Point of view is one of the most difficult concepts for authors to master. In this post, fellow editor Heather Whitaker provides some pointers for defining the POV in your book. Heather and I have edited some of the same books, sometimes by coincidence and circumstance, sometimes by author’s plan. After seeing first-hand how skillfully she ushers a manuscript and its author through the early stages of content editing, I didn’t have to think twice about inviting Heather to share her wisdom with us about this challenging topic.
~ Gina Edwards
Navigating the Myriad Paths of POV
Earlier this year, I was giving a talk when a writer asked, “If I’m the author, then I’m also the narrator, right?” During the conversation that followed, I realized how confusing the subject of point of view (POV) can be, and how many writers harbor misconceptions about what it means to be the narrator in a story. Simply put, the narrator is the person who is telling the story—whether that person is in the story (1st person narrator) or is someone outside of the story (3rd person narrator) who is using the perspective of one or more viewpoint characters in the story.
So, how do you go about deciding what POV/narrator/viewpoint character to use?
I suggest that people start by asking themselves: whose story is this to tell? The answer isn’t always the obvious one. Maybe the story belongs to both the protagonist and the antagonist. Maybe the story is best shown from a multitude of viewpoints, as in A Game of Thrones. Maybe, like in The Great Gatsby, the protagonist cannot be trusted to tell the story honestly.
That said, a few rules will benefit you greatly in making your POV choices.
- Use the least number of viewpoint characters needed. George R.R. Martin may make it look easy, but the more POV characters you have, the harder it is to do it right. Also, it can allow lesser characters to steal the spotlight from your most important characters.
- Whatever choices you make, be consistent and make the narrator(s) clear to the reader early on. This means you show who the viewpoint character is from the opening paragraph of a scene. If you plan to alternate between multiple viewpoint characters or narrators, you show this rotation of viewpoints as soon as possible. There are a few notable exceptions to this – e.g., authors who successfully alter the narrator halfway through the story – but, remember, they are the exceptions.
- If you do use multiple viewpoint characters and two of them are in the same scene, first try showing the scene from the viewpoint of the character who has the most to lose. Usually, that will have the greatest impact on the reader.
Choosing the POV for your story is one of the most important decisions you will make about your book. Play around with different options and give yourself time to make this choice. Look at similar books in your genre and ask yourself which POV they used and why the author made that choice. Then go back to your manuscript to see if you made the best choice and why.
To learn more about point of view, join Heather Whitaker and Gina Edwards on CONVERSATIONS Around the Writers Table, a free author education series, on September 21, 2016.
They will talk in-depth about POV in a live 30-minute discussion, followed by Q&A. Heather will cover:
- types of POV
- distance of the narrator
- using multiple timelines
- how POV impacts voice
- and much, much more!
Listen from the comfort of your home by phone, at 7 p.m., on September 21, 2016. Click here to register so you can listen live or to receive the replay. Get your questions ready!
Register now: www.AroundTheWritersTable.com/CONVERSATIONS
Heather Whitaker is a developmental editor and writing coach specializing in novels and memoirs, including children’s literature, adult literary, and adult genre fiction. She has worked with over 150 writers across the nation, from budding novelists to award-winning and NYT best-selling authors, including Julianna Baggott (The PURE trilogy, THE INFINITY OF YOU & ME, forthcoming), Jon Jefferson (CUT TO THE BONE, THE BREAKING POINT), and Laura Lascarso (COUNTING BACKWARDS, RACING HEARTS). Heather’s approach to the editing process is not simply to improve the manuscript and increase its chances of success, but to help you become a better writer along the way.
In addition to manuscript editing, Heather leads ongoing writers groups and will teach writing classes in Fall 2016 at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), Florida State University, in Tallahassee, Florida. Learn more about her at www.heatherwhitaker.com.
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