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Sunday, September 23, 2012

What’s the Best Point of View? syndicated post from @JamesWymore


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The following is syndicated from the blog of James Wymore and is posted here with permission.

I was five chapters into my book when I realized I was making a mistake. After writing my last book in third person single character limited, I forgot that most commercial fiction books are not limited to a single character. So I had to go back and switch two of the chapters to be from the POV (point of view) of different characters.

There are really only four functional POV choices for fiction.

•1. First Person
•2. Third Person Omniscient
•3. Third Person Limited, Single Character
•4. Third Person Limited, Multiple Characters

Here is a quick run down.

1. First person is when the character talks as the narrator. The character says “I” and “my” a lot. It is used in young children’s chapter books. A few classics were done in it. But most people agree that after Great Expectations it has never been done well. Detective Noir novels are done in it with a lot of character voice. Short stories often use this because they aren’t long enough for the voice to bug people. (I just finished Riordan’s Kane Chronicles where he switches between two characters in first person. Very cool that he found a way to stretch the norms… And a great book.)

2. Third Omniscient is when the narrator knows everything in everybody’s mind and tells what they are thinking when the narrator feels like it. It’s hard to do well because people don’t like to jump from one mind to another or analyze emotions comparatively. It can be distracting.

3. Third limited single is common in YA (like Harry Potter). The narrator speaks about the main character, but we never get to go anywhere except where the main character is. It’s a good compromise for getting into the head and heart of a single character without the annoying voice of first person.

4. The multiple character version of third limited is the most common choice of commercial adult fiction. The narrator tells the story, but each scene is kept to the actions and feelings of one of the characters, while changing between scenes. It lets the author explore many characters in deeper depth. It has the drawback of feeling like cheating if the author uses this POV but keeps back info from the readers.

So the book I’m writing now is the first of an epic series. It has tons of characters and complex plot. I already know future sequels will have different protagonists. So the single character limited third person POV was completely wrong. But it wasn’t until five chapters in that I realized what I was doing wrong. That and I had several characters I hadn’t named yet.

So two questions. First, does anybody else go that far before deciding on names? Second, have any of you had to deal with POV problems like this?

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