What point of view should I use?

An important aspect of writing a story that the writer needs to consider is point of view.

In my current project, a novel for children aged 10 – 12, this has been one of the difficult issues I’ve had to face. I started using the first person point of view. It didn’t work, so I changed the whole story to limited third person POV. That worked much better, but during reworking the novel I’ve found a number of places where I’d slipped up. My critiquing group was also tough on me and pointed out even the most subtle of changes in POV.

Aaaark! I though I had mastered it, but in practice it is very challenging.

I’ve written previously about this important topic:

Good writing.

More about rewriting and editing a novel

Writing a novel – a writer’s journal: part 20

Rewriting and editing: is there a difference?

There is a fine line between rewriting and editing. One of my lecturers is quite adamant that there is a huge difference. I see them as distinct but closely related. What you call them is not important. It’s the process that is crucial.

By rewriting I mean going back over the whole text and literally rewriting whole passages – perhaps even whole chapters. In my case, there should be a minimal amount of this as I strive for my first draft to be very good. Blogging – as well as many aspects of the course work for my MA – has taught me to write quickly and accurately. It comes with experience – the more you write the better you get at it.

Despite that, I know that there are quite a few passages where I need to scrap what I’ve written and rewrite afresh. My supervising lecturers, (and fellow students) have pointed out that in the early chapters I have managed to have an inconsistent and shifting point of view which is confusing to the reader. It is very important to be consistent with POV in children’s books.

In some cases only a sentence or two need rewriting; in other areas it can be as much as a paragraph or part of a chapter.

There will also be some cultural elements relating to my setting (Nepal) that I still want to include. My first draft was just getting the story down. This element of the rewriting is more fine tuning the story, adding local colour, cultural references, locally used words and expressions and so on. I’m striving for authenticity; all I have at present is the plot. (Perhaps that is being a little harsh on myself! I hope you get the point.)

Editing on the other hand is a distinct discipline. In this stage I will look at all the nitty-gritty elements of spelling, punctuation, word usage, grammar and sentence construction. It really is a nit-picking stage. Basically being an editor with a big red pencil. A bit like how I marked students’ work when I was a classroom teacher in another life.

The editing process is also distinct from the proofreading stage. This last stage is checking that everything is totally correct, that there are no typos and the finished manuscript is perfect in every way. You don’t look for elements of style or even grammar at this stage.

Good writing.

Related articles:

  • Writing a novel – many articles extensively outlining the process I went through while writing a novel for children.

Problems with point of view

Writing a novel – a writer’s journal part 17

Problems with point of view

I honestly thought I had this point of view (POV) thing licked.

Not so.

Over recent days I have struggled with my choice of using the third person limited point of view. Initially-way back in chapter 1-I experimented with the first person POV. I wrote the chapter in the third person, then at the suggestion of one of my supervisors rewrote it in the first person. While it was an interesting exercise, it didn’t jell in my thoughts.

Since then I’ve stuck with the third person, and tried valiantly to maintain only the protagonist’s POV. Using the limited POV has inherent problems. Chief among these is the fact that the main character must be ‘on stage’ all the time. At one point in chapter 5 I have him running off away from the other children he was playing with. That’s a no-no. It’s his story-so we have to go off with him.

In other chapters I fall into another trap with limited third person POV. In subtle ways I slip into-without meaning to, of course-the thoughts of other characters. That’s another no-no. Limited POV means just that: limited. I can only let the reader ‘hear’ the thoughts of my protagonist-not everyone else in the neighbourhood. In order to dip into their thoughts, I actually have to make them say what they are thinking. There is no other way of knowing what they are thinking, or feeling. Well, actually, their actions can also convey this in a limited way.

Why didn’t I choose an omniscient POV? Then I could have dipped-God-like-into everyone’s thoughts! This can be very confusing to young readers, of course, so that option is not really one I can take.

Perhaps I could have used a shifting POV. The chapters could alternate the POV from one character to another. Again, this presents problems for both writer and the young reader. Possible, but it has to be done well. I made a decision against this before even writing a word. I had another idea for my novel, where there were two equal protagonists, each having their POV in alternating chapters. I chose not to follow this path as I felt my technical skills were not up the challenge. The plot also needed far more research than I had time for anyway, so I shelved that idea for another day.

