Writing Tips: Nailing Point Of View

There’s nothing more fun as a reader than slipping wholly into the point of view of a character.

It’s also creatively satisfying to be a writer who can master such a skill.

Writing your book from the perspectives of your characters and getting it right forms a connection for both you and the reader, so if it’s a part of your writing that you’d like to nail, give these tips a try.

Writing Tips: Nailing Point Of View

Work Out Your Numbers

If you’re planning to write from the POV of just one character, congratulations, you already have your answer for this step!

If you are going to write from multiple POV’s then you need to decide on a number.

This involves taking a look at your cast of characters and seeing who is worthy, because as talented as you are at writing from the perspective of the shop owner the MC runs by in chapter three, if they aren’t an integral part of the story, skip their POV.

You need to stick to the characters who will move the plot forward and are significant. Whatever that number of characters is, that’s the amount of POV’s you’ll need to have.

This number can go up and down as you write, and you might change everything three drafts in, but if you can start the first draft with a basic idea, you’re off to a great start.

Plot Your Changes

Once you’ve got your POV number, you’ll need to plot when you’ll be changing from one POV to another.

This is an important step in getting the POV right, and a lesson I learned the hard way. My series Blackbirch has multiple POVs, but an early draft didn’t have a switch from the MC’s POV to another character until six chapters in. An early beta reader rightly flagged this as being confusing and jarring, which hadn’t occurred to me.

If you’re writing in multiple POV’s, make it clear early in your MS. Start the second chapter with a different POV, or swap scene-by-scene from the get-go. Plot where your POV changes will happen (if you’re a pantser and not a planner, you can do this after you’ve written the first draft) and your POV changes should be clear and not the wrong kind of surprise for your readers.

Choose The Correct “Person”

Once you know how many POV’s you’ll need and how often you’ll change them, decide on your “person”.

When writing a POV, it’s either from First Person (I), Second Person (You), or Third Person (Her, She, They). If you aren’t sure which to go with, First and Third are usually the most popular. First creates a very personal POV, while third is a little more distant.

Check your favorite books, or books popular in your genre, if you need some help making the decision, or go with the one you’re most comfortable writing.

Switch Consistently

When it comes to the POV changes you’ve so carefully planned, make sure you’re consistent.

Frame your POV switch with a scene break or a chapter break and stick to that formula. Don’t start with one character’s POV, slip into a different character’s POV for a sentence or two, and then back to the first character. All you’ll do is confuse the reader—not to mention give yourself a head-hopping mess to clean up on your next edit!

It’s also important to be consistent with the type of POV. Third-person omnipresent POV, for example, allows a third person (the narrator) to view everyone’s point of view at once, within the same scene/chapter, but not the inside of every character’s head. If you’re writing from the direct POV of the MC (i.e. all their thoughts and feelings), then switch to the sidekick’s thoughts and feelings, and then back to the MC, without a clear chapter break or scene break, you’re getting your POV’s mixed up and learning why POV can be one of the hardest writer tricks to nail.

That’s why it’s important to decide on your POV’s, plot them, and switch within them correctly. If you do this from the first draft, you’ll be thanking yourself when you’re working on the fifth.

Make It Work For You

Once you’ve sorted through the confusion of POV types and how to write, plan and switch between them, it’s time to make the POV work for you.

POV gives you the chance to create characters that feel real by telling the story from the perspective of a person. Everything they see, touch, and feel can be shown in POV, and give them depth.

You can also use POV to add layers and twists to your story. For example, you could tell an event from one character POV and then the same event from a different character’s POV that contradicts the first. The reader will turn to the last page just to learn which version is the truth.

Experiment

Sometimes when writing a scene or chapter, you know where it needs to take place and what needs to happen in it, but you don’t know which character will pull off the situation the best way possible. Don’t be afraid to write that kind of scene with different characters as the POV to see what works. It might even lead to a plot breakthrough or an idea that changes the outcome of the book entirely.

Perfect Your Cliffhangers

While perfecting POV’s, don’t forget to perfect the art of leaving each one with the reader wanting more.

When you’re switching between multiple POV’s, you have the chance to leave one character’s thread on a cliffhanger and go into a different POV on the next chapter. This might drive some readers nuts, but it’s also the mark of a compelling story!

They’ll keep reading until it gets back to the POV/story thread that’s unresolved. Having multiple POV’s to switch between is a great advantage in such cases.

Make Sure There’s A Purpose

And finally, don’t have multiple POV’s just for the sake of it.

All these different voices and perspectives need to serve a purpose to the overall story. If they don’t, cut them and give any relevant info to another character to impart.

POV’s are an effective writing tool, but they can also become a bore and drag things out, risking the reader’s attention. To avoid that, make sure each POV has a purpose. Combine that with all the other tips outlined here and you’ll be sure to nail it!

— K.M. Allan

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23 thoughts on “Writing Tips: Nailing Point Of View

  1. The trickiest thing with POV is avoiding ‘head hopping’. Unless you’re writing in 3rd person omniscient, the narrative voice cannot know what it in everyone’s head.

    Limit your narrative voice to what they know, or use qualifiers.

    e.g. (1st person) ‘Joan seemed annoyed with me’ instead of ‘Joan was annoyed at me.’ The narrator can only observe the annoyance, not know for sure that Joan is annoyed with them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You read my book and by doing so you know all about Gibson. You know his secrets, his clumsiness and his inability to tell the story accurately. It is such a personal relationship between character and reader. It’s as if the character is sitting down with the reader and asking if they can keep a secret because there is something they are dying to tell.

    Excellent examples here. You did an excellent job.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Multiple PoVs/inner thoughts in a single scene is one of the mistakes I’ve been doing a lot – and only managed to get rid of it with the help of betas (who probably deserve a medal for their patience). A great deal of my current draft was focused on rewriting scenes with messy PoV shifts and outright head-hopping. There are scenes where I want to follow from one character to another and show their thoughts so I’ll be asking betas in the next stage about how well (or not) I managed to do it this time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The same thing happened to me, Tom. My early drafts head hopped all over the place, but I didn’t realize until some very patient betas pointed it out. I think head hopping is one of the most common mistakes all new writers make. It’s easy to do, and hard to learn how to undo 😅.

      Like

  4. Pingback: Writing Tips: Nailing Point Of View — K.M. Allan | When Angels Fly

  5. Great post. Yes, POV can be so tricky to get right! I recently went to a writing class and the instructor suggested “interviewing” POVs to be sure you have the “right” one for your story. Also, she said not to be afraid to try using the POV of an inanimate object (you animate)–for instance, as in this writer’s case, a garden gnome!

    Liked by 1 person

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