Midweek Writer-Rummage - Points of View

Having read various articles on the subject of ‘point of view’, it’s usually said that new writers struggle with choosing, what they hope will be, the most effective point of view.  Personally, I’ve never had that problem.  I’ve always known the point of view I’m most comfortable with, and that’s ‘third person’.  I used to think that was the one that was used most often, but many of the young adult books I’ve read over the past few years all use ‘first person’.  I have tried 'first person', but it doesn’t come naturally to me.

With ‘third person’ point of view (or POV for short), there’s ‘limited’ and ‘omniscient’.  ‘Limited third person’ is where each scene is told from the point of view of one character.  It doesn’t have to be the main character, so long as it’s limited to the one character.  ‘Omniscient’ is basically what it means – all-knowing, all-seeing.  POVs jump from character to character, even in the one scene.

Using this scene from ‘The Cursed Gift’ as an example:

'A worried frown creasing her brow, Nadeen watched as Leah closed her eyes, and massaged her temples.  Leaning closer, she jerked back slightly when Leah glanced at her.

“Are you alright?” whispered Nadeen.

Leah’s attempt to smile failed, but she nodded.  “I just need some air.”  Getting to her feet, she said, “Master Fredrik, I need to be excused.”

Nadeen’s wide-eyed stare darted from Leah to their master as he straightened up from where he’d been demonstrating with sword and shield; he frowned at Leah’s departing figure.

In ‘limited third person’, we’re inside Nadeen’s head, as it were, seeing the reactions through her eyes.  We can see why Nadeen is worried, not because Leah has said she’s unwell, but because of her actions.  Likewise, with their master, we know he’s not pleased as Nadeen has noted his frown.'

Rewriting it as ‘omniscient third-person:

'A worried frown creasing her brow, Nadeen watched as Leah closed her eyes, and massaged her temples.  Leaning closer, she jerked back slightly when Leah glanced at her.

“Are you alright?” whispered Nadeen.

Leah didn’t want to have to explain herself, so she tried to smile but failed.  Still, she nodded.  “I just need some air.”  Getting to her feet, she said, “Master Fredrik, I need to be excused.”

Fredrik straightened up from where he’d been demonstrating with sword and shield.  Worried though he was at her unexpected behaviour, he was not pleased that she had not waited for his permission before she left.'

I have read books written as ‘omniscient third-person’ – apologies, but I can’t remember the titles … probably because I didn’t enjoy them.  It’s like being on a carousel, with several different people talking to you as you go around – it gets to the point where you’re not sure who is speaking to you.  Very disorienting.  That is why I prefer ‘limited’ – you pick one character for a scene, and see that particular scene through his eyes.

Even though the POV is termed ‘limited’, that doesn’t mean every thought or feeling is limited to those of the POV character.  The reader will still want an idea of what the other characters are thinking or feeling.  And the way to convey that is through description.  My bible for this is the, in my opinion, excellent ‘The Emotion Thesaurus’ by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.  Each entry is defined by ‘physical signs’, ‘internal sensations’, ‘mental responses’, ‘suppressed’, and 'acute or long-term’ descriptions.  Their equally excellent blog, The Bookshelf Muse, is worth a look.

For example, for Disbelief:

·Physical Signals – mouth slackening; eyes widening; going pale; rapid blinking …

·Internal Sensations – tingling in one’s chest; restricted breathing …

·Mental Responses – thoughts scrambling to understand; pretending to have misheard

·Cues of Acute or Long-Term Disbelief – arguing; walking away; holding a hand up as if to ward off the truth …

·Cues of Suppressed Disbelief – changing the topic; making excuses; avoiding eye contact

And those are just a handful of descriptions; each entry has loads to choose from.

Another example, conveying Jessalyn’s excitement through Leah’s POV:

'“… the palace gardens.  It’s peaceful and quiet.”

“Oh, yes please.” Standing on her toes, Jessalyn lightly clapped her hands together.  “I’ve never been in the palace gardens before … or the palace.”

Leah grinned at her friend’s excitement.'

Most novels tend to stick with the protagonist as the POV character.  But there’s nothing to say you can’t switch to another character … so long as each scene keeps with the POV of one character.  And, where one of the major characters, if not the main character, dies, then it’s obvious to witness that from the POV of another character.

It also makes for an interesting change to see the protagonist as someone else sees them … Here, an admittedly very basic example, the moment Conor realises his childhood friend, Leah, has changed:

'Leah broke off eye contact as she adjusted her tunic.

Conor frowned.  He realised he barely recognised her now, with her changed demeanour.  She seemed so indifferent, so uncaring.  When had that happened?'

One thing I would like to try, as a personal challenge, is to have separate plotlines, all interlinked, with each plotline having its own viewpoint character.

That, in a nutshell, are the things to consider when choosing POV.  If you want to explore it further, a simple online search will yield many articles, more in-depth discussions than this, on the pros and cons of each ‘POV’.