Out of Their Minds: The basics of point-of-view

Ever been reading a novel, cooking along with the character, when you realize you’re not seeing things through that character’s eyes any longer? Somewhere along the way, something shifted and you’re inside a different character’s head. Jarring, huh? Probably jolted you out of the story, if only for a few seconds while you figured out what happened.

That, my friends, is what you want to avoid at all costs: Bumping your reader out of the story. Because once they’re out, any number of things can pull them away before they get back in.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at Point of view. First, what is POV (point of view)? Anyone? Yes! That’s exactly right. (Hey, I’m a novelist too, remember? If I want to hear my imaginary class answering me, I can.”) Point of view is the “eyes” through which we’re seeing the story.

There are three common POVs:

  • Omniscient
  • First person
  • Third person

Omniscient POV. Know the most famous example of this? Simple, Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. . . .

Omniscient POV means you’re writing from inside everyone’s head, and from the outside. You hop into whomever’s head you choose, or you speak as a disconnected narrator. This form of POV is more archaic. It worked way back when, but not so much nowadays. Why? Because you lose connection and intimacy with the characters. Readers don’t get as invested in what they’re reading because it’s being reported more than experienced.

Are there benefits to Omniscient POV? Sure:

  • It’s an easy way to introduce information
  • Unlike first person, you can see everything that’s happening.

But the limits outweigh the benefits:

  • Lack of intimacy. Fiction is all about making a connection. You don’t do that with Omniscient POV.
  • You get the information, but not the emotions. Actually, you can tell what the emotions are, but the reader doesn’t really feel them.

Next, comes First Person. First person is the most intimate of the POVs. In first person, the narrator is one character, speaking in terms of I. Here are two great examples of First Person POV:

The first is from Francine Rivers’s marvelous books, which is also a movie now, The Last Sineater.

The first time I saw the sin eater was the night Granny Forbes was carried to her grave. I was very young and Granny my dearest companion, and I was greatly troubled in my mind.

“Dunna look at the sin eater, Cadi,” I’d been told by my pa. “And no be asking why.”

Being so greviously forewarned, I tried to obey. Mama said I was acurst with curiosity. Papa said it was pure, cussed nosiness. Only Granny, with her tender spot for me, had understood.

The second is one of my all-time favorite beginnings for a novel, from Andrew Greely’s The God Game:

It was Nathan’s fault that I became God.

It is, as I would learn, hell to be God.

Nathan, to begin with, is as close to a genius as anyone I expect to know. If this story has any moral at all, it is that you should stay away from geniuses.

Both of these drew me in right away. But why? Why does first person work?

The benefits are evident. First person POV is:

  • Emotive
  • Immediate, and
  • Appealing. It really gets you into the character and the story. You’re inside the character’s mind, under his/her skin, right from the get-go.

But there are limits to First Person POV:

  • You can only tell what that one person sees, thinks, feels. Everything must go through the filter of that character’s understanding and perspective. Think about it. Look at the room around you. If you’re the POV character, you can only see what…well, you can see. You can’t see what’s behind you, or what’s happening outside. And if someone comes in the room, you can guess what he or she is thinking or feeling, but can’t know for certain. That smile could mask anger or sorrow. Those wrinkles on the forehead could be confusion or brewing rage. You can only know what you know. Period.
  • Your character must be strong enough to carry the story. Readers have to be willing to stay inside that head for the entire book.
  • Writing first person POV is far more difficult to pull off than writing third person. You have to maintain that character’s voice pitch-perfect, and that’s tough.

Which brings us to Third Person POV, which could be viewed as kind of a compromise on the previous two. It gives you both intimacy and perspective. Third Person speaks in terms of he or she, and allows the writer to go into several characters’ heads (preferably in separate scenes. Please don’t head-hop…). How many heads, you ask? As many as the story needs, but be sure the story really needs them. Usually you see anywhere from two to four or five. Sure, you lose a bit of the intimacy of First Person, but you still feel a great deal.

An up-and-coming technique is to have the best of both POV worlds: to combine first person with third person. Generally, this is done by choosing one character to write using first person POV. Everyone else is written using third person. One scene is written in first person, then several in third person. I wasn’t sure about this first time I saw it, but you know what? It works, as long as it’s written well. I’m editing a book right now that does that, and I’ve been trying it in the book I’m writing, too. It’s a lot of fun. There’s something exciting about writing first person, but it’s less restrictive when you also use third person.

So what POV works best for you? That will depend on the character and the story. Even the genre can be a determining factor. But whatever POV you use, be sure you avoid the common pitfalls. Which we’ll explore next week!






Leave a Comment

News You Can Use

Winnie the Pooh’s Cultural Dominance – A great slide show of the history of A.A. Milne’s character growing into a phenomenon. Did you know he sold the rights to Pooh in 1931 for $1,000 and a % of licensing fees? Today the licensing generates $5.6 billion in annual revenue. Wow.

