POINT OF VIEW
Your protagonist is your reader’s main point of reference and context from which they will understand your story.
In other words, the reader will view your story from the protagonist’s point of view – through their eyes. This is important, because your aim, when writing any story, will be to get the reader reading and to keep them reading to the end and this is done by having a character they can really get to know and hopefully become emotionally invested in.
Some authors use multiple character’s points of view, but usually these are restricted to one per chapter or section and do not switch during that chapter or section.
Changing the point of view is like jumping in and out of different people’s heads, which can be confusing for the reader (if not done well) and distract their interest away from the main character.
Point of view comes in three main varieties: Third person (the most popular), First person (loved by some, hated by others) and Second person (rarely used in novels).
THIRD PERSON POINT OF VIEW
A narrated story, referring to the main character using she, he and they pronouns.
This is the most common point of view in novels. Third Person PoV is also the easiest to write and there are two varieties:
- Third Person PoV Omniscient – the narrator (author) tells the story from many perspectives because they know the thoughts and feelings of all the characters in the story.
My book ‘Freen: The First Truth’ is third person omniscient, because although Gem is the main character, the reader is also shown scenes where Gem is not present and therefore, the narrator becomes ‘all knowing’.
- Third Person PoV Limited – similar to First Person, but more detached, the narrator tells the story from the perspective of only the main character.
The ‘Harry Potter’ books are third person limited, because we only see what Harry sees, so if the author needs to show us the past, she uses a device, such as Harry seeing into the past through the ‘pensieve’, or overhearing conversations he should not be party to, hidden under the ‘invisibility cloak’.’
FIRST PERSON POINT OF VIEW
The main character is the narrator, using I, we and me pronouns.
The main character tells the story to the reader. This makes it trickier for the author to show what other characters get up to, unless the main character actually witnesses or hears about them. It does however, lend a great deal of intimacy to the story because you are seeing things directly through the eyes of the narrator/main character.
The very popular book Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is a good example of a novel written in first person.
Here is an extract from my novella ‘Crime and Cremation’, which is also written in first person point of view:
“It’s fine, the fuse is always blowing, it happened to me, like, three times last week,” I lie.
Then we both hear the noise, but this time it is coming from my dad’s study. Bloody cat! I grab one of Mum’s candles, the one she thinks is far too pretty to use and casually light it.
SECOND PERSON POINT OF VIEW
The reader is the main character, using the pronouns you!
You are the main character in the story – although the author is telling you what you did and thought. Very few novels are written in second person because it is extremely difficult to do well and from a reader’s point of view, it almost feels like you are being ‘directed’ in a play.
Below is an example of second person narrative:
You open the door, expecting it to be your withering mother, but no, you find yourself face-to-face with a scarlet-faced teenager. Holding a gun.
You don’t know what to do, and the split second you take to consider your options proves to be the undoing of you.
Another example of second person are the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure‘ books by Edward Packard, that were popular in the 1980s, where you had to choose what happened next at each point.
First Person Point of View exercise
Liam is stuck on a train.
He had to work late again because it is the only way to keep on top of his work-load and ensure he meets his deadlines.
He has two younger executives snapping at his heels for his job; which is precarious under the latest management re-shuffle.
The train that Liam is on is Southern Rail – so it is indefinitely delayed. He promised to help his wife Lisa move the bed around in the spare room so that her parents could come and stay next week. There is no phone signal to call Lisa to let her know he is on his way home and he forgot to call her before he left the office. It is 9.45pm.
Write a couple of paragraphs on Liam’s frustration from his own perspective, using First Person PoV.
For example: I couldn’t believe it, NO PHONE SIGNAL and I was three hours later than I said I would be…
Third Person Point of View exercise
Lisa is beginning to wonder if her husband (Liam, above) is having an affair. She is a busy school teacher in a tiny village school and she doesn’t get out of their village very often, so she has very little understanding of commuting and working in a business environment.
Write a couple of paragraphs about Lisa’s worries, from her own perspective, using Third Person PoV.
For example: Lisa kept checking her messages, but there was nothing from Liam, where could he be, she wondered…
A 'BADDIES' POINT OF VIEW
OK, so not technically a PoV – more a perspective.
