Toolbox – Point of View and Characters

This week we discussed point of view and characters. We did a little fact finding, then discussed how we could use this to improve the characters in our current works-in-progress.

Characters:

You need to know what makes your character tick if you are going to write from their perspective.  There are things like eye colour, height, foibles and background. But these alone do not a character make. What are their likes, their GOALS, their MOTIVES? How do they react to other characters? How do they handle conflict? How does the character change by the end of the story (character arc)? Goals push a story forward, through the conflicts and must become needs or the character may quit before the end.

There are many worksheets, found on the internet, to help nut out the details for your characters. Just remember the more characters, the more work you are making for yourself. You can write pages on the character or start with what is needed for the story, and fill in the blanks as you go along.

What is POV?

Point of View is the perspective through which a story is told – how a writer lets a reader see, hear and experience a story. The POV chosen can influence the reader, making them more distant or involved in the story and the characters.
So choose wisely.

How to choose a POV.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How many POVs do I need to tell the story?
  • Do I want the reader to remain distant or becoming more emotionally involved with the characters?
  • Do I want the story in a character’s POV or the author’s POV?

Here’s some information that may help you decide.

Types of POV.

First Person: This is currently popular in YA fiction. The story is told from the main character’s POV, using I/me/my, bringing the reader closer to the main character – in his or her headspace.

Second Person: This is less commonly used. The story speaks directly to the you, the reader, using you/your. It is more personal and places the reader into the story. However if the ‘you’ does something the reader is uncomfortable with, they may stop reading.

Third Person: The story is told from the POV of multiple characters and is the most popular form of POV. There are several types of third person POV:

  • Omniscient – The story is told from an all-knowing point of view. We know what all the characters know, feel or think. This POV was popular in 19th century literature. It creates distance but can be confusing if not done well due to the feeling of  head hopping, and is cautioned against in modern writing. An example of omniscient writing is Pride and Prejudice or War and Peace.
  • Third Person Limited – The story is told from the perspective of one character only. We do not get any insight into what other characters are actually thinking or feeling. This is popular in modern writing and creates distance.
  • Deep POV: This is becoming more popular. The story is told in one character’s POV (usually the hero). We see deep into the character’s thought, feel what they feel and experience the story through their voice. There is no ‘she thought’  but instead we read direct thoughts. This provides more intimacy for the reader.
  • Third Person Multiple –  This provides more options for the writer and the reader. The story is told through more than one charater’s POV. Generally a scene will be from one POV, ie. one POV per scene. However in modern writing a change of POV can be signalled by skipping a few lines (blank) before continuing with a new POV. This is the preferred POV in modern literature.
    Multiple POV can be done via third limited POV, deep POV or first person POV.

But wait, there’s more!

There are also out of character points of view.

  • Camera angle – This is one of my favourites. Imagine being a movie camera, recording the story. You can describe it – what is seen, heard or smelt – but you can’t provide any judgements. No emotions or thoughts. No internalisation. It is best used like an establishing shot, setting the scene or can be used – in short bursts – to create distance. You can see the oranges  of a sunset melting into the sea but you can’t call it beautiful.
  • External narrator – The story is told by a narrator, as if they were retelling the story. The narrator is often a quirky character unto itself. This POV was popular in 17th, 18th and 19th century literature though modern writers, like Terry Pratchett and Douglas Addams, excel at this POV.
  • Shadow or Hand-cuff – Think Agatha Christie. You follow the characters through the story but never really get into their heads. There is no internalisation. Or the game would be given away!

So now ask those questions again:

  • How many POVs do I need to tell the story?
  • Do I want the reader to remain distant or becoming more emotionally involved with the characters?
  • Do I want the story in a character’s POV or the author’s POV?

Did you get the same answers?

Some recommended reading by members:

  1. Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View, by Jill Elizabeth Nelson.
  2. Writing 101: Choosing the best POV for your Story.

-Karen J Carlisle

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1 Comment

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One response to “Toolbox – Point of View and Characters

  1. Pingback: Toolbox – Point of View and Characters | Karen J Carlisle

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