POV Part I - 3 types of narration

Posts in the Five W's of POV series:


What is POV?
POV stands for Point of View.

Think about how you look out at the world. What are you as an individual able to see? You can see other people's expression but not what they are thinking. You can see yourself in the mirror, but when there is no mirror, you can't see the twinkle in your own eyes or the smirk on your face. This is your personal point of view.

Just as people have a point of view, so does a story. In fact, stories have many points of view. Each character has their own personalities, their own goals, their own perspectives. If not, your characters are flat Yes Men, soulless creatures happy to go along with whatever their god (the author) has planned for them.

There are many viewpoints that you could write from:

  • The omniscient author narrator
  • The first-person narrator
  • The third-person narrator

1. Omniscient POV
The omniscient POV is when the author is the one telling the story. Here's an example of from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:

It was an unpleasant evening. Lucy was miserable and Edmund was beginning to feel that his plan wasn't working as well as he had expected. The two older ones were really beginning to think that Lucy was out of her mind. They stood in the passage talking about it in whispers long after she had gone to bed.

In this passage, C.S. Lewis basically does a roll call, listing each major player and what they are feeling, thinking, and/or doing. This was a popular way to write years ago, and you will find this kind of omniscient information in many of the classics.

This book was my first chapter book in 3rd grade, and ever since I was addicted to reading. Although the omniscient POV is frowned upon by publishers today, the Narnian Chronicles are still loved by young and old readers today. My oldest daughter and I have been reading them together, and she is as much in love with Aslan as I was.

However, this omniscient viewpoint is considered amateurish today. In future posts I will explain why that is and how to write more professional fiction by sticking with the POV rules.

2. First-Person POV
This is when a character in the story tells the story using the pronouns I, me, my, and mine. If I rewrote that passage from C.S. Lewis book with Lucy as the First-Person POV, this is what it would look like:

Peter's got that worried I'm-the-oldest-and-I-have-to-look-out-for-my-little-sister look in his eyes again, and Susan always thinks she knows best. They are probably whispering about me behind my back. But I know what I saw. I know I was there. I just wish they would believe me.

What's the difference? Well, we can only assume what Peter and Susan are thinking based on Lucy's perspective, and when Lucy isn't around, we can't know what Peter and Susan are really doing. But Lucy can surmise, based on the looks she is getting.

Here is an example from my upcoming novel Never Forget:

I took another step, careful to avoid the colorful leaves strewn across the forest floor. My brown cotton skirt was balled into my hand so that I didn't make any extra noise. I held my breath. My heart raced wildly in my chest. I figured that he'd had to hear that, but he didn't move. He just sat against the tree at the edge of the woods, humming a familiar tune. I grinned. Maybe this time I'll actually surprise him. When I was just about to jump out from my hiding spot to surprise him, he calmly said, "You might as well come out, Barra. I know you're there."

Barra and her brother are playing a game they've done for years--she's trying to sneak up on him without him knowing. Does he hear her? We can't know that because Barra doesn't know that. She can't feel or see or hear what he does.

This makes the writing seem closer to reality and anchors the reader into the story. The reader identifies with one character and sees the world that you have created for them as if they were that character. And the best part is that they forget that there is this magician that waved a wand and created this illusional world. They forget about the author behind the curtain.

3. Third Person POV
This is when a character in the story tells the story using the pronouns he/she, his/her, etc. You can switch perspectives when you switch scenes, but only one character per scene or your reader will feel pulled in too many directions.

George R. R. Martin did this in the Songs of Fire and Ice series. So did Robert Jordan. And Terry Goodkind. These authors built worlds with complex plots, politics, and people, and they would often switch POV's each chapter. But one thing is for certain, they always kept to one viewpoint per scene.

And J.K. Rowlands in the Harry Potter series. Everything is seen through Harry's eyes. When his friends Ron and Hermione argue, we only know how Harry feels about it and how Harry perceives how they feel about it. But never what they are really thinking.

And Orson Scott Card in The Memory of Earth. The main character Nafai is most often the POV, but every now and then it switches to one of the minor characters. When Nafai is the POV, you learn how much he adores his oldest brother. When his oldest brother is the POV, you see Nafai from a different perspective--a snotty-nosed brat. Nafai wouldn't have known what his brother thought of him, just as his brother doesn't know that Nafai admires him so much.

Here's an example from my own book Scrolls:

...Her voice was strained, he thought. He watched as the girl closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath before she spoke. Are those tears in her eyes?
She let out a ragged sigh. "Galatia, this is Jadon Forsythe on a practice run for my father," Jadon answered the call. Jaak sneered. There wasn't a drop of emotion in her voice. I guess I was wrong—Poshes don't have tears.

And another example from Infiltrate:

...Jadon turned to look in the mirror. She frowned at the dash of freckles across her nose. "Soldiers don't have freckles," she grumbled. She ran her hand across the stubble on her scalp. It wouldn't do. The commander on the base would suspect something if her appearance wasn't pristine. She reached for the razor.
With her scalp smooth once again, she grabbed the blue uniform from her locker. She sighed. Lelea looked up. "It's the last time."
"I hope so," Jadon said. "I really do."

You can see from these two excerpts, written from different POV's that each sees the world in a different perspective. Jaak sees Jadon as everything he hates about the ruling class. But Jadon obviously isn't quite what he thinks she is.

Homework Assignment:
Reread some of your favorite books or read some of the popular science fiction / fantasy books that you haven't read before. Watch for how the author handles the viewpoint and the narration. Ask yourself some questions:

  • Who is the POV?
  • How does the author illustrate emotions of non-POV characters without jumping into their heads?
  • How did the author's use of POV suck you into the story?
  • How can you apply this to your own work?

Please post names of books that seem to handle this very well or even excerpts from your own books. I'd love to read what you've got.


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