One of the most important decisions you'll make as a writer is who will tell your story. In other words, what point of view will you use?
Whether you're writing an entire novel, a short story, or a single scene, these two guidelines can help:
- Use the point of view that best conveys what your reader needs to know.
- A scene is strongest when told by the character with the most to lose.
What Your Reader Needs To Know
When choosing from the point-of-view options, ask yourself what your reader needs to know and when. Answering that question will go the farthest toward knowing what point of view will work best for your story.
As I talked about in previous articles, your reader can only know what the view point character knows.
If your story requires a bird's eye view where an all-knowing narrator shares more than the all characters combined know–or the narrator comments from a big picture perspective–third person omniscient is your best option.
If your reader needs to know what multiple characters know–for instance, you want the reader to know Susan placed a ticking bomb under the table that protagonist Pedro is unaware of–third person limited shifting (multiple characters) is a great choice.
You can also combine the above points of view.
Making Your Reader Care
Narrating each scene from the standpoint of the character with the most to lose is the best way to keep the reader engaged. The more that's at stake for the viewpoint character, the more likely the reader is to care about what happens.
Under this approach, if you are writing a break up scene, think about who is most invested in the relationship and who will be most devastated if it’s over. That character is probably the one whose viewpoint will jump off the page.
On the other hand, if for the character choosing to end the relationship, the worst thing in the world is to hurt someone else, that might be the viewpoint character to use.
Sometimes, though, your story might benefit from a wider perspective or the view of someone one step removed.
A great example of first person narration by someone other than the protagonist–who has the most at stake–is The Great Gatsby.
Nick, our narrator, is Gatsby’s neighbor. Because he’s a step (or a plot of land) away, he can show us how Gatsby fits into the society around him in a way that Gatsby himself couldn’t. He can also tell us about things that happen that are unknown to Gatsby but that impact him.
I often switch the point of view of a scene when I rewrite to see if it works better. The key is to save your first draft so you can easily restore the scene if you don’t like the change.
What Point Of View You Enjoy Writing
Another question for you, and this one is more fun, is what point of view you enjoy writing.
What you enjoy matters, as often more than one point of view could work for your story. And, maybe more important, if you find you really dislike writing from a certain point of view, and it's the best one for the story, maybe you'll decide to write a different story.
After all, why write something you don't enjoy?
Feel free to experiment to see both what point of view works best and which you enjoy. It's fun, and it can help avoid spending a lot of time deciding the POV before you write.
Why do I think it's better not to devote tons of time to choosing?
First, it can be a way to put off writing. Second, sometimes a point of view you think will work great doesn't when you get into the flow of the story. So it's more efficient to start writing and see how it goes. You can always switch POV in your next scene or chapter and see how that works.
If you do change the point of view of a scene or story, your original version was still worth writing. You probably learned a lot, and you might use it for another story down the road. Or you can send it as a bonus to email list or Patreon subscribers or include it on your website.
Until next Friday, when I'll talk about other types of bonuses you can send to fans and supporters–