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  Whose Point of View?
by Lee Masterson

As the creator of your own fictional world, it is ultimately your decision as to which character's point of view you choose from which to tell your story.

Obviously, the vast majority of writers will tell their story through the eyes of their hero. This will make your hero your 'viewpoint' character, but selecting a point of view (POV) to tell your story from is a slightly different matter.

Types of POV

Third Person Limited

This is the most common POV used by writers, usually told in past tense. Incidentally, it is also the easiest to master. The author tells the story solely through the eyes of one main character and the focus should not shift from character to character within any given scene.

The downside to this form of POV is that the reader can only know what that character learns through interaction with other characters, through overheard conversations or through deduction conducted via internal monologue. The author can not cheat in this POV and supply thoughts or feelings from other characters.

Quick rule of thumb: if your viewpoint character doesn't see, hear, feel, touch or experience it, then he/she can't know about it another character or situation offers up the information.

Example: She was sure there was someone following her. She walked faster, but the sense of foreboding closed in around her like a cold hand clenching around her spine. When she turned to look behind her, the street was deserted.

Third Person Multiple (or Author Omniscient)

This Point Of View is popular with epic fantasy writers, in which a large cast of characters is at play, or in works where a narrator relates parts of the story.

The story is told through the eyes of several major characters, often shifting POV's at each chapter or scene change.

This has the benefit of showing the reader what is happening with other sub-plots and lesser characters before the hero knows about it. It also offers the opportunity to allow the reader to see inside the villain's plans for your protagonist.

In some cases, this POV can help to increase the suspense. e.g. Your readers have the benefit of knowing something is going to happen before your hero does.

To make the third person multiple POV work, it is important to confine yourself to one point of view per scene. Shifting from the perspective of one character into another during the same scene can create problems.

Keep each scene separate by sticking to one point of view and not jumping into another character's head until the next scene - otherwise you risk confusing your reader as to whose thoughts or actions he's reading.

First Person

One of the characters tells the story in the "I" voice. This viewpoint can provide powerful emotional insight and connection and even a sense of urgency.

Example: I was sure there was someone following me. I walked faster, but the sense of foreboding closed in around me like a cold hand clenching around my spine. When I turned to look behind me, the street was deserted.

There are drawbacks to writing in first person, though. When writing about the "I" character, you are limited to only what that person sees, thinks or learns. Another inherent problem with first person is writing a scene in which the author is not comfortable with the character's actions. For example, imagine writing an intense love scene from the "I" perspective, or perhaps describing a murder scene.

Although this POV looks the easiest to work with, it is often the most difficult to master.

Second person

Second person POV is very rare these days because of the attention it draws to itself. It also has the disadvantage of sounding corny and rather contrived.

Told from the "You are..." perspective, and often in present tense, it is extremely difficult to execute successfully.

Example: You are walking down the street. You know there is someone behind you; you feel the cold hand of fear grip your spine. When you turn to look behind you, the street is deserted.

Nobody really likes to be told what they are thinking or feeling. Second person can often come across to readers in this manner, which jolts them out of your story and reminds them that the author is trying to pull at his emotions.

Limited instances of second person can still be found in use in Young Adult novels, most notably in the adolescent "Choose your own Adventure" type of books.

More recently, some erotica novels are being written in this form. If done correctly, this can give the author an undeniable upper-hand when evoking auto-erotic thoughts in a reader - after all, the reader is being told how he/she is feeling about every action!

Copyright Lee Masterson. All Rights Reserved


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