POV: Its Power and Purpose

Writing fiction is a multifaceted process. The author must create characters, design commanding settings, capture an absorbing style, write compelling dialogue, and decide on the most effective point-of-view (POV).

Understanding Point-Of-View
POV is defined as through whose eyes the reader experiences the scene. This means that the reader can only learn and experience what POV character can. He cannot know what others are thinking, he can only assume. He cannot know what’s happening in the next room or outside except perhaps through a sound of commotion or hearing words through the walls. Think of how you experience life. You might have a gut instinct but that doesn’t make it real. It is only your assumption or a guess.

A first person novel has one, the main character who experiences and shares the whole story, but some novels have more than one POV.  In romance, the point-of-view most often comes from two major characters, the hero and heroine. The story is theirs, and readers care about them. The focus of a romance is on the developing relationship between two people who have been brought together, but who have major conflicts that keep them apart. The emotions, feelings, and inner voice of these two characters offer the reader a deeper look into their conflicts, motivation, and goals. Focusing on these aspects of the two main character creates vivid, real life individuals who make readers laugh, cry, and cheer.

But occasional novels need more than two POV characters to bring the story to life. A family saga may focus on three or four main characters in the family and will then draw together at the end of the novel to tie the story together. More than four POV character’s can cause confusion unless written by an experience writer, such as Maeve Binchy who had an amazing gift to write this kind of story, such as: The Evening Class, Night of Rain and Stars and many others. When you are a newer writer, use the POV of only main characters with their own stories that need a specific point of view. Secondary characters are never given point of view since their parts of the plot are limited and can be shared through dialogue with a main character.

Who has most to lose?
When deciding which character’s POV should be chosen for a scene, authors need to ask which character has the most to lose in each scene. The phrase “the most to lose” refers vulnerability, disclosure or admission of secrets, losing face, reputation or a goal the character is seeking. POV allows the character to open up to the reader through introspection, action or dialogue and to show internal emotion as well as external. This is when the truth is revealed to the reader. The scene, then, is viewed through that person’s eyes and all other characters’ attitudes and feelings can only be speculated.

POV Problems
Point-of-view problems are a cause of stress for beginning writers. The author must put himself inside the head of the POV character so that he can write with realism. Read the paragraph below and ask yourself what’s wrong with this paragraph.
Jill’s pulse galloped when Brandon stepped through the doorway – muscular, assured, and handsome. His gaze trailed down the length of her wind-blown, golden-blond hair, then glided along her ivory skin, and rested on her full, coral lips. She winced as a red flush crept up her neck and covered her face.

Obviously, this paragraph has a point-of-view problem. Jill can only describe what she sees. Brandon sees her wind-blown hair and the red flush. When you look in a mirror, how often do you describe your own golden-blond hair or full, coral lips? The description from her POV is laughable. It is effective through Brandon’s eyes because it describes Jill as he views her but also shows us his emotion.

Brandon came through the doorway into the sunlight and faltered. Jill. The wind ruffled her golden, sun-speckled hair. His gaze glided over her delicate, ivory skin to her full, coral-hued lips. He warmed, watching a rosy flush creep up her hairline and spread along her cheeks.

Not only, can the reader visual Jill, but Brandon’s characterization is enhanced because the reader can sense his attraction to her.

Jill’s Point of View
So how could the same paragraph be viewed through Jill’s POV?

Jill’s pulse galloped when Brandon stepped through the doorway – muscular, assured, and handsome. His gaze drifted along her frame, and the fiery heat of embarrassment crept up her neck. She longed to counter with her own admiration of his bold, manly appearance, but she managed to cover her own feelings with a non-committal expression.

Notice that only what Jill feels and thinks is shown.

Using POV for Character Insight
Having the POV character look into a mirror for a description is weak writing unless it is used to give insight into characterization.

Looking into the store window, Janet caught Bill’s reflection. He headed for her, and she grimaced. Why today? She gaped at her straight, mousy-brown hair, wishing she’d gone for the dye-job and perm yesterday, instead of tomorrow.

Emotional reactions belong to the POV character, but physical description is most effective from another character. To make your writing believable, only describe what can be seen and felt through the POV character’s eyes.

©Gail Gaymer Martin, 2014 - Use this post only with the permission of the author.

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  1. Jill W April 30, 2014 at 8:20 am #

    This is a great explanation of POV, Gail. The examples you provided are so helpful. I am a reformed head-hopper. :)
    Thanks for this!

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