Most stories are not from the view point of a ‘bad’ person. If there is a ‘bad person, then the story will often be from the view point of one of their victims, because a reader will be sympathetic to a victim – they can relate to or at least understand their anguish and will generally want to root for them.
It is harder to invest your precious reading time on a character you despise or cannot relate to in any way.
If you do want to write from the point of view of the ‘baddie’, then you will need to give them some likeable, or at the very least, relatable characteristics. It may be that they have a deeper purpose that is essentially moralistic or good, or a backstory that explains their actions and allows the reader to sympathise with them.
If they are the main protagonist of the story, you need to give your reader something to ‘buy into’ – a reason to want to follow their story.
- A film example of this is the Robin, Prince of Thieves movie, starring Kevin Costner. The baddie, played by Alan Rickman was evil and despicable and yet he is a much loved character. Why? Possibly because we were shown his backstory – a hint at the awful childhood he must have had with a wicked witch for a mother – suddenly, we can see why he is the way he is and we have empathy.
- Another film example is the Karate Kid – this is an unusual situation, in that the Bully and the Victim were clearly defined in the film and yet, fans of the movie point out that in reality, the Victim was actually bullying the Bully and that the Bully was, at many times, actually the Victim, BUT because it was filmed from the PoV of the Victim (the Karate Kid), we only see it from one side.
Interestingly a TV series, following the original characters as adults, takes this on board and is filmed from two separate and equal points of view. Of course, this can also work in a book.
- (NOTE: the TV series is on YouTube and called Cobra Kai)
Third Person Point of View exercise
Write a 500 word story from the perspective of a ‘baddie’. What characteristics will endear them to the reader? Perhaps the ‘victim’ can be a complete ‘pain in the neck’ and thoroughly unlikeable. Use First or Third person point of view.
Stories often feature characters who are clearly good, or blatantly bad but, if this was their only attribute, they would be ‘flat’ and uninteresting. People are complex and even the best people have negative points and vice-versa.
Here are a couple of example ‘character profiles’, with good and bad points in different proportions and other characteristics, like hobbies and appearance to complete the profile.
|A ‘Bad’ person (more negative than positive):|
Tiny, Welsh, Long-blonde hair, very beautiful. Loud voice. Forever flicking her hair out of her eyes.
|Job:||Children’s tennis coach|
|Hobbies:||All sports and mountain climbing. Partying|
|Negative:||Likes to argue with everyone|
|Negative:||Opinionated and unfiltered|
|Negative:||Lazy with anything she doesn’t fancy doing|
|Positive:||Is an excellent tennis coach|
|Positive:||Is really kind and helpful to her elderly neighbour|
|A ‘Good’ person (more positive than negative):|
Tall, mixed race –Japanese and English. Dark, shoulder-length hair. Quietly spoken and smiles a lot. Should wear glasses, but doesn’t, consequently squints when trying to read anything.
|Hobbies:||Wind-surfing, reading and salsa dancing|
|Positive:||Friendly and open to everyone|
|Positive:||Helps her single sister with her children|
|Positive:||Always very punctual and reliable|
|Positive:||Really good cook|
|Negative:||Gets flustered easily|
|Negative:||Atrociously bad driver|
Create character profiles and keep your them to hand when you are writing longer pieces, so you are consistent in your treatment of them. They don’t need to be specifically labelled as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, unless you want to.
You can do Character Profile sheets for all the characters in your story, or just the main ones – it is up to you. Some writing software even lets you create these within their system, but a notebook, folder or spreadsheet is perfectly adequate too.
A useful way to keep your main characters in mind, is to find an image on the internet of someone who looks like you imagine your character would, print it out and stick it to your character profile page, or on a pin-board above where you write.
Character profile exercise 1
Create character profiles for up to five characters. Try to select a range of ages, ethnicities. They can be all good, all bad or a mix – it is up to you.
Character profile exercise 2
Use your character profiles to create a story of up to 1500 words, where your five characters are brought together in an unusual location or circumstance, for example; a desert island ship-wreck, the funeral of a mutual friend, a puppy-training class, or a disaster at a theme-park.
Refer to your profile sheets so that you are consistent with your characters’ traits and how they might interact with each other in the story.
Which one will be the main character? This is the person whose perspective we see the story from and what PoV will you use?
I would love to see what you do with the exercises, please do feel free to post them in the comments below.