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Choosing the point of view for your story and keeping it consistent

It’s the first authors’ Round Robin of the year, and another thought-provoking topic for me, both as a writer and an editor.round robin, helena fairfax, romance editor

Whose point of view do you like to use when writing your novels? And do you switch between characters? If so, how?

helena fairfax, freelance editor, using point of view

I’ve actually been thinking a lot recently about how other writers use point of view. My husband bought me an old crime novel for Christmas. It’s called Thirteen Guests, and is by J. Jefferson Farjeon.  It’s a fabulously creepy old mystery, published in the 1930s. I haven’t finished reading it yet, but the plot is great, and I can’t work out who the murderer is at all. One thing I’ve noticed with these older books, though, is that often the author changes point of view between characters willy-nilly. In fact Farjeon might as well have called his book Thirteen Points of View – or maybe more!

Whose point of view should a writer use?

The point of view in a story is the perspective from which the story is told. Jane Eyre is told in the first person helena fairfax, freelance editor, point of viewfrom Jane Eyre’s perspective, using “I” (“Reader, I married him”). Because it’s all told from Jane’s point of view, we don’t get to find out what Mr Rochester is thinking, except when Jane tells us what she thinks he might be thinking, if you see what I mean. For this reason, when Jane finds out Rochester is married, it comes as as much of a surprise to us as it does to Jane. We have only seen things from her point of view.

With third person – “she said”, “he said” – the author has more scope to show different points of view by switching between characters. In the romance genre, the convention used to be to use the third person and only show the events of the story through the heroine’s eyes. Nowadays most romance novels also show events from the hero’s point of view. I love to write in this way. I like to show what the hero is thinking, and I think it adds an extra dimension to the story. However, I do have a novel told entirely from the heroine’s point of view. In A Year of Light and Shadows, the reader doesn’t know what the hero is thinking. This way I was able to bring about a twist and a dramatic surprise for the heroine that the reader could never have guessed at. I could only keep the element of surprise by not showing the hero’s thoughts.

How to alternate points of view in a story

I’ll admit, alternating between points of view is not easy. As a writer you have to build up a seamless transition, so helena fairfax fiction set in hotelsthat the reader isn’t bewildered and flummoxed by the new point of view, and the story flows smoothly. I’ve noticed in a lot of psychological thrillers the convention is to have alternate chapters devoted to a particular character, which is one way of handling it. Many readers love this. They say it adds to the page-turning quality and makes them want to keep reading. In my novel Felicity at the Cross Hotel, the chapters alternate between the hero and the heroine’s point of view, and I enjoyed writing like this. It gave some structure and suspense to the story.

In my other novels, I’ve always kept the heroine’s point of view the main focus, with the hero having his say when it fits the story. Even here, though, I have a structure, and the hero’s point of view is shown around a third of the time. The convention I use to show the switch in point of view between hero and heroine is a line break between the sections, or else a line break with an asterisk.

Does “head-hopping” – or frequent changes in point of view – really matter?

helena fairfax, freelance author, alternating points of viewDoes it matter that the author of Thirteen Guests alternates point of view between his characters in an arbitrary way? I was thinking about that for this post, and about whether his frequent and random changes of point of view make a difference to my enjoyment of the story. I’d have to say yes, it does matter. His story is well plotted, but it doesn’t quite have that page-turning quality because I’m not emotionally engaged with any particular character. The point of view keeps chopping and changing. It’s actually a bit disorientating at times, and at one point I’d entirely forgotten a character was part of the set up, until suddenly his point of view reappeared.

As a writer it’s sometimes difficult to see things from a reader’s point of view. Writers can think everything is crystal clear. A good editor can help a writer to see when the changes in point of view aren’t working, or even whether the story should be written from a different point of view altogether.

***

Another interesting subject for writers and lovers of books. Thanks so much, author Robin Courtright, for setting the topic and for organising it!

If you’ve enjoyed this topic, or have any questions or comments at all, please let me know. And if you’d like to find out the points of view of the other authors in our Round Robin, please click on the links below.

Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1ag
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Anne de Gruchy https://annedegruchy.co.uk/category/blog/
A.J. Maguire  http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Anne Stenhouse  http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/

 

 

 

18 thoughts on “Choosing the point of view for your story and keeping it consistent

  1. Hi Helena, I think we’re pretty much in agreement this month. curiously, I bought Farjeon’s Mystery in White to read in the downtimes (there are many) when on jury duty. I find multiple VPs too confusing. It’s one of those things that winds up an editor because it makes you re-read for sense rather than to enjoy the peerless prose over again. anne stenhouse

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a coincidence about the Mystery in White, Anne. I had wondered if that book might be better, as it seems to be more well-known. I’m not keen on multiple pov, either. It must be hard to write it and still keep the reader engaged (and not confused!)

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  2. I would tend consistently to keep it from one point of view (the character’s) either in first or third person (he/she or I) as any deviation from this can confuse that delicate yet discerning character, the reader.

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    1. It’s hard to do it well without confusing the reader, James. I don’t mind the hero’s point of view in a romance novel, but when it gets to more points of view than two I struggle :)
      Thanks for dropping in, and for your comment!

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  3. I still find POV the hardest part of writing and am thankful for my two critique partners who regularly pull me up by pointing it out to me. I write in third person but am contemplating writing my next book in first person. I had never heard of Farjeon, so Google here I come.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hadn’t heard of this author, either, Victoria, until my husband bought me the book. I’ve finished it now and I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t as good as an Agatha Christie. Maybe because of the POV issues!
      Thanks for dropping in!

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  4. POV is a hard element to discern when writing the story. Sometimes just a few words change the POV, but my crit partners jump right on it! Your post made me think of my first novel accepted by a publisher. The editor pointed out I had 7 POVs in the ms. She made me whittle them down to 4, I think. I certainly have great appreciation for editors. I read a book with chapters not only with different POV’s, but also one character was always in present tense and the other always in past tense. Oh my, but the author kept it consistent throughout. Took me half the book to get used to it. Thank you for your thoughtful post on POV.

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    1. I remember my first book was full of head-hopping, JQ. My editor – the lovely Nancy Bell – put it right! Ever since then I’ve learned a great lesson. I struggle, too, with these books that keep changing tenses. It does seem a bit like a gimmick. Thanks for your comment, and for dropping in!

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  5. Would that be considered omniscient? Or do you only get into some of the characters’ heads?

    I prefer writing in tight 3rd person POV, preferably with one character, but I do what the story dictates…most of the time. LOL Or should I say, “What my muse dictates.” :D

    Marci

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    1. Hi Marci, I only get into some of the characters’ heads, and then only one at a time – so the reader can only see what that particular character can see, which is like tight 3rd POV. When I switch POV to another character, I make a break so that it’s more obvious to the reader.
      I agree with doing what your muse dictates! :) Thanks so much for dropping in, and for your comment!

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  6. Usually I keep it simple, in my romances just the hero and heroine. But in my first published work, The Candidate, I actually used 5 points of view. But each new change of pov was done in a new chapter. It was one man’s struggle to come to terms with things from his past while he was in a hot race for the White House. Originally written from just his point of view the first editor who saw it loved the premise but felt there wasn’t enough tension. So, I decided to add viewpoints from two other candidates as well as two key characters that strongly influenced the story. In the end, it was a much stronger story that way. But I did have to be careful to always make sure the reader knew where he was and whose head he was in.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds a great read, Skye. Like you, I usually keep to the hero and heroine’s point of view, but I find when I’m reading suspense novels, a switch to another character’s viewpoint often does ratchet up the tension. It’s hard to do this well, though. Sometimes when the viewpoint switches, I lose interest, because I was wanting to stick with the previous character. It’s great to have an editor’s advice, as it’s so hard to see all this for yourself in your own story.
      Thanks for dropping in!

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  7. Hi Helena, I enjoyed your post and found it interesting that the book you’re reading head hops and therefore you don’t develop a good relationship with any of the characters so it’s not a page turner. I hadn’t thought of it before and it makes perfect sense.
    Beverley

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Beverley, yes, I found it hard to relate to any of the characters, which is a shame, as the plot and setting were great. It was similar to an Agatha Christie. I’m going to go back to one of her books and see how she does it.
      It’s another great topic. Thanks for dropping in!

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  8. Hi Helena – you make a good point that a good editor – and some external, unbiaised readers I would say – is always a good idea to stop your readers feeling confused. Thanks for your great post. Anne

    Liked by 1 person

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