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Understanding the Various Points of View

Let’s get specific about the various points of view.

Ready, set. . .go!

Omniscient

“Omniscient” POV is also known as the “all-seeing God-eye.” In other words, a novel written in this POV will give the reader opportunity to see inside the head and heart of every character.

Most of the classics are written in omniscient point of view.

The problem with this point of view is that it is too vague. There’s no one to connect with. You see every emotion. Every motive. Every need. How can you distinguish your primary character from the others if you’re revealing details about your cast? And can you imagine how busy the camera must be, following everyone around at once?

Publishers today aren’t keen on omniscient POV. Why? Because omniscient POV is lazy. When you employ this technique, you usually revert to telling the reader when you should be showing. The reader doesn’t get involved. He or she doesn’t feel a connection to any one particular character. Basically, he’s just an observer, and you’re narrating the story. The drama of the story is lost. Before you write a person in omniscient POV, ask yourself, “If I do this, will my primary characters get lost in the shuffle?”

I want to give a word of caution to writers who feel they must write their books in omniscient, despite what they’ve been taught. I can almost hear you now. You’re saying, “But, the classics were written in omniscient and they’re famous. Dickens wrote in omniscient and he’s known world-wide.”

All of that is true. And all of it was trendy in Dickens time. But it’s not trendy now, and editor after editor after editor will tell you that publishing houses aren’t buying it. So, if you’ve written your novel in omniscient, please consider another point of view, both for the sake of your story and your own sake, as well. After all, you want to eventually sell this book, right? So, why buck the system? Find a point of view that editors and agents are looking for.

Second-Person

Second-Person is the “you/we/us” POV and is rarely used in fiction. This POV occasionally works in non-fiction articles, but not novels. As with omniscient, this isn’t one editors will be keen on buying.

Third-Person

Many (if not most) modern novels are written in third-person POV. This is the “he/she/they” voice. There are two different types of third-person POV. They include:

Limited third person (limited, meaning you only see through the eyes of a limited number of characters in the story)

Multiple third-person (multiple, meaning the novel has more than one third-person POV character)

Both are popular. Some novels have as many as six or seven third-person POVs. However, a new author shouldn’t tackle something this complex. It can rarely be done well. Start with two, maybe three at the most. And remember, you can only use one POV per scene. Imagine our car accident story once more. A good police officer wouldn’t allow all of us to interject our thoughts at once. Instead, he would ask us to share one at a time. Everyone gets a turn. And the officer (who represents our reader) gets to experience our stories individually, and in depth.

Here are some tips for third-person POV writing:

1.Create clear, distinct scenes. Each character gets his or her own.

2.Put some white space and/or asterisks between the scenes so the editor can see that you’re changing POV.

3.Use POV distinctions for characterization. You can do so much in the gap between the different POV characters. For example, let the difference in perspective come out as you switch from one POV to another. Your characters are all unique and their uniqueness comes out as you move from scene to scene, character to character.

4.Give each POV character his or her own distinct voice.

5.It’s so much fun to play with the internal vs. external aspect of the POV character.

Imagine the pregnant woman in the story I told at the beginning of this lesson. She’s in labor. She might be standing, talking to the police officer, all politeness and smiles, but on the inside she’s screaming, What are you people doing? Can’t you see I’m in labor? Take me to the hospital!

6.When writing in third person, make sure you create characters that readers can truly relate to. Give them flaws, and let those flaws show, both through external dialogue and action. To make this even more interesting, blind your POV character to his or her flaws. Maybe their internal dialogue can contradict their external actions. (An example might be a young woman who’s facing financial struggles but loves to shop.)

First-Person

It has become quite trendy to write in first-person. A first person novel gives the reader a chance to connect with a particular character. Using the “I” voice, this character reveals issues of the heart, matters of conscience and motivations. In fact, readers who enjoy this POV often come away from the book saying, “It was almost like the author WAS the character.”

The following is an example of a first person protagonist:

First Person Protagonist: For this point of view, a character relates events that occurred to them; the “I” is the main character, telling her or his own story. I used first person in my Weddings by Bella series, and it’s obvious from the first line: “If Uncle Lazarro hadn’t left the mob, I probably wouldn’t have a story to tell.” You can see right away that the I, me, my character is Uncle Lazarro’s niece. And boy oh boy, does she have a story to tell!

Head-Hopping

Take a look at your WIP. Carefully examine the first chapter for POV issues. Do you “head-hop?” (Start your scene in one POV, then inadvertently switch to another without realizing it?) Do you start in Jane’s POV, then somehow jump to Judy’s, all within the same scene? Can you see inside both their heads at once? Beware! If you’re handling POV accurately, you should only be able to get inside one person’s head at a time. Sure, you can tell the story from both points of view. But you have to end Jane’s scene before you begin Judy’s.

Read with an editor’s eye. Remember, your POV character can only taste, feel, see, hear and touch the things that he/she can “actually” taste, feel, see, hear and touch. He/she can’t get inside the mind/thoughts of others. Become a POV purist. No cheating. No head-hopping.

Remember that story we discussed in the last lesson? The car accident? I’m going to share that same story (or bits of it), using three different approaches. Three different points of view. We’ll start with OMNISCIENT.

