Point of View Primer
Do you find yourself at a loss when fellow writers discuss (and sometimes argue) the merits of different ways of handling point of view? Here are some basic tips and terms to help take the mystery out of this aspect of storytelling.
First of all, point of view describes who is telling the story. Different authors handle viewpoint in different ways, but it’s important to be consistent so you won’t confuse – or lose – your readers.
- First person: A story told from the first person point of view is easy to spot because the main character will refer to him/herself as “I” in the narrative (non-dialogue) passages. Sue Grafton’s alphabet series (A Is for Alibi, etc.) and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series (One for the Money, etc.) are both terrific examples. First person is unusual in romance, however, because it brings the reader close to only the main character.
- Third person, limited: This viewpoint limits what the reader can know to the observations and opinions of one character, who is referred to in narrative passages as “he” or “she.” Some authors limit themselves to a single character’s viewpoint, but most romances use multiple viewpoints to allow readers to access the thoughts and emotions of both the hero and heroine.
- Multiple viewpoints: There are several ways to let the reader in on the thoughts of more than one character. Some authors stick to one character’s thoughts per chapter. Others create scene breaks, or smaller divisions within the chapter whenever the viewpoint shifts.
- Number of viewpoints: While many writers using multiple viewpoints stick to only the thoughts and perceptions of the hero and heroine, others include scenes from the point of view of the antagonist and/or minor characters. Multiple viewpoints can add depth to the story or fragment the reader’s attention, depending on how skillfully they are written.
- Head hopping: “Head hopping” is the term many writers use to describe those times when an author moves from the thoughts of one character to those of another without a visible transition. Nora Roberts does this beautifully, moving from character to character in such a way that the reader easily understands who is thinking. If handled poorly, however, head hopping can create a story that is impossible to follow. Head hopping seems to be far more controversial among authors than readers, for whom point of view is normally an invisible technique.
- There are several other, less common point of view techniques that have been popular in the past or are used outside of commercial fiction. Which one of them is best for you? Whichever one tells your story in such a way that no reader can bear to put it down.