Crafting Fabulous Fiction:
My Point of View on Point of View (Part One)

by Victoria Grossack

Return to Crafting Fabulous Fiction · Return to Article
May 2, 2013

Point of View (POV) is a large and complicated topic, and your POV choices have many implications for your storytelling. Because of this, I'll cover the topic in two columns. Here we will consider the definition of POV and look at some examples of a passage being told from several different POVs. Later we will consider the implications of the application of POV for your storytelling -- as well as some ways to get around strictures that may seem too limiting.

POV -- definition and examples

POV refers to the viewpoint of a character through which the events of the story are experienced. If you are in first person, then the narrator's POV is nearly always the POV for the story. If you are writing in third person, you can choose to remain with a single character for your entire work (limited); you can skip around; or you can use the omniscient third person.

In order to make this easier for you to understand, here are several versions of the same passage:

First Person Pov -- Kate

I glanced at the clock over the kitchen sink as Dad twisted the cap off the beer bottle. It was his third in less than an hour.

"How are you feelin', Kate?" he asked, his tone friendly despite the alcohol. "You ready for the big day?"

I scratched the mosquito bite on my arm and did my best to smile at him, even though I felt sick and exhausted from the pregnancy. "As ready as I can be, I guess."

"All your dreams are comin' true. You're gonna live in that big house."

"Yeah," I said, nibbling on a cracker. I passed Springville's only mansion -- the Marshall Manor -- twice most days, as I made my way from the trailer park to the school and back. Now I was going to move into it, thanks to the fact that Thomas Marshall IV, my pimply-faced classmate who did not resemble his handsome forefathers, had gotten me pregnant. We were getting married tomorrow. Despite our youth, his mother had consented, and my wedding dress, a gift from the Marshalls, hung from a hook before my tiny closet. "I'm going to bed now."

"Now?" asked my father. "You're not staying up with me?"

"I'm really tired." I went to the corner where my bed was, and stretched out on the thin mattress. Even though the evening was oppressively warm, I covered myself with a sheet. And even though I had so much to think about, so much to anticipate, I fell asleep at once.

I woke while it was still dark. I was so hot that I was sweating.

What sort of night was it, which got hotter instead of cooler? I pushed the sheet off me; a wave of nausea hit me, for the air smelled funny.

I blinked for a moment in the darkness, then sprang out of bed, darting over to my father and shaking his shoulder. "Dad! Wake up! The trailer's on fire!"

Comments: Some authors dislike writing the word "I" over and over. They may also feel that writing in the first person does not give them enough scope, for the story is limited to whatever is experienced or discovered by Kate.

Third Person Limited Pov -- Kate

Her father twisted the cap off the beer bottle. She glanced at the clock over the kitchen sink. It was his third in less than an hour.

"How are you feelin', Kate?" he asked, and his tone seemed friendly despite the alcohol. "You ready for the big day?"

She scratched the mosquito bite on her arm and did her best to smile at him, even though she felt sick and exhausted from the pregnancy. "As ready as I can be, I guess."

"All your dreams are comin' true. You're gonna live in that big house."

"Yeah," she said, nibbling on a cracker. She passed Springville's only mansion -- the Marshall Manor -- twice most days, as she made her way from the trailer park to the school and back. Now she was going to move into it, thanks to the fact that Thomas Marshall IV, her pimply-faced classmate who did not resemble his handsome forefathers, had gotten her pregnant. They were getting married tomorrow. Despite their youth, his mother had consented, and Kate's wedding dress, a gift from the Marshalls, hung from a hook before her tiny closet. "I'm going to bed now."

"Now?" he asked. "You're not staying up with me?"

"I'm really tired." She went to the corner where her bed was, and stretched out on the thin mattress. Even though the evening was oppressively warm, she covered herself with a sheet. And even though she had so much to think about, so much to anticipate, she fell asleep at once.

She woke while it was still dark. She was so hot that she was sweating.

What sort of night was it, which got hotter instead of cooler? She pushed off the sheet; a wave of nausea hit her, for the air smelled funny.

