Picking the Perfect POV

Have you ever read a novel where the POV (point of view) character doesn't seem to be the correct one?

I have, but not often. Generally, I agree with the author's choice of whose eyes the story comes through. On rare occasions, I wonder why the author chose to use a particular version of that person's point of view (as in first person, third person...).

And once in awhile, I don't like the POV character at all. When that's the case, I put the book down.

How do you keep your readers involved and "in the know" at all the right places? By carefully deciding whose story it is you're writing, and whose eyes will tell each scene the best.

For Your Eyes Only

Dick Francis is a champion writer of crime fiction. (He was also, for years, a champion jockey, which is why I started reading his stuff.) Nearly all of his books are written in first person POV.

I've heard other authors putting down those who use first person, as if it's elementary and childish. On the one hand, it might seem to be easier to write that way. But if you stop and think about it, first person can be quite difficult to do and do well. Dick Francis definitely does it well.

You have to keep to only one person's perspective throughout the entire book. And if he or she misses an important scene? You have to decide how else you can get that needed information into your novel.

Clever use of the POV character's friends and family might solve this issue. Just be sure you don't accidentally slip into their thoughts while you let readers know what the main character missed.

This close viewpoint can be the perfect match for your novel, as long as we don't need to hear anyone else's thoughts, or see any scenes the point-of-view character is not in. How do you determine if this works for
your novel?

By trying it. Literally write a scene (or ten) in this perspective. If it's
flowing well, you've got a match. If you're missing vital information, try another method.

Methodical Madness

So, if you're reading on, you've ruled out first person POV. For the most part, unless you choose omniscient viewpoint, you'll be using third person. (Remember, second person is hard to pull off well.)

Now you need to decide which character or characters tell the story best. If you use third person limited, you'll be mainly in one head throughout the novel, just like first person. However, you can add narrative bits and thoughts from another character, as long as you don't jump around in the middle of a scene. Each scene must be from only one person's point of view.

With third person POV, you can have as many viewpoints as you wish, as long as you follow that golden rule: One viewpoint per scene!

How do you know whose eyes the scene should be seen through? By choosing the character who has the most to lose from that particular scene.

Here's an example scene written first from the "best friend's" perspective, then put into the protagonist's viewpoint. Read both, then decide which has more impact.

Kelly's POV:

Kelly’s hand lingered on the phone she’d just hung up. She wondered if Sarah would remember, tomorrow morning. Remember who she was and why she lived out there now. Alone.

Without Ethan.

Wondered if she’d even remember there had been an Ethan.

Kelly knew Sarah would get ready for bed now. Routines helped her remember more come morning. She’d put everything in it’s place while her mind was clear enough to do so.

If she didn’t, her Australian shepherd mix dog, Sakoya, would nudge her to remember. Would lead her to the photo album and the notes Kelly had painstakingly made to help Sarah cope on her own.

Sighing, Kelly began her own evening routine. Making notes on the calendar on her laptop to call Sarah after lunch tomorrow. Remind her of her meeting with Mountain Magic.

Sakoya couldn’t do things like that for her master. No way to program a dog to bark reminders at 1:00 pm.

If only Ethan had been driving last winter. He’d been so much better than Sarah. Maybe none of this would have happened if he’d been driving. Maybe they’d still be living close enough for Kelly to pop in unannounced and have a giggle session with her best friend.

Instead of worrying whether that best friend would remember who she was when she woke in the morning.

Now, if the story is about Kelly (which it isn't), this is fine. Or if Kelly knows something the reader needs to know that is revealed in this scene (she doesn't), it's also fine. But let's see Sarah's POV now, since the story is about her.

Sarah's POV:

Hanging up the phone after her nightly call from Kelly, Sarah wondered if she’d remember, tomorrow morning. Remember who she was and why she lived out here now. Alone.


Shivering, she pulled the barrettes from her hair, set them on the dresser and shook her strawberry blond curls out. No. She should put them where they belonged, or tomorrow, she’d spend a fruitless hour wondering where she had laid them down.

And clever as Sakoya was, her Australian shepherd mix dog wouldn’t have a clue where Sarah had set the stupid things.

Sighing, she trod to the bathroom, put them in their drawer and went back to the bedroom, flipping the switch off as she did. The note was on the mirror. If she forgot, it would be there to remind her. The graphic design project for Mountain Magic was due tomorrow afternoon. The meeting was at 3:00.

And Kelly had promised to call her at 1:00, as another reminder. Man, how she wished Kelly could live near her. She missed her best friend horribly. When she remembered her.

If only Ethan had been driving last winter. He’d been so much better than her. Then they’d never have…

She bit her tongue, wishing the memory lapses had wiped out that particular memory.

Sakoya sniffed her hand as she passed the dog bed, maybe sensing Sarah’s mood. Then, with a tongue-lolling, doggy grin, she turned twice and curled up in her corner. Sarah smiled and climbed into her own bed, grateful. She was tired.

No need to worry. Sakoya would remind her if she forgot. She’d drag the silly photo album to her if need be, full of the pictures and Kelly’s wonderful notes about what her life had been. Could have been.

Sarah sighed again. Eventually, she slept.

Analyzing the POV

Because the novel is about Sarah, the second version of the scene has more impact. Sarah has more to lose than Kelly.

However, since Kelly's her best friend, it's likely some scenes will be written from her perspective, too. And perhaps one other character's POV will
show up.

I'm not sure yet. It's only a bare-bones story idea.

But, now you can see how POV can make a difference in a scene and in a novel. So think hard and play around a bit until you're sure you have
your novel written in the best possible single or multiple point of view for
that story.

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