Point Of View (POV)

By Jeanne Marie Leach

POV is the particular viewpoint from which the reader hears the story. When Grandpa tells a story, the children hear it from his point of view. When both Grandma and Grandpa are telling a story together, and one interrupts the other to interject their thoughts and feelings about the story, then there are multiple points of view.

There are three major POVs.

  •  Omniscient – Where the writer is like a floating being, describing everything from everyone’s view. This is often called “head-hopping” and is the least desirable in today’s writing. In fact, a book written in omniscient POV is rarely seen these days. The following is an example of the omniscient POV.

Joyce stomped her foot. “I demand to know why you are going to town without me.” She knew something was up, but what?

Mary looked at her daughter, upset at the way she was acting. “I already told you why you couldn’t go today. Now, drop it.”

Joyce’s father, who had heard everything, walked into the kitchen. “I don’t like the way you are talking to your mother, young lady.” He’d had enough of the girl’s lip for one day.

In this example, you are told how each person feels at that particular moment. It is frequently called ‘head hopping’ because the writer is jumping from inside one head to the other, telling the reader how each character feels at that particular moment.

  • First person – This is a story told from only one perspective, that of the main character. Below is an example of the same scene above, but from first person POV.

I stomped my foot. “I demand to know why you are going to town without me.” I remember being very angry with my mother at that time. What could they be hiding?

“I already told you why you couldn’t go today. Now drop it.” My mother wrinkled her forehead. I knew that look. I’d upset her.

Just then, my father walked into the kitchen and looked straight at me. I gulped, hoping he hadn’t heard everything I’d said to Mom. “I don’t like the way you’re talking to your mother, young lady. I’ve had enough of your lip for one day.”

You get the same story, but as told through the eyes of the girl. Anything she can’t actually see or hear or know cannot be “told” to the reader, such as the last line about the father having enough of her lip for one day, and the part about her father hearing everything before coming in. She wouldn’t know that for sure, so it couldn’t be printed here unless Father actually said it. In the omniscient POV, the writer told the reader what the father’s reaction was. However, in first person, Joyce couldn’t tell the reader that because she can’t get inside his head and know what he is thinking. This is a very difficult POV in which to work, but when done well, it creates a very nice story, and you get deep inside the character.

  • Third person, past tense – This is the most prevalent POV in the Christian writer’s marketplace today. This is told by a third party, but from only one character’s POV per scene, but as it happened in the past. Note the difference in the scene.

Joyce stomped her foot. “I demand to know why you are going to town without me.” She knew something was up, but what?

Her mother looked at her in that way that told Joyce she was upset. Her gray eyes looked even stormier than usual, and she furrowed her brow. “I already told you why you couldn’t go today. Now drop it.”

Just then her father walked into the kitchen. “I don’t like the way you’re talking to your mother, young lady.”

Had he heard everything? Joyce hoped not.

Again, as in First Person POV, you get the scene from only one person’s perspective – Joyce. But the difference is that it isn’t actually Joyce telling the story. There is a “third person” or “narrator” telling the story through Joyce’s eyes.

  • There is one last POV, but is rarely used, and that is second person POV. This is similar to first person, but substitutes you instead of I. It is always written in present tense.

Joyce stomps her foot. “I demand to know why you are going to town without me.” Her anger registers on her face.

As her mother, you look at her in that way that tells Joyce you are upset. You furrow your brow at her for even more effect. “I already told you why you couldn’t go today. Now drop it.”

Her father walks into the kitchen just then. “I don’t like the way you’re talking to your mother, young lady.”

Had he heard everything? You can see it in Joyce’s face. She certainly hopes not.

Beginning writers commonly make the mistake of changing POVs too often in their novels. This is also called, “head hopping.” If the author has jumped from inside one character’s head to another, or switched from first person to third in the same scene, this must be changed. The author must figure out which character’s POV would work best for the scene and then stick to it. They must only write what the POV character can see, think, feel, taste and know.

Now, before you send me comments on how you read this book that didn’t stick to one POV per scene, I realize there are authors who have managed to “break” the POV rules and write a compelling story while using more than one type of POV. That’s okay if done well. But randomly switching POV from one paragraph to another rarely works for today’s sophisticated readers.

Note: As a general rule, short stories and flash fiction should be told in one viewpoint only.

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