The Importance of Point of View




 Two people may see the same scene
with completely different eyes.

Here at Writerly Life I’ve talked a few times about the importance of point of view as an element of the story. It’s always true that two people may see the same moment or situation with completely different eyes; so here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re choosing what point of view to stick with in your story.

Who has access to the real conflict?

The first question to ask yourself is whether your character has the correct amount of access. Stories are about conflict — so have you chosen the character who actually is able to see the conflict and comment on it? To see a political conflict from the perspective of the politician’s four-year-old son, for example, won’t capture the sophisticated power struggles at play. On the other hand, writing from the point of view of the parent who is never home won’t work if all the drama is happening at home. You must choose a character who is able to see everything that the reader must see in the course of the story.

Who is in a position to change the story?

The second thing to remember is that it won’t do any good if your character can see everything but can’t do anything about it. Stories run on choice and change; they cannot be passive observation only. Be sure to choose to write from the point of view of a character who has the power to actually change things in the story and have a choice. While there may be many victims in the story, if they are powerless than it is not really their story that you are telling. You’ve got the find the character who sees these victims and makes a choice to do something about it, or else fails to do something about it.

Stick with it?

I began this post by telling you to stick with a point of view, but there are, of course, many situations when changing up the point of view is appropriate. This is more true in novels than in stories, where there’s more room to develop multiple characters. But changing the point of view at a crucial moment can add greatly to the development of your plot. It can add to mystery and suspense, or give us the final revelation the story needs. So if something is being held back in the course of your story, consider saving a switch to a more enlightened point of view for the very end. It’ll be the final punch of emotion that your reader needs.

3 comments

  1. One thing I’m mulling over is how many points of view I can use in a novel. I’ve got a potential story with two four-way relationships .. I’ve written a YA sci fi about one of them, first person POV. I’m tempted to write about the second — but I’d want it to be third person. Even if the first foursome appears in this story, I’ve sadly concluded that the POV characters have to be only the second foursome and the antagonist. Even so, the whole thing is making my head spin.

  2. E says:

    In a long story (over 50,000 words), is multiple POV ok? I can’t tell the story through one POV because of the various places where the story is happening…

    Is there a general rule in this regard?

  3. mary brady says:

    Call me old-fashioned, but I just don’t think a YA novel should be introducing “4-way” relationships to impressionable young minds. Three-ways are difficult enough to handle. There’s a time and a place for everything, and it’s called “college.” I believe YAs are high schoolers, right?

    Recently, I’ve been watching many improving science programs about animals in the wild. It’s all the rage to attach cameras to them, then experience “Life–POV Badger!” YOU get to experience small dark burrows behind a little dirty nose, YOU get to be stuck in the maw of a giant cobra, and so on.

    These programs have expanded my ideas for POV. Why not tell the story of the politician from his dog’s viewpoint? How many times have we thought the dog was asleep near the fireplace when, in fact, the dog heard EVERY word of the clandestine meeting that was being held? How many badgers have been witness to MURDER in an otherwise empty field?

    “Blast it, DI Bloomers! We can’t charge him solely on the word of a badger, even if it does have some rather incriminating frames from its badger-cam!”

    I think there are a lot of possibilities here.
    L&K, MaryBadger

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