Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tuesday's Tip for Writers - #2

Point of View

POV is a huge topic. Understanding it and how to use it effectively often frustrates new writers. I know I struggled with POV early on. I found it limiting. Now the limits feel more like opportunities.

My tip on POV starts with understanding it. There are many excellent books on writing, and I bet all of them devote at least one chapter to point of view, so I won't define it here. But ultimately, like so many aspects of writing, fully understanding POV means learning from experience.

Once you understand POV, experiment with it. Choosing a point of view character is one of the big decisions writers face. Okay, if you're writing a first person novel, you only make a POV decision once. You're in one character's head for the duration, and it's a tightly held point of view. And okay, if you're writing in third person, you can make the decision just once if you limit POV to one character. But if you write in third person with multiple points of view, like so many of us do, the POV decision must be addressed with each new scene. Often it's a given: the scene needs to come from the main character's perspective. But if there are two or more characters in a scene who are important enough to have their own point of view scenes in the novel, give POV serious thought. I sometimes rewrite a scene from a different POV to compare. The result can be surprising.

An interesting thing happened in STRUCK. There are multiple storylines playing out in that novel, so I have multiple point of view characters. There's a big, climatic moment at the end of Part 1 where three major point of view characters meet, and the meeting impacts them all in separate ways. I wrote from the protagonist's point of view, and it was a strong scene. But as I mentioned above, I like to experiment. I wrote it two more times from the other two POV characters' perspectives. Those versions were strong too, revealing different things that advanced the story. A scene of this magnitude that includes the protagonist really needs to come from the protagonist's POV, so I couldn't justify using one of the other versions instead of the original. I ended up including them in addition to the original, ending Part 1 with the strongest version, the one from the protagonist's POV.

I like the impact replaying the scene from different POV's added. I was pleased when the trusted writers who critique my novels (I'm lucky to have several) liked the effect too. Then my trusted beta readers (I'm lucky to have several) commented on how they liked it. So there ya go, a well-received dramatic conclusion to Part 1, courtesy of POV experimentation.

Understand, appreciate, enjoy, and experiment with POV. It's a powerful tool for writers, at least that's my point of view.


  1. I agree totally, once a writer grasps the POV issue, so many interesting avenues open up. If used properly, multiple POV add something special to a story. I especially love it when an author shows a scene from the antagonist's pov. What drives the bad guy is often what makes the story a cut above the rest. A good example: Silence of the Lambs.

    Dexter is a fine example of a tight first person present tense POV. He's supposed to be the bad guy, but in fact, is the protagonist. How original.

    But, it's also interesting that multiple POV of the extra same scene don't always work on television. I remember a series a few yrs back where the extra same scene was replayed over in a different perspectives, sometimes 3 or 4. I thought the producers should have been applauded for their effort. Somebody's got to be the first to experiment.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Joylene. Dead Witness is an excellent example of how effective POV scenes from the antagonist can be. Your good guys are great, but your "bad guys" are a big part of what makes your novel so great.

  3. Thanks for saying that, Keith. But people should know it's because of critiques from writers like you that I was ever able to master POV.

    I said thanks, right?