The Power of Point of View
By Alicia Rasley
(Writer’s Digest Books, 272 pp)
Scope: Point of view (POV) options and what each can bring to your novel
Overview: This book is an in-depth look at POV. It explores each of the basic POVs—first person, second person, and third person—as well as subcategories like third person impersonal (objective and omniscient) and single/multiple POV. It begins by answering what POV is and how it affects a story’s narrative. From there the book examines the pros and cons of each POV choice along with creative variations and genre considerations.
What’s great about this book, is that it delves far beyond the basics. Take for example first person POV. There’s more to it than just the “I” pronoun. You can write single or multiple first person POV. Sequential or alternating. Omniscient or intimate. Epistolary. The narrator could be unreliable, ironic, present in the action or removed from it completely. The numerous options come alive in this book, with examples and exercise to facilitate understanding. The book relates POV to theme, character perception, and narrative distance. In the end, it makes the point that POV is one of the strongest ways to focus and enhance the way a reader experiences a story.
- “[POV] is the perspective from which the reader experiences the action of story.”
This perspective includes the narrator’s thoughts, emotions, and perceptions (sights, sounds, tastes, etc).
- “One way to make fresh the familiar story structure is through point of view.”
Consider Pride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones’s Diary. The Wizard of Oz and Wicked. Each was fundamentally the same story told from a fresh perspective.
- “Rather than conceiving a story with desire to write in a particular POV (‘I’m just dying to write in omniscient!’), think instead about the story you want to write and then determine which POV will help you best tell this story.”
Each POV has it’s own strengths and weaknesses. There are also thematic implications and genre conventions. All this has bearing on your POV choice and will shape the reader experience.
- “How the POV character describes a setting tells us not only about his surroundings but also about how he perceives, what he perceives, and how he feels about it.”
POV can enhance/reveal character. Imagine yourself in the shoes of your POV character. Are they an introvert or extrovert? Auditory or visual? How do they see the world or experience a particular event?
- “Head-hopping, like bed-hopping, is promiscuous: too much intimacy with too many people.”
It’s okay to use multiple POVs, even within the same scene, but do so deftly (reorient the reader by using the POV character’s name or a “head word” like thought or wondered) and for a specific purpose.
- “Even after you’ve chosen your POV approach and gotten to know your characters, there’s still one more element to consider as you craft a scene. That’s the level of POV you’ll be in at any given moment, from a surface perspective to a deep emotional level.”
Use differing levels of POV distance to enhance your scenes. Action without much feeling can work well for a combat sequence or other fast-paced scene. The sensory level of POV (sights, sounds, smells, etc) can be important when a character enters a new setting. Describing character thoughts and emotions can heighten intimacy. Move in and out of these various levels as it suits your story.