brown wrote a novel about a young man who molested and murdered his girlfriend in Before and After. She arranged the book in four sections, with different viewpoints. The reviews on Amazon were mixed and mostly negative. (Part of the mixed reactions may have been because of the theme.)

In which genre are you writing? Examine books by authors who write in the same field. Familiarize yourself with their POVs.

It's easier to sell books written
in the usual POVs.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Four Viewpoints (Part 15 of 17)

Recently a few authors have tried and gotten away with the totally omniscient POV. For emerging writers, we suggest avoiding this POV because:

1. Switching POV within a scene jars careful readers. It shatters reality because none of us is omniscient.

2. Such pauses in the narrative flow tend to tell readers what they need to show them.

3. The POV continually shifts. The writing tends to become more impersonal because readers don't identify with and focus primarily on one character.

4. Readers aren't always sure who is the major character. Recently I read A Grain of Wheat, written in 1967, which is considered a modern African classic by Ngui wa Thionog'o. The back of the book reads, "Set in 1963, A Grain of Wheat tells the story of Kenya on the verge of . . . independence. The novel focuses on Mugo. . . "

Mugo? I liked the novel immensely, but another character, Gikonyo, seemed as much the focus of the book until I read the last 30 pages. I also liked Gikonyo much better than Mugo. I could argue that the author would have been wiser to go with shifting third-person limited POVs, but it was his choice.

4. The omniscient is difficult to pull off and keep readers with you. When well written, readers can enjoy all perspectives, but it's risky.

Avoid the omniscient POV
unless there's a compelling reason and
you're positive you can do it well.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Four Viewpoints (Part 14 of 17)

In the third-person omniscient POV, the author takes a panoramic view of the characters and events. The story doesn't unfold through the eyes of a single person, but we become part of an invisible, all-knowing, all-seeing narrator. This is also called the God view. It means you can know anything. This point of view works best in a story with a complicated plot and multiple characters.

In the omniscient POV, the author "drops in" on any of the characters. You can write from the hero’s perspective in one scene, from the heroine’s POV in the next, and then to the villain’s. You may vary viewpoints as often as you choose.

In the nineteenth century, those now called the classic authors often wrote from an omniscient viewpoint. They skipped from head to head of their characters within a scene. Often they stopped the action to comment on the people, and some would even pause to say, “And now, gentle reader” or “Pity him, dear reader, who thinks of such evil.”

Years ago I read this someplace (and forgot to keep the reference, for which I apologize):

Humpty Dumpty didn’t realize it, but soon he would have a great
fall, and the king’s horses and all the king’s men would not be
able to put him together again.

(Humpty didn’t realize what was happening, so we’re not in his POV. We’re godlike because we know what’s going to happen even though the poor fellow didn't.)

Omniscient POV is a long-established style of writing;
However, most writers stayed within a limited POV.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Four Viewpoints (Part 13 of 17)

One variation on the limited third-person POV is to close a scene and open the next one from a different third-person perspective. This is becoming a popular way for writers to express a wider range of emotions, character development, and scope.

For example, Rachel is our POV and this is the end of the scene.

"I love you and I'll always love you," Rachel said. Tears filled her eyes and she looked away from Cary.

You insert a double return (as we called it in typewriter days) or you can use asterisks or something fancy like this: §. This shows the break in a scene.

We now pick up the story and we shift POV to Cary.

His body tensed and he started to embrace her. If I forgive her this time, he thought, it will be the same story again. She fails me and makes me feel sorry for her. "Your words mean nothing to me this time," he said.

I like this variation in fiction. I can identify with more than one person. I can "become" both Cary and Rachel.

The third-person variation allows writers to provide
a wider scope to the plot and to character development.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Four Viewpoints (Part 12 of 17)

We speak of third-person POV in two ways. The most popular writing is done in what we call the limited third person. I'll also explain the other third person, sometimes called omniscient, universal, or unlimited third-person POV.

Third-person limited POV shows readers only what happens around that person—usually the protagonist or heroic figure. If you start that way, you stay that way. (As I mentioned in an earlier post, you can switch to first person if you start a new scene. That's not common, but it's acceptable.)

You are always inside the perspective and emotions of one person. For most modern writing, you don't jump into another person's head within the scene. Everything that happens comes from that singular POV. There are usually frequent uses of "he thought," or "he said," from the narrator's POV.

I want to stress that readers see, think, and feel only what the main character experiences. There are no shifts to another character’s thoughts or emotions.

Limited third-person POV is easy to read
and the most widely accepted POV.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Four Viewpoints (Part 11 of 17)

Here are a few concluding thoughts on using the second-person POV.

1. You is the same as I.

Second: "As you approach the house, you see that someone has broken the lock. You push the door open and the noxious odor floods your nostrils."

First: "I approach the house. Someone has broken the lock, so I push the door open and the noxious odor floods my nostrils."

2. You write the narrative just as if the POV character is first person. You have to keep the "you" character's experience limited to what "you" can know.

3. You can write physical description easily and it comes with a confident tone: "You stare approvingly at your suntanned skin. You flex your muscles and pose as if you've just won the Mr. Universe title."

If you write from a second-person POV
it can be jarring,
so you need a good reason to use that approach.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Important Announcement from Twila

Do you have an angel story? Cec and I have a contract for a compilation book. Check out for guidelines and submission details.

Do you have an angel story to tell but can't write it yourself? Email the details to If we believe the story has potential for the book, we will contact you for more information and will write it for you.

Deadline for story submissions is November 12.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Four Viewpoints (Part 10 of 17)

Authors usually write second person in the present tense. Ordinary observations seem stronger when you shift to second person.

Here's a comparison:

First person: I peer into my husband’s musty study. The neatness tells me that no one has been there. I smile. They haven't found the incriminating document.

Second person: You peer into your murdered husband’s musty study. The neatness tells you that no one has been there since his death. You smile. They haven't found the document.

The experts insist that the second sounds more ominous. By injecting murdered and death, they say it sounds more natural.

They may be correct, but it doesn't feel right to me.

You need to be comfortable in whatever POV you choose.