“I wonder why I have to have another point of view…” — Harry Nilsson, “P.O.V. Waltz”
As I am working on editing the second TALES OF FORTANNIS anthology, I once again am finding that the biggest problem starting authors have is with Point of View.
I don’t mean the difference between 1st person, 2nd person, and 3rd person — I assume everyone reading this blog knows what that means — but instead the difference between omniscient POV and limited third person POV.
Some authors can successfully write an omniscient POV, but it’s a rare talent — one most writers don’t have.
Most starting writers don’t even think about the POV, and there’s the problem.
Here, look at this paragraph:
John marched into the room. His anger raged within, like a volcano about to erupt. He stared at Mary, who stepped backwards, scared. She couldn’t help but admire the shirtless Adonis before her, but feared his power. Mary wondered if she could reach the knife in the drawer before John came closer. Fido barked, wanting only to be fed and have someone scratch his ears.
With whom does the reader identify? Is the main character John? Is it Mary? It could even be Fido!
Jumping around from head to head tells the tale, but at a distance, with the reader removed from any one character. It’s clumsy, and often makes the reader have to go back and re-read a section to make sure it is understood. And that is something you definitely don’t want.
“And suddenly the strangest things are happening…” — Nilsson again, “P.O.V. Waltz”
By making each scene take place with a limited third person view — where everything is told from one character’s point of view — you can add drama, suspense, and most importantly get your reader to identify with that character and feel a part of the story.
John marched into the room. His anger raged within, like a volcano about to erupt. He stared at Mary, who backed away. Her eyes scanned his body as she softly licked her lips, and then her view darted to the kitchen. The dog barked once, its tail wagging happily.
This version allows the reader to identify with John. We still get the idea of what Mary is thinking, but through John’s POV. We also know the dog’s bark is friendly without having to analyze the dog’s thoughts.
Whenever there is a scene with your main character, the story should be in that person’s POV. Imagine residing in that character’s head. Descriptions of other characters will be from your protagonist’s POV and may not even be accurate.
Sometimes there will be scenes with minor characters, and then you need to decide whose POV will best tell the story. In my next novel BLOODSUCKERS, the first chapter was originally told from the POV of a senator who is surprised at the arrival of an intruder into his room (who turns out to be a vampire assassin). Later, I rewrote it from the vampire’s POV and the suspense level rose exponentially. It grabs the reader better, lets them know something terrible is about to happen, and also provides the reader with a proper set-up for the way the vampires think and what their plans are.
Later, there is another scene where this same vampire is trying to find the protagonist and is questioning someone. Despite the fact that a previous chapter had been told from her point of view, this chapter is told from the POV of the victim. Why? Because it helps build the suspense once again.
It might be a good exercise to take some of your scenes and rewrite them, telling them from the POV of one of the secondary characters. Even if you don’t end up using it, the practice should tell you something about that secondary character you might not have known before, and can only help make your characters more real to the reader.
Not having a consistent POV is a sure sign that you’re a starting author. If you’re piling up the rejection letters, look to that first — it sure seems common among the stories I have been receiving for my anthology, so I’m sure it’s true elsewhere. Don’t make this mistake!
“I hope it’s not the last time…” — Nilsson again, “P.O.V. Waltz”