A very common mistake writers make in their first drafts is to head hop, or change point of view, between the characters in a scene. This is usually not done on purpose. Here’s an example:
In this scene, we are clearly in the minds of both characters. The scene has more than one point of view.
So, isn’t this omniscient point of view then? Can’t the narrator know what both characters are thinking? Some may argue yes. But omniscient point of view isn’t used much today; and when used properly, it has to sound all knowing—the narrator has to know everything about everyone. That’s not happening in this short scene. There’s definitely head-hopping going on.
Readers want to connect with the main character in a story. One of the best ways for writers to accomplish this connection is to reveal his or her thoughts and feelings—not just action and dialogue. Most readers love character-driven novels, so writers should strive to create a character that readers want to follow through an entire novel. Filter the story through this character’s eyes, so readers experience life like him or her.
To fix the above scene, pick a point of view character and filter everything through that character’s eyes and mind. Pretend to be that character. You know you can’t read another person’s mind. You can only recognize body language, tone of voice, and dialogue. Your characters are the same way. So, try this:
The 5 Biggest Mistakes in Writing Scenesby Diane O’Connell
Have you ever seen pictures of a Hollywood back lot? The buildings look amazingly real, but they’re really just false fronts. There’s no “there” there. Likewise, a scene in a novel may have all the elements that make it appear “real,” but can be as flat as a Hollywood edifice. Events happen, characters say and do things, but the scene doesn’t come alive. So what’s wrong? Likely, the writer has made one or more of these mistakes:1. Not having a clear point of view
Some writers hop from one character’s thoughts to another—a habit I refer to as “brain billiards.” At the other extreme, some scenes don’t have any point of view whatsoever. Events happen in a vacuum, not through the lens of any one character’s viewpoint. Remedy:
Stick to one POV per scene. When choosing which character to use ask, “Who has the most to lose or gain?” Once you answer that, it should become obvious whose POV to choose.2. Relying too much on dialogue
When you have a scene that’s almost all dialogue, your readers can get lost and consequently feel disconnected to the scene. Dialogue should be used like spice: sprinkle in just enough to give the scene flavor.Remedy:
To keep readers anchored, break up your dialogue with action, description, internal thought.3. Piling on the action
This is a particular danger in thrillers. The writer drags the reader through every step, giving a “blow-by-blow” account of what’s happening. The result is all show and no tell. We see the punches being thrown, struggles, chases, knife fights, but we don’t get the impact of what’s happening. Remedy:
Step back, take a breath, get inside your character’s head, and find ways to combine lots of smaller pieces of action into a bigger picture. 4. Summarizing what happened
This has the opposite effect of piling on the action. We’re told what happened instead of being thrust right in the middle of the action. Consequently, we don’t really feel involved. Remedy:
Allow the scene to unfold in real time rather than simply saying who did what to whom. Use enough details so that the reader can film a “movie in her mind.” 5. Not having a clear purpose
It’s not enough for a scene to be emotional or funny or colorful or scary. It must have a reason to be in your novel. In my work with first-time authors, too often I have read scenes that seemed more like window dressing than an integral part of the story. In these cases, the scene might be interesting in and of itself, but it leaves the reader scratching her head wondering why the author put it there.Remedy:
Before you write any scene, ask yourself how it serves your story. Each scene should either help a particular character move closer to his ultimate goal—or put up obstacles, creating a struggle.
Once you’ve become aware of these mistakes, and challenged yourself to correct them, you’ll find that your scenes are much richer, deeper, and livelier.
I have to admit, I really hate villain POVs. There are so few villains that have any redeemable qualities, and especially starting a book out with the villain’s point of view when they’re murdering and/or plundering just makes me go, “Why do I want to read this book, again?”
This is actually one of the things I hated most about the Wheel of Time series, though I loved the series in general: I hated the amount of time spent on this Forsaken’s love of naked mindless servants, and that Forsaken’s love of skinning people, or whatever. Yeah, yeah, I get it, they’re irredeemably evil. Get back to someone I’m actually ROOTING FOR, which is why I’m reading the book!
