Last time I wrote about how important it is to understand what genre you write in. I used that as Tip #1 because in my eyes, that’s where we begin to develop our plot….understanding what kind of story we want to tell.
Here’s tip #2: POV
POV stands for point-of-view. And it is essential to know whose POV you are using for your story. Why? Because you want to be sure to stay consistent. If your main character is a poor widow from the Bronx, don’t reach the last chapter and suddenly slide into the character of her cat, Doodles. You’ll frustrate your reader, and possibly confuse the editor or agent who will be taking a look at your book.
In order to understand POV, let’s go over the role of the narrator. I’ll make this simple as possible. 1st person is when you use “I” and “my” in the narrative voice. Ex: I followed the trail of rose petals to the front seat of my car. When I opened the door, my boyfriend was laying down in the back seat, a bouquet in his arms, sheepish grin on his face.
2nd person is when you use “you” and “yours.” Ex: You stare at your boyfriend, overwhelmed by the emotion building in your chest. If you cry, he’ll know he has you where he wants you. But if you don’t cry, he’ll call you heartless.
3rd person is when you use “he/she,” and “his/her.” Ex: Alexis shook her head, allowed the tears to slip down her cheeks. She didn’t bother to wipe them away. But could she forgive him? She wasn’t so sure.
If you choose to use 1st person, keep in mind that your readers will only know what the character knows. In my story example above, we understand that the boyfriend has a sheepish grin on his face, but we can’t know what he’s thinking or feeling, at least not with accuracy. We only have our narrator’s voice, and her explanation of how she sees things.
If you choose to use 3rd person, you can go about it in a few ways. You can use what is known as single viewpoint, which will mean it will be like using 1st person: we only know what our protagonist sees and feels. The only difference will be that we’re using “he/she” instead of “I.”
Or you can use dual viewpoints in 3rd person, and have the story told from two different people’s perspectives. Another scene in my example could be told from the boyfriend’s POV. Ex: Dave was surprised when Alexis cried. He didn’t think she had it in her. It made him kind of mad, to tell the truth. He hated not being prepared.
You can also use multiple viewpoints in 3rd person. Some authors jump from character to character within the chapter. If you choose to do this, bear in mind it’s very tricky and easy to confuse the reader. Also, be sure to develop each character. Don’t make us wonder about the character’s whereabouts or leave their wants/needs unfulfilled. More about this in another tip later on.
Last, we have the omniscient viewpoint. Here the author tells the story. The author knows all, shares all. This writing tends to create the most distance between writer and reader, so caution should be taken when using it. Also, it’s easy to fall into the pattern of “telling” versus “showing” when using this POV. Ex: At last, Alexis was able to reach out to Dave. Perhaps he was ready to take her hand, perhaps not. But he took it anyway, because what else could he do? But at least they were together. In the best way they knew how.
So choose the POV you want to use wisely. One more tip…if you’re writing a short story, keep it to one person’s POV. Not only is it easier to work with when you need to keep a story within a 3,000 word limit, but most editors tend to prefer it. With novels, you have more leeway.
My last tip: if you aren’t sure what POV you want to go with, grab five of your favorite novels and see what POV the authors used throughout their books. Was it 1st person? Multiple 3rd? Try writing from the perspective that best engaged you.