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Make POV Work for You–Introduction

Monday, April 20, 2009

Point of View. It’s a term that we’ve all known since we were in elementary school and started reading. One of the questions on every quiz and one of the sections in every book report was what point of view is the story told in? Back then, pretty much all we had to do to answer that question was to figure out if it was told in third person or first person—because until recent years, that was really all Point of View meant. In third person, it was expected that there would be multiple viewpoint characters, and that the author would take us inside any character’s head she wished at any given time throughout the story. So is it any wonder when we start writing that whenever we get feedback from a more experienced author or an editor that says, “Tighten up POV” or “No headhopping” or “POV doesn’t go deep enough,” it’s more confusing than helpful?

In modern-day writing terminology, Point of View has come to mean not only what “person” the story is written (1st, 2nd, 3rd) but also which characters’ viewpoints the story is told through. I’ve already discussed at length the different types of Point of View available to us as writers. In this series, I will touch upon using an omniscient POV, because despite the current taboo against it, it is still a viable—and can be a very effective—choice for the right story if done well. However, because 99 percent of my readers write genre fiction, for which the current standard is limited POV, that’s what we’re going to focus on. And while I’ll mostly be talking about it in terms of 3rd Person POV, those of you who are writing in 1st Person should be able to use most of what we’ll talk about.

When I started looking for resources to use for this series, I was somewhat disappointed and mildly shocked to discover that there really aren’t many available. I ended up getting the book The Power of Point of View by Alicia Rasley, which I’m sure will be a great help, especially as it has exercises and questions that can lead to some great discussion questions for this series. I haven’t had the chance to read through it yet, but even though the entire book is focused on POV, from what I can tell it still focuses more on the structure of POV (person/tense/defining what the different POVs are) and only gives a little page space to crafting deep POV.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning of Point of View. For the purpose of this series, it will probably be most helpful to you to choose one novel to examine and use for examples and exercises, preferably your work in progress, just to keep your thoughts and ideas focused.

Once you choose which manuscript you’re going to focus on, try answering these questions:

  • What is your purpose for writing this story? (to make people laugh, to teach a lesson, to show how a family overcomes tragedy, etc.)
  • What is your story’s genre?
  • What Person/verb tense do five recently published books in your genre use?
  • What Omniscience do those same five books use? (It’s okay if you can’t answer this one yet, that’s what we’re here for)
  • Who are your main characters who need to have a Viewpoint in your story?
    This can be tricky, depending on how far along you are in your story and what your genre is. In a romance novel, typically you’re going to try to stick to just two viewpoint characters, the hero and the heroine. However, this is not always the case (for example, Ransome’s Honor which has four viewpoint characters). So this is a question you may need to give some serious thought/consideration to.

Post any or all of your answers, and let’s delve into how we can make a greater understanding of Point of View take our stories from run-of-the-mill to extraordinary!

  1. Monday, April 20, 2009 11:31 am

    It’s an interesting post – I’ve always been frustrated with the term POV because I felt it was used interchangeably with “viewpoint”.

    POV to me has always been 1st, 3rd…
    Viewpoint has always been whose head are we in

    I guess I’m going to have to accept that in todays world people use POV to stand for both definitions, but I still refer to them separately. It will always be POV and viewpoint for me 😀 to distinguish the two. I think some habits are hard to break and this is one I learned way way back when.


  2. Monday, April 20, 2009 11:58 am

    I think a lot of new writers struggle with this because, as Jennifer pointed out, they are not sure about the difference between the viewpoint and the POV. It took me a while to figure it out from all the blog posts and articles I’d read on the subject.

    As far as deep POV, I think there are more online resources than published books.

    In my wip, I have four POV voices because it’s an contemporary, ensemble story. It’s kind of women’s fiction but not quite since two of the POV characters are male. It’s definitely limited third person.

    I just finished a book for which I remember thinking I wasn’t sure what the POV was. I always knew whose viewpoint the reader was in, but it seemed part omnsicient and part limited POV. As a reader, it worked great, but as a writer, it was a bit confusing.


  3. Monday, April 20, 2009 12:29 pm

    A side note: Alicia Rasley is awesome! She’s a writer and editor, and I really enjoy her blog with another editor, Theresa Stevens. It’s at . This month they’ve been showing us how to make and critiquing log line pitches.

    I was just thinking this morning that I’ve always been just gone with my instinct when it came to POV and viewpoint, so it might be good to learn a little more on the technical aspects of these. Looking forward to this series!


  4. Monday, April 20, 2009 12:39 pm

    The one I’m going with is written in third person, with three POV characters, past tense. It’s a category romance. Most in my genre are in third person with two POV characters, past tense. My third POV character has very limited POV space, but it is necessary for the story. Omniscience? Hmmm, I don’t think any of the five books I’m thinking of have any of that. They write in close POV in my opinion.

    POV characters in my wip. Hero, heroine, and a significan daughter to the heroine who poses a huge problem for them at a couple points in the novel.

    Looking forward to this study, Kaye!


  5. Monday, April 20, 2009 2:40 pm

    To me, POV and characterization are linked tightly. If a writer has a cardboard, shallow character, it’s often because we’re not in that character’s head. We’re not hearing their thoughts, seeing their reaction. We’re not seeing anything internal, just hearing dialogue and seeing movements.

    Kaye, I’m looking forward to hearing what you have to say on deep POV. I’m always trying to go deeper with my characters and make them breathe on the page.


  6. Carol Collett permalink
    Tuesday, April 21, 2009 10:17 am

    I can already tell how badly I need this series because I can’t even answer all the questions you posted! I’ve read a couple of recent books in my favorite genre recently that were written in omniscient POV and I didn’t like either of them. Didn’t feel close to the story.
    My WIP needs two viewpoint characters right now. That could change as I get further into it.


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