Point of View
Before planning a story in any great detail there are several things to consider. One of those deliberations is what viewpoint should the text be written? Let’s have a look at some of the choices.
First Person Point of View (POV):
If you want the intimacy of just a single person throughout the story then writing in first person is probably what you’re looking for. Further, if the protagonist is not a particularly nice character, at least until they’ve reached a turning point, then first person can more make the reader understand and even sympathize with their thinking. By sharing the hero’s perception of life you draw the reader into identifying with them. In other words they experience the action rather than read about it; even to the point of tolerating the main character’s flaws.
However, the viewpoint does have limitations. The main character must always be present at the scene of whatever you’re describing. Thereby you lose the opportunity to create subplots outside the hero’s knowledge that can be both relevant and interesting. Also, he/she must be strong enough and evocative enough to hold the reader for the whole novel because that character will be the only person the reader gets to know intimately. That is, the characteristics of all other players will be as seen through the eyes of the hero, so the reader doesn’t get to make their own mind up about them. Finally, if you make the lead role too ‘off the wall’ your reader might feel trapped in the lead’s head and become alienated because you’ve made them feel ill at ease.
Of course, the story can be separated into sections where we have first person POV in different character viewpoints, or first person chapters mixed with that of the third person. Both of these methods have been used successfully, but for my money it might as well have all been written in the third person. As I said above, a reader becomes emotionally involved with the main character, such that reading in the ‘I’ voice allows them to become the hero themselves. Changing to a different first person or a third person character along the way only serves to confuse the sensitivities.
Part one of my latest novel, A Destiny to Die For, is due out soon and it is my first offering in first person POV. The prologue, written in present tense because it begins in the aftermath, will give you an idea of how this view can draw you into the character almost immediately:
My name is Angelita – little angel. With seven brothers and sisters, Mama didn’t name me this because she saw something special in an only child; she thought I had an angelic beauty and a spiritual aura. Boy, did she get that wrong. There is no doubt I was always stunning, but to some beauty is of no importance – my papa was one like this. It was nothing personal with him; he’d been pretty much indifferent to how anyone looked and that included us children. In fact, the only thing he found exquisite was a well-delivered right hook in the cage … maybe Mama was the exception. As far as spiritual aura went, I suppose I was a pretty good kid; all the way up to four years old!
Perhaps this sounds like idle reminiscence. It’s not. As my thoughts run their course I sit with half my ass on the floor and my shoulder against a wall to keep from falling. One of my eyes has been destroyed by a paraffin-fueled blowtorch, the other stares down at my hand, watches my fingers trying to stem the blood flow from the wound in my side – and fail. What’s left of the white T-shirt I’m wearing is drinking at the fluid like blotting paper, my denim skirt has ridden up over my thighs, and life-sustaining liquid is pooling under my leg. As it cools against my skin, it thickens to black tar.
But the dead blood is all that is cooling; the heat in here is stifling and makes the smell of the already stinking hole that much worse. Cordite fills the air, but its odor is polluted by paraffin fumes, sweat, and even human waste I think. I can see the soles of Monica’s feet and parts of her open legs sticking out from under the pool table, but nothing else of her is visible. She’s wearing ultra-high heels that occasionally dance in spasm and wobble what little flesh she has on her slim thighs, but after what happened to her she won’t be going anywhere in a hurry, not without a body bag.
Enzo is sat in a seat in the corner. He’s in charge of the gang of foreigners we’ve just been to war with. In fact, we are in the back room of his café now. Enzo is supposed to be some sort of El Supremo, but he’s whined like a baby ever since his part in the firefight ended. Sadly, he’s still alive. Tony too, his second in command, he’s on the floor opposite to me. His back’s against the wall and he stares at me with that stupid smile on his face. He’s been gutshot, so I can’t imagine what he’s got to smile about. Other than the odd shuffle to ease his pain, he is unmoving and silent – but that smile. Please, God, his wounds are terminal. I so hope he and Enzo die soon – at least before me.
I shiver. Shock? Lack of blood? Anxiety for my unborn child? The dead family around me? I don’t know. I’m so weak it’s an effort to hold my head up. But then why would I want to? My head feels like the fires of hell have been visited upon it. No, I shouldn’t move. Nor should I think of the pain.
A stupid thought, considering what has happened, but I can’t help believing that if Chico makes a show everything will be alright. He isn’t here and there’s no realistic reason to think he will be, but I have to keep believing he might, or I lose. I’ll keep still, be patient, try keeping the hurt at bay by concentrating on what happened to get me here in the first place, flip through my life as if turning the leaves on a dog-eared old book to see if any of it justifies me being here.
Third Person POV:
I’ll begin with the drawbacks with this one because I don’t think there are many. Third person is the ideal solution for getting into the heads of more than one character! And that’s a drawback? Yes, in as much as you’ve now got the job of describing how others see your main person. Reaction to any character in a real life situation can be different from one person to another; dress sense can look great or naff depending on who is weighing who up. Similarly, some people might like you, others might not… that’s life. The character you have created is no different and in third person it’s your job to show it from all angles.
I love third person, partly because opening up the drawbacks I’ve painted above can make the story that much richer and allow you to develop other characters more. But the benefits go further than that, a lot further. If something happens at a distance when in first person point of view and that something is necessary to the progression of the plot then the only way the reader will hear of it is by hearsay from a third party. This can end up with overdoing the telling of a story and the opportunity to show the action is lost; a first person POV misses it, so the reader misses it too.
There are different types of third person and of them I prefer strictly limited within the scene or chapter. The following is a short extract from book one of Birth of an Assassin and gives reason to my preferences:
There were no people, no sounds – so where did the blow come from that sent his mind spiraling into disarray? Pain thundered in the back of his head. His body drove through the chairs and flew over the desk, slamming into the wall beyond.
Although you can have multiple third person POV’s throughout your novel, ideally, they shouldn’t be mixed in the same scene or chapter. Strictly limited by my reckoning means that everything in that scene or chapter can only be visualized through the eyes of one person and, even if something is going on in the same room, the POV shouldn’t be aware of it and neither should the reader. Imagine the three sentences above from Birth of an Assassin had I switched points of view in mid-scene – to stop it being confusing it would become too wordy and the all important pace is gone, also, you would know someone was creeping up and the reader would lose the element of surprise. Clearly, writing is subjective, but for me, when using third person strictly limited, it is superior for both clarity and pace. Lots of writers may disagree as there are many valid ways of writing in third person. I guess a lot of it is down to preference. This is mine.
The Omniscient Point of View:
Whichever POV you might use, the writer is a god to the story; by creating the setting, or world, populating that world, and developing or destroying the populous within at will. The omniscient POV takes it a step further; he is the ever present, all knowing voice that dictates to the reader from above. He might tell you the deepest and most intimate thoughts of multiple characters in a single chapter, as well as narrate the story with authorial voice as it develops. He can look into the future e.g. ‘little did he know’, or justify a character’s action by telling you of something past e.g. ‘it happened because…’. What I’ve just written of omniscient POV just about exhausts what I know as I’ve never used it, so better leave it right there before I start getting it wrong.