All I can say now is that when I come to rewriting and editing, I’m going to have a few nerve wracking weeks trying to eliminate every shift in point of view.

Good writing.

Related articles:

Writing a Novel – a writer’s journal part 7

Present Tense – or Past Tense

One of the important considerations I have encountered while writing my novel is that of tense.  Stories and novels are written in either past tense or present tense. (As an aside, there is also future tense but very little fiction is written this way because of the inherent technical difficulties it presents.)

I most often write in the past tense. Much fiction is written in this way.  Past tense is probably the easiest – and safest – tense in which to write a story or novel.

Example: Frank walked casually along the path and rang the door bell.

I also use present tense in my writing. Many other writers also use this tense. This tense is more challenging to write, but it can bring to the story an immediacy and an urgency which heightens the tension or adds to the dramatic effect.

Example: Frank walks casually along the path and rings the door bell.

I started my novel in the past tense, third person (see my article on point of view here). On the suggestion of one of my lecturers and a fellow student, I rewrote the entire first chapter in the first person, changing it also to the present tense. I was quite pleased with the result – but not convinced that this is the way I will go for the whole novel.

In fact, subsequent chapters have been written in the third person, past tense. I keep telling myself that it would not be a huge job to rewrite the whole story in another tense or point-of-view.  If I did decide to go down this track, however, I would have to guard against accidental changes in POV or tense. Whatever path I choose, I must be consistent. That’s where meticulous editing will come into play.

Related articles:

Good writing.

Writing a novel: a writer’s journal part 4

Whose story is this anyway?

Writers have many decisions to make when they first begin writing a story or novel. In fact, a writer must decide on many aspects of the writing even before a word is written. Some of these decisions include such things as deciding on the characters, including their names, deciding on the setting, thinking about the theme of the story and giving some thought to the structure of the story. I will write more about these aspects in other posts in this series.

Point of view

The author must decide early on in the writing process – preferably before a word is written – as to the point of view of the story. I’ve written before about this topic elsewhere (click here). It is a huge topic and whole books have been written about POV.

At its simplest, point of view can be summarised by asking the question: whose story is this? Who is telling the story?

First person point of view

I can tell the story in the first person. In this point of view I will use the words I, me and my frequently. It reads like I am the main character and I am relating the story. As the author, I am the narrator and I put myself in the role of the character. I have written this paragraph in the first person.

Second person point of view

You can also write a story in the second person and this involves using the pronouns you and your frequently. It is a very unusual way of writing and you will find not many writers use this form of writing in fiction. You might be interested to know that the author of this blog has tried writing a short story like this. You will find it is very demanding to be successful to write using this point of view. One of the inherent dangers in this point of view is that your story will be very confronting to the reader. You can put off readers from finishing the story which is not what you what. If you are observant you will notice that this paragraph has been written in the second person.

Third person point of view

The author who decides to use this POV will use the words he, she and they many times when writing about the characters. She will become, as the author, a detached observer of the events occurring in the story.

Other POVs

The above summary is very simple. The author has several other points of view to consider, but this brief introduction will have to be sufficient for purposes of this article.

Point of view in my novel

Last week I had to come up with the first chapter of the novel I am writing as my thesis paper. It was my turn to present what I had written to the supervising lecturer and to my fellow students who make up my critique group. Before this I had been doing plenty of work on the novel. I had done extensive research on the setting, the characters and other aspects of the work. Finally, I had to be productive and produce the first draft of the first chapter. It is a very rough first draft.

I chose the third person point of view for no particular reason. It is a well used method of story telling. I found it interesting, however, that when preparing for the seminar I realised that it would be worth rewriting the first page or two in the first person. This would have the effect of making the story more immediate and perhaps more exciting. When I put this idea to the group they agreed that it is worth trying. They also agreed that a change from past tense to present tense would add to and heighten the tension.

Making these changes will raise other considerations of course, but it will be interesting to see how it all develops.

Further reading: