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Monday, October 9

Day Nine: Idea to Novel Workshop: Choosing a Point of View Style

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Welcome to Day Nine of Fiction University’s At-Home Workshop: Idea to Novel in 31 Days. The first twelve days will focus on developing the story and getting all the pieces in place so we can more easily plot the entire novel.

Today, we’re shifting gears a bit and looking at point of view.

Choose Your Point of View


Point of view (POV) is one of the strongest tools in a writer’s toolbox. A novel can drastically change just by who’s telling it and how those characters feel about those events. Point of view also allows you to look at a variety of opinions or views about a topic through the various characters, comparing and contrasting ideas. Point of view lets you control how information is conveyed to the reader.

Who you choose as your point-of-view character will influence how you tell your story to readers. The character with the most to lose is the protagonist, so most times the protagonist is the point-of-view character. It’s her story, and she’s the one telling it. If you have a novel with multiple main characters, then you might have multiple points of view, each one bringing something different to the novel. Sometimes a genre has a common point-of-view type, like multiple third person for epic fantasy or first person for cozy mysteries.

If you have a clear point-of-view preference, write in that style. Whatever you enjoy writing in will be the stronger novel. If you want that “totally there in the moment” perspective, then consider a close point of view—such as first person or a tight, limited third person (single or multiple). First person is great if you want zero narrative distance (the distance between the narrator and the reader); third person limited is great if you want a small step between the reader and character. If you want more separation, a medium or far narrative distance might be a good choice. Maybe being an observer suits the type of tale you’re telling, and being too close in the point-of-view character’s head will feel overwhelming. An omniscient narrator can be a great choice if you want an outside narrator who knows all the details and can convey information that can’t be known otherwise.

Don’t write a point-of-view style just because that’s how the genre usually does it, but if it makes no difference to you, and most books in that genre are written in a particular point-of-view style, it could be a good choice to use. Readers are used to it, you know it works and sells, and you’ll have tons of examples to study.

Different points of view have different benefits and disadvantages. Choosing a point of view that lends itself to the type of novel you’re writing can allow you to do things another point of view can’t.

Personal stories often do well with a tight point of view, so readers really understand the nuances of that personal struggle. Epic tales that tell a bigger picture story often use multiple people to show all sides. If the novel is about a person and her journey, close and single points of view (third or first) can be a great choice, because they allow you to get into the head of that character and focus on the problem. A novel about a situation, be it a quest, a war, or a terrorist attack, might be better told through the eyes of characters who can see all sides of it.

Even if the tale is personal, you might choose to look at the bigger picture to convey a theme or ideal, or a massive situation might be seen from the eyes of one single character. Think about what aspect of the story you want to focus on. Big tales don’t have to be told by a big cast, same as personal tales can involve more than one person.

Multiple points of view can work well when each point-of-view character brings something unique to the story—a fresh perspective, goals, a subplot that connects to a larger theme that encompasses the entire novel. However, if the only reason a point-of-view character is there is because you can’t show that part of the story any other way, then you might want to reconsider using it. If there’s no goal driving that character, she’ll feel flat and her sections will feel pointless—or the reader will sense that she’s just there to explain exposition or backstory.

Here are some things to consider when determining which point of view would work best for your novel:

1. Which point-of-view style do you prefer?

2. How close do you want the reader to get to the characters?

3. What’s common for the genre?

4. Is this a personal story or an epic tale?

5. What scope do you want to show? An epic tale, a personal struggle, or somewhere in between?

6. Who has the freedom to act?

7. Multiple or single point of view?

If you’re unsure which style you want to use, try writing a throwaway scene in the POVs you’re considering to get a feel for them.

EXERCISE: Write down which point-of-view style appeals to you and why.


Sometimes a novel demands to be written in a style you don’t normally write, so don’t worry if your favorite or natural style isn’t right for a certain idea. You can decide if you want to try something new, or find a way to make the idea better fit the point-of-view style you want to write in.

Those following along with the PYN book: Workshop Four goes into more extensive detail on types of point of view and further discussions of narrative distance.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at choosing your point-of-view characters.

Follow along at home with the book, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure. Get more brainstorming questions and things to think about, in-depth articles, and clear examples of every step from idea to novel.

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A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and her Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It), and Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means).   
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1 comment:

  1. Hmmmm. Thought I had my POV figured out. :) I want to use multiple POV's; but like you said, I don't want them to feel contrived. Going to try your suggestion and write a scene in several POV's.
    Thanks for sharing your insight and knowledge.

    ReplyDelete