Sometimes it’s important to briefly show the villain’s point of view to convey to the reader some information that our hero doesn’t have, but I find more and more that my tolerance for even these kinds of scenes is thinning fast. Too often it’s a substitute for more subtle forms of suspense, laying clues that the reader could pick up if they were astute, the kind of clues that the main character should be putting together one by one to the point where when he or she finally figures it out, the reader slaps their own forehead and says, “I should have seen that coming!”
It’s a completely different matter, of course, when the whole point is for the “villain” to simply be someone on another side of an ideological or political divide where there are no true “bad guys.” Usually this happens in a book in which your narrators are unreliable, which can be very interesting.
But there’s a line for me, generally the pillaging/raping/murdering/all manner of human rights abuses line, at which I’m sorry, I just don’t care about this guy’s point of view. The equivalent of this in middle grade books—where pillages/murders/rapes are (hopefully) fewer—is the pure evil villain who’s just out to get the main character because the villain is black-hearted, mean, vile, whathaveyou. Evil through and through, with no threads of humanity. (Though honestly if he’s killing people “for their own good” to protect a certain more nuanced human viewpoint, I generally still don’t want to see that from his POV.)
So, what’s the line for you? Do you like villain points of view? Do you feel they add depth to a story? At what point do you think a villain POV goes from adding nuance or advancing the plot to annoying?
ETA: Coincidentally, my author Bryce Moore recently reviewed the Captain America movie and had this to say about how a character becomes evil, which I think is apropos to this discussion:
Honestly, if writers spent as much time developing the origin and conflicted ethos of the villains of these movies, I think they’d all be doing us a favor. As it is, it’s like they have a bunch of slips of paper with different elements on them, then they draw them at random from a hat and run with it. Ambitious scientist. Misunderstood childhood. Picked on in school.
That’s not how evil works, folks. You don’t become evil because you get hit in the head and go crazy. You become evil by making decisions that seemed good at the time. Justified. Just like you become a hero by doing the same thing. A hero or a villain aren’t born. They’re made. That’s one of the things I really liked about Captain America. He’s heroic, no matter how buff or weak he is.
This is, perhaps, the best description of why villain POVs bug me so much: because they’re oversimplified, villainized. And for some stories, I think villainization works, but I don&
Editing a Book - 10 Tips Checklist for Children’s Writers Part 1
You’ve been working on your story for a while now and you think it’s just about done. It’s been critiqued numerous times and you revised it numerous times. Now, it’s time for ‘editing a book;’ this entails proofreading and self-editing. You don’t want to short-change yourself on the last stretch, so get ready to put the final layers of polish on your manuscript.
While this ‘editing a book’ article is geared toward children’s writers, it has information for just about all writers.Here are 10 tips to you can use to help fine-tune your children’s manuscript: 1. Editing a Book: Check for Clarity
Check each sentence for clarity. It’s important to remember that you may know what you intend to convey, but your readers may not. It’d be a good idea to have someone else read the manuscript for you. This is where a good critique group comes in handy.2. Editing a Book: Check for “Telling” and Lackluster Sentences
Check each sentence for telling. While you will need some effective telling, you want to have more showing.
Example: Joe hit his head and was dazed.
Alternative: Joe banged his head against the tree. He wobbled a moment and fell to the ground.
Show, don’t tell. Use your imagination and picture your character going through motions—maybe he’s turning his lip up, or he’s cocking his head. Try to visualize it; this will help in showing rather than telling.
A good way to add more showing is to add more sensory details. Use the five senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste) to create a living character; this will help breathe life into your story.
Example: Joe felt cold.
Alternative: A chill ran through Joe’s body.
Example: Joe was frightened.
Alternative: Joe’s breath stopped. Goosebumps made the hair on his arms stand at attention.3. Editing a Book: Point of View - Watch for Head Hopping
Checking for head hopping is especially important for children’s writers since their stories should be told from the protagonist’s point of view or perspective.
If the story is being told from your main character’s point of view (POV) make sure it stays there.
If my POV character Joe is sad and wearing a frown, it wouldn’t be advisable to say: Noticing his sad face Fran immediately knew Joe was distraught. This is bringing Fran’s POV into the picture. You might say
: Joe knew Fran would immediately notice his despair; they were friends for so long.Or, you can just use dialogue
: “Joe, what’s wrong?”
