5: Choosing Point of View

When you are planning your novel, how do you decide whose point of view to tell it from? If your novel has two protagonists, how do you decide which one gets the scene–Character A or Character B? Do you choose one, two, or more points of view?

Today, we have covered:

  • Types of Point of View 
  • Examples
  • Answers to the questions:
  • When you are planning your novel, how do you decide whose point of view to tell it from? 
  • If your novel has two protagonists, how do you decide which one gets the scene–Character A or Character B? 
  • Do you choose one, two, or more points of view?

Links:

Star Wars crawl: https://www.filmsite.org/starw.html

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KathreseMcKee.com

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Transcript

5 Choosing POV

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I'm your host, Kathrese McKee. I own Word Marker Edits and write and produce the weekly newsletter, Word Marker Tips for Authors. In addition, I am a speculative fiction author. Writing Pursuits is for authors who drink too much coffee, endure judgmental looks from their furry writing companions, and struggle for words. If you are a writer seeking encouragement, information, and inspiration, this podcast is for you. Let's get to it.

Hey, Writing Pursuits Authors. Welcome back to the podcast. To those of you who are new, I want to extend a special welcome. My name is Kathrese McKee, and I'm glad you're here. Please leave a comment, a star rating, and follow the show to help others find Writing Pursuits.

Today, we will discuss:

• Types of Point of View with examples and

• Answer the three questions at the beginning

Point of view is easily one of the most important choices, if not the most important choice an author makes when planning their novel. Of course, you have to have the kernel of the story, the idea, but after that, the question becomes: WHO is going to narrate?

Is it the fiction author, who by default knows everything?

Is it by a reporter or a bystander, who stands outside of the story and is limited to what they can observe?

Is it told from the main character’s viewpoint and thus limited to what they know and think?

Or does the story put the reader in the leading role?

Point of view, or POV for short, is important because it determines HOW the story is told, WHAT the narrator knows, and WHO the story focuses on. It bleeds into characterization and setting, tone and mood, and the conflict too.

Because we have a wide variety of authors who listen to the show, I don’t want to make assumptions, so let’s do a brief overview. Besides, point of view is one of those things you learned in grade school; you might need a refresher.

So there are Three flavors of third person point of view:

• Unlimited,

• Objective, and

• Limited.

The fiction author as narrator is technically third person unlimited, but most often we refer to this as omniscient point of view. The only unlimited point of view is omniscient.

The fiction author knows all and sees all. However, the omniscient point of view still has bias, and it shows.

Omniscient point of view may be the easiest to write, but in my view, it is also the trickiest to write well. The storyteller can dip inside one character’s heart and soul and then flit over to another’s. The narrator can zoom in or zoom out, creating distance and then intimacy, and they know everything.

In Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, the author uses the omniscient point of view, but Eliza Bennett, as far as I can remember, is the focus of every scene because she is the main character of the story.

The author doesn’t stray from Eliza in the book, but the Pride and Prejudice movies do. For example, the movies switch points of view to reveal probable interactions between Mr. Darcy and his best friend, Mr. Bingley. Austen did not include these scenes in her book, keeping the focus on Eliza.

The author’s bias against her society and women’s place in it shines through her satirical tone. This is the first line:

'It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.'

That’s sarcasm at its best. The charm of Pride and Prejudice is found in Austen’s voice. Omniscient point of view can fall flat; if the author does not engage their audience, all is lost.

In omniscient POV, you MUST edit who gets page time, or your story will get tedious in a hurry.

In the Star Wars movie, the first movie--you know, Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope-- (that was my first movie) the word crawl at the very beginning is written from a third person objective point of view:

‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…’

(and it continues)

‘It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet. Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy…’

The narrator is not part of the story. They simply report on what's going on. I'm not saying they're completely objective, but it's mostly objective. They did call the Galactic Empire evil, so...

The narrator is not part of the story. That's what you need to know. They're in. And they're trying to tell it in an objective manner.

I know there are Star Wars books, but I have never read one. And I feel like a need to apologize.

But if I wrote Luke’s story, I would probably tell it in third person, limited point of view.

Third person limited is perhaps the most common POV choice today, and it’s a solid one.

Omniscient knows everyone’s thoughts and feelings; objective tries to stay objective, and limited is limited to the thoughts and feelings of one or more characters.

In limited POV, the narrator is usually a character; unless your story is about a mind reader, they don’t know the thoughts and feelings of other characters unless the others tell them or show them. And how much can you trust another person’s communication, really?

Authors frequently adopt the viewpoint of one main character or maybe two. Each protagonist should have a growth arc. Less important characters do not require a character arc, even if a few scenes are told from their point of view.

