Point of View: The Window Through Which We See the World

Point of View: The Window Through Which We See the World

Point of view is one of the most essential aspects of a story. Entire books could be written on this subject alone. Because this issue is so complex, I will be writing several different articles on the subject, all covering the differing facets of point of view, or POV. This first article will act as a sort of overview of future installments.

When you write a book, presumably a work of fiction, you create an entirely different world. Your reader, a total stranger to this “new world” will require a guide. That is where POV comes into play.

What are you going to allow your reader to “see”? What will you allow them to “hear”? What will they know? What will they not know? These are the questions the writer must ask him/her self. What you do and do not allow your reader to be privy to will dictate the mood, pace, and even plot of your story.

One thing that is important to remember when establishing POV is that you must make the reader feel comfortable. They must feel satisfied that their “guide” is reliable, and that if they do suddenly switch “guides” for a section or chapter, they will eventually return to their original POV character. If the author “jumps around” from different POVs too often, the reader will feel uncomfortable and disengaged and will most likely stop reading your story. The concept of switching POV or “head hopping” is one that must be handled incredibly delicately. I will write a full article on this concept alone at a future date.

As way of an example of improper POV, read the short excerpt below:

Jane made her way quickly through the crowded mall, wondering if she would make it to the jeweler’s on time. Pete from the taco stand was bored, wishing time would pass quicker so he could go on break. The crowd pushed and shoved in their shopping frenzy, unaware that a great storm was coming. “I should pick up something for dinner,” Jane thought.

This is a prime example of clumsily managed POV. We start the section from Jane’s POV, then instantly switch to Pete’s, then that of an omnipresent narrator, then back to Jane. A rule of thumb with POV is to remain with a single “guide” and relay information only as it pertains to them. Here is that section rewritten with proper POV:

Jane made her way quickly through the crowded mall, wondering if she would make it to the jeweler’s on time. Glancing over to the left, she spotted a very bored looking taco vendor glancing up at the clock. No doubt he was biding his time til break. Jane tried to keep from being jostled by the frenzied crowd. In her haste, she breezed by an electronics store without noticing the televisions in the window which had been tuned to a local weather station. A great storm was coming. “I should pick something up for dinner,” Jane thought.

In this excerpt, all of the information from the previous passage is included, yet this time it is all relayed as it pertains to Jane. Notice that we don’t actually “hop into” Peter’s mind this time, Jane simply observes him as looking bored. Also, we are able to relay the frenzied attitude of the crowd, as it directly affects Jane, as does the storm on TV. By remaining with the same POV character, the reader is allowed to “get acquainted” with their guide, without being thrown from character to character.

Though I’m only scratching the surface on this subject, this should provide a basic outline of what POV is and why it is important. Let me know your thoughts on this topic, and thanks for stopping by.

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