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Whose Head Am I In?

Point of View in Writing

by Marie Valentine, editor

Fiction writing instructions often address three pillars of a story: character, plot, and setting. Point of view (POV) is an element that overlays all three. Many times, a novel will show up on my desk where the writer has concentrated on the three pillars without clearly addressing the issues of POV.

Perspective in these books gets muddied. Readers will wonder, who is the main character? Who is the narrator? How doheades this person know what the other person is thinking? Why am I here?

We refer to POV in three general classes: third person, first person and second person, defined by the pronouns used: First person uses “I/we,” second person uses “you,” and third person uses “he/she/they.” Deciding which point of view you want to use before you start writing will go a long way toward consistency of your book’s viewpoint. Often, though, writers come to POV on the back end and it becomes an “identify, rework, rewrite” job (best tended to with an experienced editor).

I appreciate experimentation, but readers don’t always share this appreciation when approaching a work. Readers of different genres develop certain expectations. For example, fiction or memoir that addresses the reader is breaking a rule of the writer/reader sacred pact: the reader is wallpaper and the story lives outside of the reader. Talking to a reader when they’re not expecting it is a break in viewpoint that pulls her out of the story and reminds her that she is not a part of this story world. Fiction writers want their readers to become absorbed into the story, not get tugged out of it by direct address.

As writers, try to remember the importance of perspective when outlining your novel, and use POV as a guide in your draft. The key is viewpoint consistency, which will go a long way toward the cohesion of your book.

I hope this sheds some light on an area of craft we don’t always consider foremost when writing, but which becomes a primary consideration during editing. There’s more to be said about POV, and in a future post I will touch on which genres use which POV, and some considerations in deciding whether to use first person and third person in fiction.

is an editor who enjoys assisting authors make their books as wonderful as possible.

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