TAKE ONE: Omniscient P.O.V.

Janice’s heart pounded wildly as she steered her car toward town. “You okay, Judy?” she asked, looking toward the passenger seat. She could hardly believe her best friend would soon be a mother for the first time. How wonderful, that she got to share in the experience with her.

“Y-yes.” Judy glanced at her watch, then closed her eyes and mentally counted, One, two, three, four. She’d almost made it to ten when the squeal of brakes alerted

her to the fact that something was wrong. She looked up to see a little boy running into the street.

Mary ran from the sidewalk into the street, chasing her little boy, Tom, who ran after his ball. “Son! Watch where you’re going. There’s a car coming!” She snatched her son, tears flowing. “You. . .you could have been. . .killed!”

Off in the distance, the ball rolled toward the curb. Tommy squirmed in his mother’s arms, wanting to run after it.

The car swerved to the right to avoid hitting the ball and smashed into a light pole.

Inside the car, Janice went into a panic. “Judy, are you okay?” Her mind reeled. Just this morning she’d made the last payment on her car. . .and now this? And what about her friend? Would Judy be okay? Would the baby be okay?

Judy drew in a deep breath, the pain intensifying. Had the crash hurt her baby? She prayed not, but the intense pain made her wonder.

From the side of the road, Mary scolded her son. Through the tears, she whispered up a prayer of thanks that the woman in the car had swerved, missing him. Oh, if only she could go back in time. Take that ball and throw it in the toy box. Skip their morning walk. Then this horrible nightmare would be over.

Okay, we’ll stop there. You get the idea. We know this story has been told from omniscient P.O.V. because we can see inside the head/thoughts of all characters involved. But we can also see that writing like this doesn’t give us a particular character to connect with.

TAKE TWO: Third Person P.O.V. (Janice’s limited POV)

Janice sat behind the wheel, unable to move. Had she really just wrecked her car? Worse yet, had she injured her friend’s baby?

“Judy?” She gave her friend a pensive look. “Judy, are you okay?”

“Y-yes.” Judy exhaled loudly and creases formed between her brows. “I. . .I think so.”

“Hang on a second. I’m getting out.” Janice reached for the door handle, her hands trembling so fiercely, she could barely grasp it. As she pushed the door open, her gaze shifted to the mother and son on the sidewalk. The woman knelt, arms wrapped around the youngster.

Is he okay? I didn’t hit him, did I?

No. Janice replayed the events in her head to convince herself. The little boy was fine. Likely, just shaken.

“I’m calling 9-1-1,” She hollered through the open door. “Hang on, Judy. We’ll get you to the hospital in record time, I promise.”

“I-I hope so!” From inside the car, her friend’s voice sounded strained. No doubt her labor pains had intensified.

The woman with the little boy drew near, her face pale. “I’m so sorry about the ball,” she said. “I told him not to throw it in the street. It’s completely my fault.” She dissolved into a haze of tears.

Janice muttered a few words she hoped would be consoling. Still, she couldn’t keep her thoughts straight, not with her attention split between the smashed up car, the woman, the boy, and Judy, who now hollered through the open window: “My water just broke!”

You can see that writing in third person really gives us a chance to connect with the P.O.V. character, (in this case, Janice). If you wanted to stay in third person and add Judy’s perspective you could. Just leave some white space (and/or asterisks) between the two scenes so the editor knows you’re moving on to a different P.O.V. character.

Now let’s try something different. Let’s switch to FIRST PERSON P.O.V. We’ll use Judy as our P.O.V. character for this one.

TAKE THREE: First Person

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” I clutched my belly, squirming as the pain overtook me. “One, two, three, four. . .Oh, forget it!” What was the point in counting? This baby didn’t care if I followed the manual on childbirth or not. Looked like she was coming, one way or the other.

“Janice!” I called my friend’s name through the open window. “Girl, if you don’t call 9-1-1 right now, you’re going to be delivering this baby yourself.”

Her face turned white as a sheet. I had to laugh, in spite of myself. Something about the look of terror in her eyes just got me tickled. Crazy, how I could experience so many thoughts and feelings all at once.

Another contraction took hold and I scrambled to find my phone. Call Jack. Let him know. I pressed my husband’s number and his voice came on the line right away.

“Judy, where are you? I’ve been at the hospital for ten minutes and no one can find you. I thought you said you were on your way.”

“I’m. . .” Another contraction gripped me and I groaned. “Oh, help.” “Judy! Where are you?”
My thoughts reeled as a gripping pain unlike anything I’d ever experienced assaulted me. With it, came the strangest sensation – warm, wet.
“Janice!” I hollered through the window. “Janice! Girl, let’s get this show on the road. My water just broke!”

So, there you have it, folks. The same story (or part of it, anyway), told from first person P.O.V. I think you can see how first person allows you to truly get to know the P.O.V. character – every nuance. However, you can also see that you’re limited to what that one character (in this case, Judy) can see/think/smell/wish/hope/do, etc. None of Janice’s perceptions can be included, only what Judy THINKS Janice is thinking.

Now that you’ve got a clear understanding of point of view it’s time to take a second look at the characters you’ve chosen for your book. Which ones deserve his/her own point of view? Which ones aren’t as critical? How fun, that you, the author, get to choose!

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