I wasn't going to post on Wednesday, because of presenting a week-long workshop at the Muse Online Writers Conference this week, but I changed my mind. Please come back on Wednesday for Part 2 of Editing a Book - 10 Tips Checklist for Children’s Writers .
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Related Writing Articles: Is Your Manuscript Ready for Submissions?Rewriting a Folktale
2 Comments on Editing a Book - 10 Tips Checklist for Children’s Writers Part1, last added: 10/3/2011
Okay, I lied on Friday. Inadvertently, but still. The blog isn't going to be completely back to normal for a bit. Marissa needs to take a break from the Monday posts, and it may be a while before I get up to speed to help her out. We'll get back on that as soon as we can.
In the meantime, I'm swamped with STUFF. Writing stuff, work stuff, kid stuff. The stuff we all juggle, so no excuses really. But it turns out that's good stuff for you, because it means you get a guest post from the amazing Lisa Gail Green of Paranormal Point of View
. If you don't follow her blog, um, WHY NOT? It's excellent. And catch her on twitter too at, you guessed it, @LisaGailGreen
And while you are bouncing around the blogosphere, jump by Cam's blog
too, and leave her some get well wishes for whatever excruciatingly painful thing she did to her neck. Feel better soon, Cam! We love you!
Why I Love First Person
by Lisa Gail Green
I write mainly in first person. There are many amazing books out there written in third. I’m certainly not trying to dismiss it as a valid format. I’ve used it myself on occasion. However, when I started writing in first the difference in my manuscript was amazing. Why? What is it about first that I love so much? Allow me to sing its praises:
- First person forces us to delve inside the mind of our MC. If we don’t know that character inside and out, we will never be able to pull it off and sound authentic. As an actress, I was used to regularly getting “into character.” When I tried first person, something magical happened. I became the character, and expressed myself as that person. Now, when someone is having trouble with voice, I often recommend they try rewriting a page, or even a chapter, in first person. It’s a great exercise whether you decide to stick with it or not.
- First person allows us to present information from a in a skewed perspective. That’s right. The protagonist’scharacter’s viewpoint may not be an accurate view of reality, but that allows us, as writers, to take a few more liberties with our writing. Do your character’s internal thoughts contradict the evidence the reader receives from the dialogue? That's not a bad thing. It can add an extra layer of depth to your story.
- First person constrains the information available to the reader. Particularly if there’s a mystery aspect to your story, it might benefit you to stay within the limitations of a first-person narrative. That way when clues are revealed, the audience discovers them along with the MC. Either way the reader can learn and explore vicariously along with your protag.
- First person allows us more freedom with the writing itself. Does your MC have a particular way of speaking? Does she think in sentence fragments? Does she use incorrect grammar? First person lets us explore these possibilities and gives us an additional way to reveal character through the words they use to tell their story.
- First person can make it easier to use unique description. The way your character interacts with and views her surroundings can be a far more interesting way for the reader to explore your world. And it’s a great vehicle for voice. You know, voice? That thing agents and editors always talk about. Voice is all about perspective, so dig deep and let your MC’s viewpoint shine.
There you have it! Five reasons I think first person
By: Lia Keyes,
One of the most magical storytelling tools in the novelist’s arsenal is that of point of view, or POV for short. Your choice of point of view will determine the quality of the connection your reader feels, not only to your character, but to the point you’re discussing within your story.
Who do you want the [...]
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When you’re a writer you have a clear idea of your story in your own mind, but inevitably you wonder how much of that your readers will actually “get”. I’ve been so lucky with the Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze reviews so far, because everyone who’s looked at it seems to have picked out different elements that delighted me.
The latest is Danielle Mulholland, whose written a detailed and thoughtful piece for the Australian website Media-Culture Reviews. The way she summarizes the story at the beginning of her article shows how perfectly she’s grasped it, before going on to say:
“This is a well written book with wonderful descriptions, exciting new concepts for the young adult mind and set in a futuristic world where space travel and various gadgets are common place for Johnny Mackintosh, the protagonist and albeit unrecognised and unknown saviour of the world.”
