What is Point of View and Why is it Important?

by Ann Gimpel

In fictional writing, point of view refers to which character is observing/driving the action in a particular part of a story. The reader can’t know anything the POV character doesn’t know which makes writing an entire novel from a single POV somewhat daunting, but far from impossible. I’ve done it a few times, but I prefer alternating POVs. In urban fantasy, I’ll often have as many as five or six POVs in a long series.

I’ve picked up a lot of novels where the writer switches POV many times in the course of a single page. It gives the story a jerky aspect that feels rather like a tennis match. I don’t think readers need to know what each character’s internal process is at all times. The writer can use dialogue and observation of body language to good effect. This avoids “head hopping.” For example:

Amanda glanced across the room through eyes glistening with tears. Ty’s jaw was set in a hard line she recognized all too well. The muscle under his eye twitched, too, always a dead giveaway he was furious.

Even though it’s Amanda’s POV, we get a bird’s eye view of Ty’s mental state from her observation of his body language. Dialogue can serve the same purpose.

From a writer’s perspective, I see the story through my characters’ eyes. It makes my life easier if I’m telling the story from, for example, the heroine’s POV until either a section or chapter break when I may switch to the hero or an important subsidiary character. Each character has their own personality and way of viewing the world. While two or three POV characters can enrich a hundred thousand word novel, introducing half a dozen can be confusing.

George RR Martin simply labels his chapters with whomever the POV character is. That works great because I could click to the table of contents in my Kindle and skip over the chapters about the characters I hadn’t warmed to. For a multi-book series of hundreds of thousands of words, it’s actually a solid approach.

Most writers do a decent job maintaining the POV rules. Others thumb their noses at them. I’m currently reading an old Nora Roberts romance, Courting Catherine, which would have been ever so much better if it didn’t head hop every paragraph or two. Don’t get me wrong. I’m enjoying it. Ms. Roberts is a wonderful writer, but I’d like it better if we could stick with CC or Trent and skip CC’s three sisters and aunt.

While we’re at it, how about some of the other writing conventions like third person past tense? I’ve written my share of first person past, but I have to admit I prefer third because it gives me much more latitude. First person present drives me nuts. I find it hard to read, although I admit to slogging through all three Hunger Games books because the story was intriguing. I’d love to know what you think. What person/tense do you prefer to write in and what do you like to read?

Ann Gimpel is a USA Today bestselling author. A lifelong aficionado of the unusual, she began writing speculative fiction a few years ago. Since then her short fiction has appeared in several webzines and anthologies. Her longer books run the gamut from urban fantasy to paranormal romance. Once upon a time, she nurtured clients. Now she nurtures dark, gritty fantasy stories that push hard against reality. When she’s not writing, she’s in the backcountry getting down and dirty with her camera. She’s published more than 50 books to date, with several more planned for 2018 and beyond. A husband, grown children, grandchildren, and wolf hybrids round out her family.

Keep up with her at www.anngimpel.com or http://anngimpel.blogspot.com

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