She blinked for a moment in the darkness, then sprang out of bed and shook her father's shoulder. "Dad! Wake up! The trailer's on fire!"

Comments: Even though the person has changed, from first to third, the story is very much the same. This is as it should be, for the POV is still Kate's, so the story is not changed. As in the first person narration, we are limiting ourselves to whatever is experienced or discovered by Kate. Note that shifting from first person to third person requires attention to detail; even after several passes, I still found pronouns that needed to be altered.

Third Person Limited Pov - George, Kate's Dad

George twisted the cap off the beer bottle. It was his third, but the air was hot and the beer was cold. Besides, drinking was a sight easier than talking to his pregnant teenage daughter.

"How are you feelin', Kate?" he asked, trying to make conversation. "You ready for the big day?"

She scratched a mosquito bite on her arm. "As ready as I can be, I guess."

"All your dreams are comin' true. You're gonna live in that big house."

"Yeah," she said, nibbling on a cracker. "I'm going to bed now."

"Now?" he asked, unable to keep the disappointment out of his voice. "You're not staying up with me?"

"I'm really tired."

He knew she could not wait to get away from him and this trailer. Hell, he could understand that! He'd like to live in a big house, too. But he was stuck here; he couldn't bat his eyelashes at some pimply-faced rich boy and get himself pregnant.

Women had it good. They latched on to some male, and if a fellow didn't provide enough in the way of shoes and entertainment, they just dumped him and moved on. Like Jill, Kate's mother, nearly eight years ago.

George pulled out another beer. It was going to be a long, dull evening. First Jill, now Kate -- before she finished high school, even. It was going to be a long, dull life.

He watched the fireflies blinking and glanced hopefully at the window of the next trailer over -- sometimes he could see the woman next door changing. But the window was dark. He drained his bottle. He needed a lot of beer before he could sleep like Kate was doing in the corner. But he finally staggered to his own bed.

He was dreaming of wandering around a mansion in search of his trailer when a hand shook his shoulder. "Wha--?" he asked.

"Dad! Wake up! The trailer's on fire!"

Comments: The passage from George's POV is significantly different from the two passages from Kate's POV. The passage now incorporates George's thoughts and feelings, as well as what he experiences. Again, because we are using the limited variant of POV, the reader only has access to whatever is experienced or discovered by George. A small point: the mosquito bite on Kate's arm is no longer preceded by the article "the" but by the indeterminate article "a" -- a recognition that the mosquito bite is more significant to Kate than it is to George.

Third Person Limited Multiple -- Both Kate & George

Thirsty, he twisted the cap off the beer bottle. She glanced at the clock over the kitchen sink. It was his third in less than an hour.

Comments: This actually shows both POVs within the same paragraph. The word "thirsty" indicates that it is GEORGE'S POV, for he is better positioned to understand how he physically feels. The next two sentences are really from KATE'S POV, because she's the one glancing at the clock and apparently counting her father's beers.

Let's continue with this version of the passage:

"How are you feelin', Kate?" he asked, the beer giving him the strength to make conversation with his pregnant daughter. "You ready for the big day?"

She scratched a mosquito bite on her arm and did her best to smile at him, even though she was exhausted from the pregnancy and a wave of nausea hit her. "As ready as I can be, I guess."

"All your dreams are comin' true. You're gonna live in that big house."

"Yeah," she said, nibbling on a cracker. She had passed Springville's only mansion -- the Marshall Manor -- twice most days, as she made her way from the trailer park to the school and back. Now she was going to move into it, thanks to the fact that Thomas Marshall IV, her classmate whose appearance was not worthy of his handsome forefathers, had gotten her pregnant. They were getting married tomorrow. Despite their youth, his mother had consented, and Kate's wedding dress, a gift from the Marshalls, hung from a hook before her tiny closet. "I'm going to bed now."

"Now?" he asked, unable to keep the disappointment out of his voice. "You're not staying up with me?"

"I'm really tired." She went to the corner where her bed was, and stretched out on the thin mattress. Even though the evening was oppressively warm, she covered herself with a sheet. And even though she had so much to think about, so much to anticipate, she fell asleep at once.

