Posted On May 18, 2015 by Print This Post

The Story is in the Eye of the Beholder: Choosing the Best Point of View (Part 1) Heather Webb

Do you struggle with Point of View? Sometimes write an entire scene, then discover it should have been written in someone else’s?  Heather Webb is here with a two-parter to help us understand how to choose.

Heather Webb SmilingHave you ever written a large chunk of a manuscript (or even an entire novel) and realized the point of view you chose didn’t do the story justice? Too many important scenes had the wrong spin, the voice seemed off, and the character wasn’t revealed in the way you’d hoped. Sometimes selecting the “right” point of view for our stories can be tricky. So how do you choose? To help me discern which way to go, I like to start with a few questions:

 

What is my end goal? To make an intellectual or philosophical point? To create an intimate, personal bond with the character, or to tell a story from multiple perspectives? Sometimes it’s best to show a series of events from several angles so that all details of a particular event are revealed. Other stories, using one character’s perspective can be a helpful construct in the way the plot unfolds, like in a mystery or adventure spy thriller, for example.

 

What is the style that best suits this story? Not all POVs serve each story equally. In my latest novel Rodin’s Lover, my protagonist slowly devolves into madness. Close third worked best for this novel as A.) I don’t know what it’s truly like to unravel psychologically and B.) I was able to bring in another POV character (Rodin) who shed light on what was happening outside of her perspective, which was essential because, you know, she was losing her marbles. In my current work in progress, I’m writing in first person since the novel is an alternate view of a well-known story. I want to bring the reader in close and portray the story through this “new” lens.

 

***Sometimes more than one narrative voice works so it’s a good idea to try a chapter or two in both to see how they feel, and how they read.

 

How intimate do you want the POV to be? This question points back to our end goals mentioned above. Is your novel a character-driven story? Would you like your reader to bond closely to the protagonist? If so, first person is a good choice. If you plan to describe your protagonist(s) from the outside in addition to delving into his/her thoughts, close third is the best choice. On the other hand, if you would like to integrate the author’s thoughts or opinions with the protagonists, distant third is your best bet.

 

Which narrative voice is common in your genre? In order to sell, is it important to stick to this POV? What about angering readers? Romance novels are most often written in multi-pov, close third from both the hero and heroine’s perspectives—not always, but this is fairly standard in genre romance. For historical fiction, it’s most common to write in third person past. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but if you suddenly decide to write in first person present, you may displease readers or find it more difficult to sell. Of course there are exceptions to every rule. A damn good book trumps the rule every time. Also, there will always be readers who don’t connect with your book, even if you’re God’s gift to writing so choose what truly suits your style and the manuscript’s needs.

Which POV do you enjoy reading? Which do you enjoy writing? These aren’t necessarily the same. I will read anything that’s engaging and done well, but I prefer writing in close third or first person. I have yet to take on distant third or omniscient narrator. In truth, I’m a bit nervous to try them as it’s not easy to do well and still feel connected to characters, but it can be done! For example, in the novel The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker about two mythical creatures that come to life and find each other in old New York, fall in love, and then must find a way to not be destroyed, the author chose distant third. It’s a historical, a love story, and a legend of sorts, so this point of view works well. It mimics the stylings of the nineteenth century for one, and it also allows us to see inside the heart of every important character in a particular scene.

Stay tuned for part two when we’ll look at how to style these points of view in terms of voice, the basic rules, and some examples from advanced writers.

For now, I’d like to know which POV do you enjoy reading? Which do you enjoy writing?

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Join us on Wednesday for Pat Haggerty who’s going to tell us how to write about Marines.

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Bio: As a freelance editor, Heather spends oodles of time helping writers find their voice and hone their skills–something she adores. She may often be found twittering helpful links, sharing writing advice and author interviews on her blog Between the Sheets, or teaching novel writing in her community. Her favorite haunts are right here at the fabulous Romance University.org and the award-winning WriterUnboxed.com.

Her first women’s historical, BECOMING JOSEPHINE released to much acclaim in Jan 2014 and her second, RODIN’S LOVER, releases from Plume/Penguin as a lead title in 2015.

Visit her website: http://www.HeatherWebbauthor.com or find her on Twitter @msheatherwebb

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6 Responses to “The Story is in the Eye of the Beholder: Choosing the Best Point of View (Part 1) Heather Webb”

  1. Hi Heather,

    The first time I read a romance written in first person, it threw me for a loop and took a while to sink into the story. I use the concept of F-stops and depth of field from photography as an analogy for POV. The reader has a general idea of the ‘big picture’ e.g., the rabbit in the meadow of wildflowers, but it’s author’s choice to draw the reader’s attention/focus on the rabbit and not the flowers.

    I prefer third person in romances, but first person in memoirs and spy novels. My least favorite POV is the omniscient narrator style, especially if I can’t empathize with the characters. It’s like being stalked at a party by a boor who dishes on everyone else in the room.

    Thanks for another keeper post!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | May 18, 2015, 11:00 am
  2. What a great post! I generally write in third person but I really enjoy writing in first. Sometimes I’ll do an early draft in first and then change it to third. Also, my first instinct is always to write in the heroine’s POV, but my critique partners seem to like it best when I write in a male POV. I’m not sure what that says about the way my brain works!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | May 18, 2015, 2:37 pm
  3. Great post on POV. I prefer to both read and write close third. Especially in a romance, I appreciate knowing what each of them are thinking and feeling.

    Posted by Heatherly Bell | May 18, 2015, 4:07 pm
  4. Great post! Looking forward to your other blogs.

    I perfer writing in close third, past tense for any of my works. The one time I wrote first person, past tense because the heroine demanded it LOL.

    I’m not a fan of first person in either past or present when reading. I prefer past tense third in either omnicient, distant, or close.

    Posted by Mercy | May 18, 2015, 7:31 pm
  5. Evening Heather!

    Excellent post! I love writing in first person POV, but having a romance told from both sides of the story always draws me in deeper. I’m always amazed at how some author’s can use multiple POV and never lose (or hardly ever!) their reader…that takes talent!

    thanks so much for posting with us today!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | May 18, 2015, 9:40 pm
  6. Hi Heather… thank you for a great article. I never even thought of trying to write from a different characters point of view to get a different writing perspective. That is golden, and opens up a whole host of ideas. You made some valid points about POV and ultimately voice…. when you find them, you’ve hit the writing lottery! Thank you.
    Sandy Pennington

    Posted by Sandy Pennington | May 18, 2015, 11:13 pm

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