Danielle stresses that anyone reading a book series should start with the first one, and of course that’s absolutely right. I worked very hard to make Star Blaze work as a standalone book and some reviewers have picked up on that, but it’s absolutely the case that someone’s enjoyment will be deeper if they follow the story from the beginning. A paragraph follows that:
“Having been compared to J K Rowling, Mansfield has certainly used her tried and true double life technique to justify his main character’s peculiarities. In his ‘normal’ life, Johnny has Mr Wilkins to give him grief like Harry Potter had the Dursleys making his life miserable. In his alternative life, Johnny confronts other enemies, similar to the Potter versus Voldemort saga.”
There are plenty who’d claim to be Jo Rowling’s biggest fan, but I’d put myself forward as a contender for the label, and may at least be her number one author fan. It was a great honour to be able to write the Sunday Telegraph’s Harry Potter quiz a couple of years back. Until I read the Potter books I’d only written for adults, but I fell in love with her story and knew I could be passionate about writing for a similar audience, in a way that wasn’t reflected so well in my more grown up scribblings.
I think to really love a book you’ve got to be able to empathize with its characters. That’s why I didn’t write Johnny Mackintosh as “A long time ago in a galaxy far away”. I’m delighted Danielle’s review has picked up on Johnny’s double life, and the problems he has at his children’s home, of course compounded by goings on at school. That’s because I want my younger readers to be able to put themselves in his shoes (or maybe trainers) so they can relate to half his life, while wishing the other half is something that may just happen to them. Personally, I never found myself longing to be a wizard, but as a child I always dreamt of being whisked off into space by aliens.
It goes without saying that any review of Johnny that also mentions the Harry Potter books is going number among my favourites. As a writer, the most impressive thing about Rowling is the architecture of her story, over all seven volumes. If you re-read her books (and I’m a great re-reader) you’ll be amazed at the clues planted in the first couple that point the reader all the way through to the end of the story, without giving too muc
There are a handful of well-paying (semi-pro and up) fiction markets which exclusively publish horror tales. Go ahead and give Duotrope a good search and you'll see. Some of the best stipulate their dislike for the 1st person POV in their guidelines.
My favorite mode in which to write is 1st person, and some of my favorite horror tales are written with a participant narrator. Think Edgar Allan Poe here, people. Think H.P. Lovecraft's "The Rats in the Walls".
I understand why an editor would want writers to steer clear of the 1st person. I'm sure they've seen enough poorly written, serial killer narratives (or even the ghastly "I die in the end" stories) to choke a proverbial horse. But when the 1st person is done well, a story holds even more sway over my imagination.
Which brings me to Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters by John Lagan. I'm only two tales into the collection ("On Skua Island" and "Mr. Gaunt"), but Lagan has a way with weaving a 1st person story ("On Skua Island") which really left me with the chills. I ran up the stairs from my darkened basement on the way to bed after reading (I have no shame). A 1st person narrative has a way of drawing a reader into the story that doesn't always happen in a more objective POV. When that narrator tells his chilling tale and ends with "I'm feeling rather uneasy tonight," well, I am too. Mr. Lagan's prose is rather thick if not outright baroque, but he has a solid sense of pacing. He plants a seed early, and when the reader returns to find the fully flowered monster, wow.
So editors, I understand. I know the pitfalls of poorly written 1st person horror. But please, please be willing to see the benefits of a well-crafted tale, regardless of the narrative POV.
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I have been in a lot of different writing workshops lately. Just this week I’ve been in 13 writing workshops and have met with 13 different teachers in either reflective practice meetings or planning meetings. Therefore, I have SO MUCH I want to record. Which leads me to my current dilemma: what do I not [...]
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In Alan Haehnel's play Nora's Lost, Nora (the protagonist) suffers from Alzheimer's and wanders away from a nursing home. Her story is told by point-of-view characters, including a younger version of herself (pink and black scarf) and a younger version of her daughter (pink chiffon).
I'm not sure why Haehnel chose to use these point-of-view characters to share Nora's journey, but it works and creates a dramatic effect.
Think about your favorite stories. What's the POV? My favorite is The Great Gatsby, where a young and naive Nick moves into a cottage on Gatsby's property. We learn about the intense love affair between Nick's cousin Daisy and Jay Gatsby through Nick's eyes. And after Jay is killed by a crazed, jealous husband, we learn the deeper truths from Nick.