Free Magazine on Writing – The July issue of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA).

Agent Andrew Wylie Stirs Things Up – Wylie capitalizes on the horrific situation at NewsCorp (parent company to HarperCollins) to toss some bombshells into their camp.

Wrestling with Writers Block? – Bob Spear provides some great advice.

Is Your Work Being Plagiarized on the Internet? – This is an excellent article with critical tools to determine if your work is being stolen.

What is the Best Time to Post Your Blog? – See this fascinating infographic. Does it match with your best practices?

The graphic can be found at Kissmetrics.

Read More

More Convention Highlights!

As you know from reading our own Steve Laube’s excellent insights on this blog about ICRS, the days were busy, exciting, and invigorating. The convention confirmed our optimism about Christian publishing’s bright future.

I’ve been to the convention a number of times and have always been blessed. This year, it took place in Atlanta, a lovely city that offers hot, sunny, humid weather. My biggest challenge was trying to keep my hair presentable.

A writer following ICRS news would think this event has shrunk to nothing, but in fact, the Convention Center overflowed with exhibitors. All total, 21 writers from The Steve Laube Agency were in attendance.

Read More

Convention Time!

by Steve Laube

Last week was the 2011 International Christian Retailing Show (ICRS) in Atlanta, Georgia. Tamela Hancock Murray and I  had a busy time. Statistics released declared that professional attendance was up 9.7% to 1,748, primarily representing buyers. Total attendance was up 5.83% to 4,918. International attendance was up 16.17% to 431 attendees from 61 countries.

Read More

Special Announcement


Congratulations to Kathi Macias, author of Red Ink (New Hope Publishers) for being given the 2011 Golden Scroll book award for Novel of the Year presented by the Advance Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA). This is a tremendous honor.

We are also thrilled to announce that seven of our agency’s clients have been named as finalists for the Carol Award presented by the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW).

Congratulations to:

Read More

News You Can Use

How Much is My First Printing Going to Be? – Just-in-Time Inventory and efficient printing technology has made that question irrelevant. Richard Curtis helps writers understand the new lingo.

Owners of eReaders and Tablets Are Heavy Readers of Printed Versions ofMagazines and Newspapers – This is the headline from a recent survey taken of 26,000 people by Gfk MRI. Also noted that women are 52% more likely than men to own an e-reader, and men are 24% more likely than women to own a tablet.

Ann Patchett talks to the Arizona Republic about her new novel State of Wonder.

Celebrate 40 Years of Project Gutenberg – Last Monday was the 40th anniversary of Project Gutenberg whose goal has been to digitize public domain books of significance. They now have over 36,000 titles available.

The Millennials – The Millennials by Thom Rainer and Jess Rainer is this month’s free audio book from ChristianAudio. It is worth your time to “read” this book!

Ellery Adams reveals how much money she makes as a writer. – Read this very carefully and comment below with your conclusions.

YouVersion is THE Bible translation app to have on your smartphone, tablet, desktop, or laptop. Developed by a church in Oklahoma City, it is free and works offline to make it the ultimate digital companion. Join the other one million users today!
Below is a wonderful infographic illustrating an incredible 20 million bookmarks have been created by users:

Read More

The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread?

Guest Post by Teddi Deppner

Today debuts our first guest post. I first met Teddi at the Mt. Hermon Writers Conference while she sat through my Major Morning Track, listening patiently to 8 1/2 hours of lecture over four days. She has recently been asking some penetrating questions about technology and the publishing industry so I invited her to create a post and express those thoughts for your discussion.

Teddi Deppner has published hundreds of websites over the last 15+ years in her work as a professional web designer, marketer and consultant. Recently, she has launched on a quest to map out simple, effective strategies to share with creative people using the Internet and social media for their business. Find her latest projects at www.TeddiDeppner.com.


Thanks to Steve for the opportunity to share some thoughts with his audience. This post, intended primarily to open a lively discussion, was sparked by an article by Craig Mod about “Post-Artifact Book Publishing”.

Craig’s essay presents the idea that books have traditionally been artifacts: the concrete, physical products of an author. He diagrams the process and participants in the creation, publishing and distribution of this artifact and how things are changing now that books have become more than static artifacts.

Read More

RWA 2011 – Bright Lights Big Stories

by Lynette Eason

Today we are pleased to have a guest post from Lynette Eason, author of the bestselling “Women of Justice” series published by Revell. She also won the 2011 Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award for romantic suspense. Last week Lynette was at the RWA (Romance Writers of America) convention and we asked her to share her experience.


“Bright Lights Big Stories” was the theme of the RWA conference this year. My very FIRST RWA conference. What an experience!

The conference was held at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. My hotel room was on the twenty-first floor. My husband came with me and we had a corner king room. It was HUGE. And so comfy. I could have just stood at the window looking down at all of the excitement on Broadway the entire week, but I knew there were other fun things to experience.

Read More