George knew she could not wait to get away from him and this trailer. Hell, he could understand that! He'd like to live in a big house, too. But he was stuck here; he couldn't bat his eyes at some pimply-faced rich boy and get himself pregnant.

Women had it good. They latched on to some male, and if he didn't provide enough in the way of shoes and entertainment, they just dumped him and moved on. Like Jill, Kate's mother, nearly eight years ago.

Comments: In the passage above -- which I ended earlier because the point was made and this column is already rather long -- we see the POVs of both Kate and George. One consequence of showing both POVs is that the passage simply takes longer -- a result of there being more story to tell. I confess to not liking hopping between heads -- especially within a single paragraph -- but some very successful authors occasionally do it.

Third Person Omniscient

The father and the daughter sat together in the small trailer. The daughter was counting the minutes until she could go to bed, partly because she wanted the morning to come sooner, and have this last day of living with her father be finished, and partly because she was so unreasonably tired. She supposed it was the pregnancy that made her tired, although why it should, she didn't know.

The father was also uncomfortable. He twisted the cap off another beer bottle and brought it to his lips. Finally he spoke. "How you feelin', Kate? You ready for the big day?"

Comments: Notice how these two paragraphs, all that I will show, don't delve as deeply inside the head of either of the characters, but are more distant, referring to the characters as "the father" and "the daughter." Instead, this POV addresses the reader more directly. You may opt to remain at this level. Or, you may opt to begin in this POV, a sort of introduction for the reader, and then slip into a writing style which is more intimately linked to one of the characters. Switching between the omniscient and the limited third is done quite often.

Conclusion

Hopefully, the examples in this column will help you to recognize the differences between the various versions of POV. Although as a writer you may shift between POVs, and you may mix and match, doing so requires care. If you are writing a novel in third person limited from Kate's POV, you should pause before inserting a single paragraph from George's POV. Breaking POV -- especially going from one character's head to another -- can jar or even confuse the reader. Your decision to break this POV should be deliberate rather than haphazard.

In My Point of View on Point of View, Part Two, we'll continue this important subject. See you soon!

Find Out More...

Establishing the Right Point of View: How to Avoid "Stepping Out of Character" - Marg Gilks
http://www.writing-world.com/fiction/POV.shtml

Headhopping, Authorial Intrusion, and Shocked Expressions - Anne Marble
http://www.writing-world.com/fiction/headhop.shtml

My Point of View on Point of View (Part Two) - Victoria Grossack
http://www.writing-world.com/victoria/crafting20.shtml

Viewpoint, Perspective and Time - Will Greenway
http://www.writing-world.com/fiction/greenway2.shtml

Column Index

Copyright © 2013 Victoria Grossack
A version of this article appeared at the Coffeehouse for Writer's Fiction Fix.
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.


Victoria Grossack studied Creative Writing and English Literature at Dartmouth College, and has published stories and articles in such publications as Contingencies, Women's World and I Love Cats. She is the author of Crafting Fabulous Fiction, a step-by-step guide to developing and polishing novels and short stories that includes many of her beloved columns. With Alice Underwood, she co-authors the Tapestry of Bronze series (including Jocasta, Mother-Wife of Oedipus; The Children of Tantalus; and Antigone & Creon), based on Greek myths and set in the late Bronze Age. Her independent novels include The Highbury Murders, in which she does her best to channel the spirits and styles of Jane Austen and Agatha Christie, and Academic Assassination (A Zofia Martin Mystery). Victoria is married with kids, and (though American) spends much of her time in Europe. Her hobbies include gardening, hiking, bird-watching and tutoring mathematics. Visit her website at http://www.tapestryofbronze.com, or contact her at tapestry (at) tapestryofbronze (dot) com.

Want to learn more about crafting fabulous fiction? Get one-on-one guidance with Victoria Grossack's personal writing class; find out more at http://www.tapestryofbronze.com/VictoriasWritingClasses.html.


 

Copyright © 2017 by Moira Allen. All rights reserved.
All materials on this site are the property of their authors and may not be reprinted
without the author's written permission, unless otherwise indicated.
For more information please contact Moira Allen, Editor