Tony Hillerman wrote a long fiction series about the Navajo Tribal Police, continued today by his daughter Anne. These books feature two protagonists: Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. Hillerman chose the third person limited point of view for both Leaphorn and Chee. The older cop, Leaphorn, drives the younger one a little bit crazy with his methodical approach to investigation.

In some scenes, the characters appeared together, but when this happened, Hillerman wrote the scene in just one point of view, either Leaphorn’s crusty POV or in Chee’s impatient one. Anyway, the novels effectively use the gaps of knowledge between the two men and sometimes their geographic separation to heighten the tension and raise the stakes.

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Let’s talk about first person point of view.

Another great choice for Luke’s Star Wars story would be from his internal viewpoint, in first person point of view.

The difference between third person and first person is most obvious when you check the pronouns. Third person uses: he, she, they, them, her, him, and their. First person uses: I, me, my, we, us, and our.

First person point of view is fairly easy to write, in my opinion. You slip inside your character and go. You become your main character. You know your MC’s thoughts, what they sense physically, and how they feel emotionally.

In the first person, you cannot know for sure what others around you think, sense, or feel unless the other characters reveal these things. Your point of view character must use their physical senses, their intuition, and their assumptions to figure out what is going on, and often, they draw the wrong conclusion.

The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins is told in first person POV, so the reader knows only what Katniss Everdeen experiences, what she learns from others, or what she deduces about the world around her. It starts this way:

‘When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.’

When you write a story in first person, you are not obligated to tell the reader everything. It’s fine to withhold information the readers might want to know. Let them wonder. Even though Collins uses a cliche--waking up--in her first line, she checks all the boxes of a great first paragraph. By the time you finish the fifth sentence, you have to go on.

If you choose to write in first person POV, don’t assume everything the character knows, thinks, and feels is important or interesting. As in omniscient point of view, edit what you reveal.

Finally, we need to briefly consider the second person point of view, most commonly used in nonfiction, instructional writing. The author is the narrator. The pronouns are you, your, and yours. Though used most often in nonfiction, it is possible to cast the reader as the fictional main character and tell a story as if the reader thinks, acts, and feels what the main character does. This is tricky, but it can be fun, especially for short stories.

A Couple of Tips for all Points of View:

Basically, if you think of point of view as the person the reader sees the story through, then you’ve got the idea.

Point of view is limited by the knowledge, thoughts, beliefs, and prejudices of the narrator or point of view character.

These limitations are communicated through word choice, so choose carefully. If Farmer Bob would never have a reason to know the name of Wanda’s lipstick--“Scarlett’s Blood”--then just write “red lips.” Otherwise, his word choice is out of character.

Point of view does not always have to stay with the protagonist. It can switch to the villain’s point of view. It can be from a bystander’s point of view. But make sure you have a good reason each time you switch.

The original questions were:

• When you are planning your novel, how do you decide whose point of view to tell it from?

• If your novel has two protagonists, how do you decide which one gets the scene--Character A or Character B?

• Do you choose one, two, or more points of view?

When you are planning your novel, how do you decide whose point of view to tell it from?

Ask yourself: Which character has the most to lose? Who has the highest stakes? Remember, stakes can be: physical, mental, social, financial, emotional, spiritual, and philosophical. Find that person to write about. Make them relatable. Give them a growth arc, either positive or negative.

If it takes two points of view to tango, then okay. Each main character needs a character arc or growth arc. Antagonists sometimes deserve arcs too.

If your novel has two points of view, how do you decide which one gets the scene--Character A or Character B?

If the protagonists are separated, then it’s easy to choose, but if they are together, the choice is more difficult. Generally speaking, I would choose the character most impacted by the action in the scene. Specifically, though, which character tells the story better? Which one is most compelling? If you are not sure, write the scene twice and then make your choice.

Do you choose one, two, or more points of view?

Obviously, you can have more than two points of view in your story, but each viewpoint must be essential to the story. It’s fine to have a cast of thousands, but the reader doesn’t want to spend time in everybody’s head. Really. They don’t. They want to become attached to someone they can relate to and root for. You want your readers to be invested in the outcome for your protagonists, so don’t water the story down with too many points of view.

Today, we have covered:

• Types of Point of View with examples, and

• We've answered those questions that we just talked about.

If you have questions regarding today’s topic, please go to writingpursuits.com, episode 5 to leave a comment.

That’s all I have for you today. Until next time…

Thank you for joining us today. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave a comment and follow the podcast. If you're new around here, I hope people join the Writing Pursuits Author Community for more content and to receive Word Marker Tips for Authors. That link and all the links mentioned in today's episode are in the show notes at WritingPursuits.com.

Please join us on Wednesdays for new episodes, and keep writing, my friends. Keep writing!

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