As storytellers, we choose through whose eyes readers view action and reaction. And, we decide if the protagonist or a point-of-view character earns the privilege of telling all. Can the protagonist be a POV character? Absolutely!
If you're in the planning stages, several exercises can help you determine who should be the storyteller. I have two tried and true methods that work.
- Fracture it. One of my favorite classroom activities to try differing POV's is to fracture or retell a fairy tale (any story will work) by telling the it from a different character's viewpoint. A great example is The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka. In this version, Alexander T. Wolf explains what really happened when he met up with each of the piglets.
- Send a letter. Assume the persona of a standout character from a memorable story and write a letter to a different character in the same book. What's changed? What would you say to that character if given the chance to ask? How does the character feel about the action that took place in the storyline? Any secrets worth sharing? You may be amazed at the insight!
Limiting the involvement of a POV character can cause a few problems in a manuscript. Most importantly, it prevents the reader from seeing a lot of the action as it occurs. Instead, readers learn about what's happened to the main character ONLY after the narrator discovers the truth.
But the benefits of keeping the two separate can aid storytelling. Storylines can continue, which is important if a tragedy befalls the main character. And, a POV character can reflect on what's happening, offering observations that the main character may have never shared or realized.
At the end of Nora's Lost, all POV characters swirl around the old woman as she struggles for her life, memories colliding with reality, strong will clashing with fragility. It's poignant and leaves an impression on the audience.
POV is a powerful storytelling technique that can make or break a piece of work. Who is telling your story?
Photo of O'N'eill St Mary's Drama Department production taken by LuAnn Schindler (who also directed the award-winning play)
by LuAnn Schindler. LuAnn also writes a column for WOW!s Premium Green and freelances for regional publications. Her work is available on her website, http://luannschindler.com/.
This post was originally published on Write Anything, October 21, 2008.
Welcome back to Write Anything NaNoWriMo workshop week!
“The choice of the point(s) of view from which the story is told is arguably the most important single decision that the novelist has to make, for it fundamentally affects the way readers will respond, emotionally and morally, to the fictional characters and their actions.” David Lodge
Let’s talk a little bit about point of view.
When I first became interested in writing, point of view confused me.
First of all, I couldn’t keep them straight. I think the writing teachers I had back in school took great delight in watching our faces contort into all sorts of bewildered masks as they stood in front of the class and talked about the various points of views and when you should, or should not use them.
And if you learned NOTHING else from them, you did not, under any circumstances, combine them in the same story!
*insert horrified gasp*
That point was pounded so much into my brain I actually graduated from college with a lop-sided skull.
Now, you’re lucky if you read a story, any story and from any genre, that doesn’t have at least two different points of view in them. And in some stories, points of view change so fast that it leaves readers scratching their heads trying to figure out 1). which character they’re supposed to be following and 2). exactly whose story is it, anyway?
Even though I understand the difference between the points of view now, I still hesitate over which POV I should write my stories from, because a lot of times, picking the right point of view can make, or break, your story.
But first things first – let’s define the various points of view:
First-Person Singular POV
The most natural POV is the first-person singular, since all stories and trials originate with someone, an “I,” witnessing what happens.
The first person narrator can tell a story with herself as a central character or she can be one of the minor characters. Or she can tell somebody else’s story, barely mentioning herself except to show where the information comes from.
First-Person Multiple POV
You use several first-person narrators and alternate among them, usually beginning a new chapter with each change of narrator. This strategy offers a diversity of voices, viewpoints and ways of thinking without the arrogance of the omniscient sound.
Some pros and cons for First-Person POV:
Pro: It’s technically the least ambiguous. Readers always know who is seeing and experiencing the story. It’s subjective. You’re a bit more free with the voice – using slang, bad grammar, etc. And first person offers smooth access to a character’s thoughts. (You don’t have to worry about awkward switches in pronouns – which CAN get tedious).
Cons: We can’t take an outside look at our POV character. Sure, you could use a mirror, but that’s been overdone and is in fact, cliche – avoid that technique if at all possible. In a suspense story, it’s pretty much a given that an “I” character will survive – kill off your “I” character and the story dies with him/her. And it’s hard to create a compelling new voice for each story.
