Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Juggling Point of View

Have you ever had trouble with Point of View when reading a novel? Do you stumble when the author jumps from one character's thoughts to another's (head hopping)? Does it pull you out of the story and make you wish you were at the movies instead?

Recently my writing critique group were discussing how to best explain 'head hopping' to new writers and also how to handle Point of View in our own writing. Our characters might happily jump from scene to scene  like puppets on a string, but every now and then we unintentionally cross the threads of the story, tangling the whole plot and confusing our readers.

So to avoid twisting our characters in knots I have invited Dee White to my blog today to explain 'Point of View'. Dee is visiting here Under the Apple Tree as part of her Tuesday Writing Tips blog tour.

Hi Dee!
Grab a spot on the blanket in the shade. The coffee is ready. Some of our other visitors might want to have a cuppa with us too. Do you want cream with your apple pie?

Hi Angela, thanks for inviting me here today. No thanks, just the pie will be fine.

So Dee, tell us how you decide on the best point of view when writing your stories. Is it a matter of just choosing your main characters?

Angela, to know which point of view suits your story, you have to understand the options first. Here's an explanation:


First person point of view uses ‘I’ or ‘we’.

It allows the narrator to tell their own story. This point of view tends to be used where the story is concerned with the emotions of, and outcomes for a particular character. This is the POV I used in Letters to Leonardo because I wanted the reader to get close to Matt, my main character. But I varied the format; changing from narrative to letters and back again – using the letters to reveal more intimate things about Matt.

First person POV is limited in that it only allows the reader and the writer to see, hear, think and feel what the main character sees, hears, thinks and feels.

A way around this however, is to tell the story in first person from more than one character’s point of view.

Street Racer, the current YA novel I am working on is written in first person from the point of view of two characters, Rick and Kate. I have chosen very different voices and formats for each of them to tell their story. Angela, this is a way to ‘head hop’ even if you are writing in ‘first person’.

To avoid confusion, I change the point of view at the end of each section or chapter – this makes it very clear whose story is being told, and whose POV it’s being told from.

Yes, Dee. I enjoy reading first person Point of View.It makes me feel very close to the main character. But what about 3rd person? This is the Point of View I use the most in my writing. Do you have any advice on avoiding problems here?


Third person allows for more description and information. But it still enables you to tell a story from a single or multiple points of view.

Third Person Intimate or Limited

Third person intimate/limited is very much like first person. It limits you to only seeing, hearing, thinking, feeling and understanding one character, but you can find out additional things about them in the story.

For example,

Chris lay on the soft ground next to the goal post wondering how he would ever face the team again. If only he’d taken more time – if only he’d sunk the kick. Chris had played with the Roosters for the last three years and in all that time he’d never missed a goal. Now when it really mattered he hadn’t been able to handle the pressure. He’d let the team down, and Dad would be furious with him. He was the Rooster’s coach and had high expectations of his son.

Here we can see what is happening from Chris’s POV.

Third Person Omniscient

This is the point of view that allows you to head hop from one character to another. You, the writer, know everything about all the characters and can go in and out of their heads and report on their feelings and thoughts. It allows you to tell the reader things that none of the other character knows.

For example

Chris slumped on the soft ground next to the goal post wondering how he would ever face the team again. If only he’d taken more time – if only he’d sunk the kick. Chris had played with the Roosters for the last three years and in all that time he’d never missed a goal. Now when it really mattered he hadn’t been able to handle the pressure.

“You let the team down! You let me down!” Jeff Mason dragged his son up by the shoulder. He loved being coach of the Roosters, and he hated losing – especially when his own son was to blame. How could he have missed from that distance? “Come on we’re going home.” Jeff strode towards the waiting Mercedes, glancing behind every now and then to make sure Chris was following.

Neither of them saw the Rooster’s captain, Joel Anderson sneak up to the car and slash each tyre, one by one.

Here you can see what’s going on in Chris and Jeff’s head, and information is being revealed that they don’t know about.

The important thing about whichever point of view you are writing in is that it has to be consistent. You have to stay in that POV. You can’t change from first to third person mid stride.

If you are writing in third person omniscient, it’s possible to have more than one point of view in a scene, but you need to make sure that it flows from one POV to the other – and it’s not a good idea to change mid sentence.

If you stumble over the transition bits or they seem clunky then the reader will find this too. Changing POV mid-scene can also weaken the tension that you have gone to so much trouble to build.

If you are writing from one character’s POV then they can’t know what is going on inside another character’s head unless that character tells them. Just like you can’t know what’s really going on in someone else’s head unless they tell you.

Angela, I hope this clears up some of the ‘mystery’ around POV. Thanks for your question, and for inviting me to your blog.

Thanks Dee, it does. I guess it's like driving along behind another car. You know what you (your POV character) are seeing, thinking and feeling, but you can't know what is happening in the mind of the other driver (character). And your reader can't know either.

Dee, thanks so much! I really appreciate you calling in today to talk about Point of View. I've been enjoying your blog tour and just want to point out to visitors that you can see more of Dee's tour at the blogs and dates below:

2ND February 2010
Claire Saxby’s blog
Writing Picture Books - Leaving room for the illustrator.

9th February 2010
Dee White’s blog
Reviewing ‘There Was an Old Sailor’
Reviewing vs Editing skills.

16th February 2010
Sandy Fussell’s blog
Writers Need to be avid free range readers

23rd February 2010
Robyn Opie’s blog
How to make your story longer – adding layers.

If you have any comments or questions for Dee or myself, please post them below. We'd love to hear from you!

Dee, do you have time for another slice before you go?


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Angela and Dee. Lots of useful information here.

I mostly use 3rd (intimate) POV in my writing as I find it allows me to get inside the main character's head, and also gives the freedom to pull in setting, description, other characters at the same time in a natural way. It can also be used to switch to other characters' POV in separate chapters.

First Person POV can be successfully inserted into stories that are mainly told in Third Person POV - to me it's like the occasion bite of Blue Cheese amongst the selection on a cheese board. Delicious!

Sandy Fussell said...

I generally write in first person. I find this helps me become my character - because even as storyteller my view of the world is only what my character knows and sees.

Excellent article info Dee. I printed it out and filed it in my workshop folder. Lots of good examples there I can use when explaining to young writers.

Tina C said...

Hey Angela and Dee

Nice blog post! A lot of great info on POV clearly advised and easy to understand - thank you.

Well done!

Bye 4 now

Anonymous said...

Thanks Angela,

I've had a lovely visit - and the apple pie was delicious. I shouldn't have had the extra slice, but couldn't help myself - okay, time for a very long walk with the dog:-)

Thanks everyone for dropping in. Angela makes fabulous apple pie, doesn't she?


Angela Sunde. said...

Thanks everyone for calling in. It was so much fun having you visit, Dee. I look forward to visiting you one day. Hope to see you in a couple of weeks up in Bris.

Anonymous said...

Sorry I'm late! And I missed a slice of pie. But thanks, heaps! I'm still digesting the alterntives and thinking about which ones I've tried and which suit 'me' best.
PS This tetchy system won't accept my normal ID so here I am in another disguise

Angela Sunde. said...

Thanks for visiting, Mabel. Nice to see you here. Don't worry, sometimes I have apple strudel too.