Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Gems: Point of View Like a Jeweler’s Loupe

How does a jeweler view his gemstones? He uses a jeweler’s loupe. It’s through that lens that he inspects the gem. Point of view is the writer’s loupe and like the jeweler’s loupe, the writer’s lens can be of different magnifications. How the writer sees the story and puts it down on paper, determines how the reader will see the story. Basically, there are three types of points of views and variations within those three: first person, second person and third person.

First person is achieved by using the pronoun I. This is not my favorite point of view to read or to write. I find that it limits my imagination and does not let me get close to the other characters. This point of view is popular with the Young Adult crowd, which is my genre of choice for writing, so I know I am in the minority.


If I have to sit behind Vinnie Trecelli all year in English, I think I might go crazy. Does that guy ever wash his hair or does he just get up and dip his head in hair gel every morning? Either way, he’s not the person I want to stare at the back of right before lunch every day.


Second person uses the pronoun you. I have read a few stories that use this point of view and as a child, I loved the Choose Your Own Adventure series of books that used this point of view. It is rare to find a good book with it though. I am sure they are out there and if you have a good recommendation, please leave a comment about it.


You slowly come to as the brakes on the Greyhound bus screech in protest and the bus comes to a full stop. Rubbing your eyes, you sit up and get your first look at the dark city of Los Angeles through the dirty travel worn window. You are the last one off the bus, and your heart pounds in your chest because you have no idea where to go from here. Freedom to do what you want comes with a price and now, you’re thinking that living with mom and Dalton wasn’t as bad as you thought. You hesitate on the last step until Dalton’s angry and insane eyes flash through your mind.


Third person uses pronouns such as he, she, it, or they. This is a very flexible point of view and I use it often in my own work. There are a few different styles of third person: subjective, objective, omniscient and limited.

I prefer to write in third person limited. My current book, that has been submitted for publication, is in third person limited and only in the point of view of the main female character, but I will often switch the point of view character from chapter to chapter or in some cases I might switch them for scene to scene.

For a more in depth look at the different types of third person points of view, you can click here.

Example of Third Person Limited

Helen kept her chin up as she stepped out of the principal’s office and walked down the hallway to her locker for the last time. She did her best to ignore the other students. Many of them she had thought of as friends until this morning.


How should you choose which point of view to tell your story in? My best advice is to start writing the story in a way that you feel comfortable. If later, you find that you need to get the reader closer to the main character, but you are in third person, you can always go back in editing and change the point of view. Or if you start in first person and find that you want the reader to know what the other characters are thinking or you want scenes where the main character is not around, you can always go back and edit and revise to change the point of view. That is the beauty of our craft. Nothing is set in stone and when it comes to point of view, we can change what lens through which we let our readers see the story unfold.

One important aspect of point of view, especially when in third person, is to make sure that you do not confuse your readers with headhopping. Some writers can get away with this technique, but most of us cannot pull it off decently. This is when you are writing in one character’s point of view and without warning, you switch to another character’s view point.

There is nothing wrong with having multiple viewpoints in a novel. In fact, I personally think it gives depth to a story. The key is to decide when the time is right for a different character’s point of view. As I begin a new chapter, I ask myself which character will have the most to think or see in the chapter, and that is the point of view I use. I may decide that another character would be better to have the point of view after the chapter is written and go back and change it.

I will admit that I had a problem with headhopping when I first started writing fiction. It is a common mistake and one that is easy to train yourself out of. It just takes practice. I have found two very good articles on headpopping.

Suzanne Hartmann’s article on point of view shifts. While you are there, check out the nine other articles on common mistakes new writers make.


Edittorrent headpopping vs. multiple points of view

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