Third-Person Omniscient POV
In this POV, which is used infrequently in contemporary writing, the author knows everything about all the character
Since I’m exploring point-of-view right now it seemed like it would be a great idea to stick to theme with this week’s quotes:
“The third person narrator, instead of being omniscient, is like a constantly running surveillance tape.” – Andrew Vachss
“The choice of point-of-view will largely determine all other choices with regards to style, diction, characteristic speed of sentences and so on. What the writer must consider, obviously, is the extent to which point-of-view, and all that follow from it, comments on the characters, actions, and ideas.” - John Gardner
“View point must always serve as filter for the voice that is revealing the story.” - Uma Kirishwami
“Consider the difference between the first and third person in poetry… It’s like the difference between looking at a person and looking through their eyes.” – Diana Abu-Jaber
“I like to write first-person because I like to become the character I’m writing.” - Wally Lamb
To continue with my series on Point of Point-of-View, I thought I’d explore the pros and cons of writing your novel using the first person perspective. In this post I’ll lay out the strengths of using the first person point of view, and reasons why you might want to choose it for your book.
Again, using the first person point-of-view means the story is told directly through the eyes (and thoughts) of the protagonist. Whatever your main character sees, thinks, and feels, the audience is a part of. The first person perspective will use the pronoun of “I” and it will give the audience the experience of being inside the character’s head.
Five Pro’s to using the First Person Point-of-View:
1) Immediacy and Connection with the Protagonist. Because the audience is given the experience of being “inside” the protagonist’s head, there is a direct link between protagonist and the audience. Emotions don’t become filtered through the distance of a third person narrator, instead the emotions happen in the moment, as the protagonist feels them. As the protagonist reveals his/her thoughts and fears to the reader an intimacy and connection is created. It is as if the protagonist is confiding in the reader, telling them their innermost secrets like they would a best friend. A lot of young adult novels use first person for this exact reason, it creates an immediate connection with the reader.
2) Believability. Due to the connection created with the reader mentioned above, there is an inherent believability that is created through the first person perspective. In addition, a story told in the third person has a “narrator” and the audience (on some level) will always be aware that they are being “told a story.” The first person perspective breaks down that barrier and the reader has a sense that they are getting a direct account of the events from a primary source. Readers have a tendency to give a first person voice more authority when they hear it.
3) Helps to Develop Character. Since the only view-point of the novel is the protagonist’s the reader is able to spend a lot of time with one character and get to know them. The protagonist is directly telling the story, therefore the “voice” of the book is directly related to the voice of the character. The first person perspective allows for opportunities to show if the protagonist is funny, or philosophical, hyper, or laid back? The author has the choice to share these traits through word choice, sentence structure, and diction. In a way, the first person perspective allows the reader to see how the character thinks and experiences the world around them.
4 Comments on Five Reasons to Write in the First Person Point-of-View, last added: 3/15/2011
Exploiting Point of View to Make Characters Come Aliveby Diane O’Connell
Remember the last time you read a great novel? What was it that stood out the most, that stayed with you long after you closed the last page? Chances are it was the characters. But more than that, it was the way those characters thought and viewed the world around them. In other words, it was their point of view.
POV is — I believe —the most important, yet least understood element of fiction writing. Too many novice writers never go beyond simply deciding whether to use the first person or the third person. They don’t understand how to really use POV to make their characters come alive for the reader.
Ask these five questions to help you exploit your use of POV:1. How does my character view the world?
Is your POV character an innocent naïf or a bitter old man? An unrepentant alcoholic or a genteel housewife? A slick con artist who thinks nothing of screwing an elderly couple out of their life savings, or a public defender who believes in justice for all? Each of these characters will see the world in a very different way. And how they see the world affects every interaction they have.2. What does my character think about?
No one knows what’s really in another person’s mind. But when you fully exploit POV, you invite your readers into the place where your characters feel most at home — their thoughts. And because people’s thoughts are uncensored, this is where you really are telling the truth in a deep way that connects with all of human nature. 3. What are my character’s inner drives?
