Point of View: Whose Head Is This?
As promised last week, I'm going to focus the next few posts on my workshops and panels during Imaginarium. Although this won't substitute for the workshops, I can share some highlights.
This week, we're going to explore point of view.
What is Point of View?
A story must be told from someone's experiences or mind. This is your point of view (POV) character. When we're in someone's POV, we only know and experience what they know and experience. If they can think it, smell it, hear it, feel it, assume it, etc., we can share that information.
For example if we're in Adana's POV in The Watchers of Moniah, we know what Adana knows. Not what other people in the scene know. That means we can interpret only through the filter of Adana's perceptions. Here's an example of Adana's POV when she sees Empress Gabriella of Belwyn for the first time.
Adana paused on the edge of the gathering, surveying the area. A petite woman [Gabriella], an overabundance of brown curls spilling across her shoulders and back, stood on a raised platform beside Kiffen and his father. She wore a deep purple colored gown, much simpler in design than Elwarian fashion. As Adana moved toward the platform, the woman leaned in toward Kiffen, laying a gentle hand on his arm. The young prince inclined his head toward the olive-skinned beauty. Adana halted. A flash of irritation pulsed through her. Kiffen obviously preferred dark-haired, tiny women.*
Notice we see what she sees and know her thoughts. We have no idea what Kiffen or the empress are thinking. We just know Adana's impressions. Also, notice how she sees Gabriella's hair as an overabundance. This reveals more about Adana's opinion of Gabriella at this point.
Do I Use First or Third Person Point of View?
If your story is written in first person, you use the pronoun "I" as opposed to she or he in third person. The example above is in third person. We are in Adana's POV, but she is not telling the story as if she's speaking to us.
First person tells the story as if the POV character is speaking to the reader.
I stand at the entrance to the dining room. Where was I when I forgot? Where was I when I realized I had forgotten? There. Right next to those stupid overhanging cabinets. I’ve bumped my head on them a million times.**
It's up to you to decide whether you want to tell your story in first person or third person. Some people try to do omniscient, which means you don't settle into one person's POV, but you shift between them within a scene, commonly known as head-hopping. This is not an acceptable method in today's market. You can find books written this way, but they are rarely books written in the last two decades.
What If I Want to Use More Than One Point of View?
That is if you follow the rules.
When you write in multiple POVs, you must have a scene break or a new chapter before you switch point of view. A scene break is a blank line between paragraphs. This tells the reader that we're shifting in the story in some way. It can be a different POV or it might be a transition to another place or later time.
I do this in The Watchers of Moniah trilogy. The key is to limit your POVs and to make sure each character has their own voice. If they all sound the same, your reader will get confused as to whose POV they are experiencing. Also, make sure the first sentence of the new POV makes it clear whose POV you are using.
How Do I Decide?
Choosing the POV for your story is an important decision to make. If you're not sure whether to use first or third person, try writing different scenes in both forms. Whichever one feels richer will give you a clue as to which person to use. Also, the point of view character should be the one the events in the current scene impacts the most.
Of course, many books are written in one POV. If you choose this approach, this will be your story's protagonist.
* From The Watchers of Moniah, New Mythology Press
**From Pieces in the moonShine review, Vol. 9, Issue 1