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:


3 Responses to “Writing a novel: a writer’s journal part 4”

  1. […] 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 […]

  2. […] One of the most intriguing elements of this novel is the constantly shifting point of view. Each section or chapter (some are short, others quite long) is headed with a name of one of the characters, mostly the major three (but sometimes even minor characters for a few pages). Each section has the story told from the point of view of the character named in the title of the section. It sounds like a complicated way of writing, but it is wonderfully effective. By dipping into the heads of each character in depth like this we get a much deeper understanding of the particular mental turmoil and physical torments faced by that character. We also gain a greater understanding of and appreciation for how they perceive other characters in the story. A very clever technique and masterfully handled by the author. It is a technique I initially grappled with and rejected when writing my novel. I knew the pitfalls and knew my skills were not equal to the task. (Read more here.) […]