Suppose your POV character is a vigilante. Just having him take the law into his own hands isn’t enough motivation for readers to fully connect with that character — even if he seems to be justified. You need to determine what drives him deep down inside, whether it’s to “protect the innocent from the scum of the earth” or — as in the case of Batman — to “avenge the brutal murder of his parents.” Readers can forgive a character nearly anything if they understand what drives him.4. How does my character see herself?
A character who sees herself as a helpless victim or hopeless loser will act very differently from the character who believes she’s smarter than others or deserves only the very best that life has to offer. That self-POV determines her actions and relationships. Remember: villains always see themselves as being right.5. What words would my character use to describe what he sees?
Imagine a spring morning in a park. A person mourning over a lost lover might notice the lilacs bending under the weight of the morning dew and think of them as “lugubrious.” A woman desperately longing for motherhood might focus on the apple tree, “pregnant with blossoms.” A man who has just had an argument with his wife over his whereabouts the previous evening might zero in on the ivy that’s “threatening to choke the life out of a tree.”
By exploiting POV, your story will engross your readers. They will become emotionally invested in your characters and will feel a personal stake in what happens to them. Your characters will come alive as real flesh-and-blood people — with strong inner lives that connect to your readers.
In my last post I discussed five reasons to use the first person POV for your writing. This post will explore how that choice might limit you. Please refer back to my first post the point of point-of-view to learn all about the different points-of-view available!
Six Limitations of the First Person Point-of-View:
1) It Imprisons You In One Character: In the first person POV the reader hears all the protagonists thoughts and everything is filtered through their perception. The reader only gets one interpretation of events. John Gardner writes that “first person locks us in one character’s mind, locks us to one kind of diction throughout, locks out the possibilities of going deeply into various characters’ minds, and so forth.” (The Art of Fiction). Is it important to understand other character’s motivations in your novel? If so, first person may not be the right choice. Remember all events will be distorted by the protagonists perception of them.
2) It’s Narcissistic: Again, I’m going to quote Gardner here (who had an uncanny loathing for first person POV) in his book The Art of Fiction he states that the first person POV “can achieve little grandeur. It thrives on intimacy and something like gossip. It peeks through a keyhole, never walks through an open field.” He continues to say that the first person is claustrophobic and creates narcissists of us all. In some ways this is true. We are trapped in one perception constantly saying “I did this,” “I felt that,” “I,” “I,” “I”! The first person POV is introspective and explores only a single character’s experience. It is very limited in scope. First person POV might not be the right for you if you are writing a grand epic.
3) What Gender is Your Narrator? Writing in the first person POV can make it difficult for the reader to know the gender of the protagonist. When one writes in the third person the pronouns of “he” and “she” quickly identify gender. In first person, however, the narrator has to specifically mention their gender or relate themselves to someone of the same gender (or compare themselves to the opposite gender) in order for the reader to be clued in. Have you ever read a first person POV book and you were certain the main character was female, only to find out on page 15 that they are male? I have. Of course this could also be used to one’s advantage. The book Written On the Body by Jeanette Winterson never identifies the first person narrator’s gender, and thus the story becomes an interesting reflection of the reader’s concepts of what actions they deem as male or female.
To continue my series on the point of point of view lets take a look at the use of the third person omniscient POV. In previous posts we discussed the pros and cons of using the first person, now lets consider the use of third person.
There are multiple types of third person POV including:
**Note: There’s also Third Person Objective or Dramatic POV. But I’m going to talk about that later in another post.
Were going to focus on the omniscient POV for this post, which is when the author is “God-like” and can see everything that is happening and is no longer limited to the POV of a single character. Some distinct advantages to this type of point-of-view include:
Five Advantages of the 3rd Person Omniscient POV:
1) It’s Traditional – Once upon a time there was a… Most of the stories we were told as children were created in a third person point of view. There was a narrator and he/she told the story. Therefore it seems very natural to hear a story told in the third person. It harkens back to our deepest concepts of storytelling.
