Before a writer can type—or pen—even the opening line of any work of fiction, they must first make a decision regarding the point-of-view (POV). That is, Who’s going to tell the story?
Generally, there are three options.
- Third-person Limited
- Simple to manage.
- An anonymous narrator tells the story.
- The anonymous narrator reveals the thoughts and feelings of key—or even all—characters in each scene.
2. Third-person Limited
- Challenging to manage.
- One to three key characters in the book tell the story, each scene being limited to the POV of one character.
- One key character in each scene conjectures the thoughts and feelings of the other characters based on what they say, do, or reveal through their body language or facial expressions.
- Simple to manage.
- The primary character tells their own story.
- The primary character conjectures the thoughts and feelings of the other characters based on what they say, do, or reveal through their body language or facial expressions.
Readers of fiction invest their time in order to experience and to feel. Their hope is to discover a story so well crafted that they can engage with its characters. They want to step inside the characters’ heads with such abandon that it’s as if they become those characters.
In order for that to happen, the writer must make the story’s world—its characters, setting, and plot—so convincing, the reader can’t help but become immersed in it. It’s a sales job, and it involves two things—engaging the reader, and insulating the reader.
To engage the reader is to get them so emotionally involved in the experiences and feelings of the story that the real world around them fades away. Then, once you have them, insulate the reader from any intrusions or interruptions that could jar them back into reality. In other words, make the reader forget they’re reading.
I believe the omniscient POV gets inside the heads of too many characters. If a story is 300 pages long, and there are three points of view, that sifts down to 100 pages per character. If there are only two points of view, each character has 150 pages in which to engage. The fewer the points of view, the more easily—and the deeper—the reader connects.
On the other hand, the first-person POV has too few points of view. As the primary character tells their story, the constant reminder is that this is their story. Did you get that—their story. It may be more easy for the reader to engage emotionally, but I believe it’s more difficult for the reader to become the character, to disengage from the real world around them.
I write in third-person limited because it’s a challenge. Each scene is limited to one character’s POV. Since I write love stories, my novels contain only two viewpoints—the hero’s and the heroine’s.
The first challenge is in selecting the best POV for each particular scene. I usually write the scene through the eyes of the character whose life or emotions are going to take the biggest hit by what’s happening. But sometimes, after I finish the scene, something tells me—you know how that is—to start over and rewrite it through the other character’s eyes. I’m never disappointed; that second shot at it always ends up being the one with the emotional punch.
The second challenge is to not slip-up by revealing something a non-POV character is thinking. If it’s not their scene, I can’t take the reader inside their head; I’m limited to what the other character says, does, or expresses through body language or facial expressions.
But then, I don’t take the easy way when I write. I enjoy stretching myself, approaching a challenge and crafting my way through it. I prefer to push the limits—especially my own.