2) Getting to Know Multiple Characters – Third Person Omniscient POV allows the author the freedom to get out of the “claustrophobia” of a single POV and expand our scope. An omniscient POV is able to get inside the minds of multiple characters and delve deeper into emotions and relationships. We move away from a limited filter of a story (remember everyone will tell the events of a story differently) and are able to see how multiple characters react/interpret the events. John Gardner (an advocate for the omniscient POV) says: “In the authorial omniscient, the writer speaks as, in effect, God. He sees into all his characters’ hearts and minds, presents all positions with justice and detachment, occasionally dips into the third person subjective to give the reader an immediate sense of why the character feels as he does, but reserves to himself the right to judge.” (The Art of Fiction).
3) Authorial Voice – One of the draw backs of first person POV is that the voice of the text is the voice of the character. Using the third person, however, allows the authors voice to take the front seat. Marion Dane Bauer says: “There are no limits to your language in third person. You can write about a three-year-old or about a lion
Are there limitations in writing in the Third Person Omniscient point of view? After all the author is “God” and has full reign over the story! Could there possibly be any reason not to use this point of view? Of course, every point-of-view choice comes with its advantages and disadvantages, omniscient does as well. I published a post earlier about the advantages of using the third person omniscient POV, so lets look at look now at some of its limitations:
Issues One Might Run Into Using Third Person Omniscient POV:
1) Transitions: When the author has free reign over their whole world they have a lot of information at their disposal. It can become tricky to decide when to show action and when to transition into the mind of a character (and which character’s mind for that matter). In What’s Your Story by Marion Dane Bauer, she states that “often, writers learning to use third person have trouble moving inside the main character to reveal thoughts and feelings. More stories fail because the writer’s don’t get inside their main character than for any other reason.”
2) Moral Heavy-Handedness: When a writer opts to use a God-like perspective in a novel, they may start to offer God-like judgement for their characters. Beware! Too much “narrative” judgement can turn off a reader and cause them to feel like they’re being preached to.
3) Who’s Story is This? With the ability to pop in and out of multiple character’s thoughts and feelings it may be hard for the reader to know who the protagonist of the story is. Perhaps that’s the point, maybe one is writing an ensemble piece. But be aware that it may take extra care to let the reader know who’s side (if any) they should be on.
4) Distance: The omniscient POV can often be the most distant from the reader. First person offers intimacy, where third omniscient creates a distance. A skillful writer can still get inside a character’s head and offer emotions and feelings, but some writers find this difficult (this relates back to the first limitation of transitions). Distance can also be created through the omniscient voice as well as the narrator voice that tells the story.
What limitations have you found while using the Omniscient POV? What about as a reader? Do you prefer this POV or do you like one that’s closer? Why?
3 Comments on Limitations of Writing in the Omniscient POV, last added: 4/15/2011
“I’m looking for great voice!” That’s what every editor and agent in the business keeps saying over and over. Yet, at the same time they have trouble describing voice. “I can’t describe it,” they say. “But, I’ll know it when I read it.”
But what is it? And how do we writers find our voice?
This is a complex topic. But I’ve discovered that one great way to discover the power of voice (and what it is for that matter) is to experiment with point-of-view. Choosing a point of view for your story will greatly influence the narrative voice of your novel. It’s a lot more than pronouns. It’s about perspective, and “who” is telling the story. The story of one event will be told differently depending upon the POV. Choosing to tell a story from inside a protagonist’s head (first person) or from an omniscient narrator is going to create vastly different voices.
Don’t believe me? Try the following exercise and see what happens.
Point of View Exercise:
Step One: Find two paragraphs of your present work-in-progress that includes an event with multiple characters and no dialog. (Or write two new paragraphs).
Step Two: Identify the POV you wrote those paragraphs in (i.e. first person, third person limited, omniscient etc.) and skip the step below that is the POV you originally used.
Step Three: Rewrite your paragraphs from the POV of your protagonist using first person.
Step Four: Rewrite your paragraphs from the POV of another character interacting in the scene using third person limited.
Step Five: Rewrite your paragraphs using dramatic POV.
Step Six: Rewrite your paragraphs using omniscient POV.
Step Seven: Rewrite your paragraphs from the POV of a character outside the action, who watches but doesn’t interact. Use the third person limited.
Step Eight: Now compare your paragraphs. What changed in each POV? How did the voice change? How did the diction and word choices change? How did the distance from the scene change? How does the narrator or character’s attitude change the voice?
Now tell us how it went!!!
Also, check out these other great links on voice and point of view: