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Updated: 6 days ago

Amy played by Rosamund Pike in 'Gone Girl' movie, 2014

You’ve researched enough; you’ve come up with your theme and some of the plot; and you’ve put some meat on the bones of your main characters.

It’s time to get serious and start writing your novel.

But wait! Have you settled on your point of view (POV)?

Decide on point of view in the preparatory phase before you start writing. I hear you asking, ‘Why is POV important?’ Because you want to avoid getting tangled up by ‘stray’ characters butting into the voice of the story and confusing the reader. Point of view can be compared to being in a conversation and participants are talking over each other in an attempt to dominate. The pragmatic reason is that you don’t want to have to rewrite to correct a POV issue if you can avoid it in the first place. Correcting POV necessitates having to rewrite that scene, or chapter or maybe even most of the book. The costs are high on one’s time, stress levels and motivation.

Therefore, deciding on POV in the preparatory phase is like laying down a solid foundation for a house. Once your POV is set, you can erect your frame and walls and your firm foundation will hold them in place.

Would you like a refresher on ‘point of view’? Literally, it is the perspective through which you write your story. Perhaps you want to tell it from the butler’s perspective only, or from the perspective of a guest who visits for the weekend. You could choose two perspectives in alternating chapters which Gillian Flynn did for the husband and wife protagonists in ‘Gone Girl.’ Point of view can be tricky to get one’s head around but its components are relatively simple, as follows:


There are two main options:

1.       1st person (I, we)

2.       3rd person (he/her; him/her)

(There is an additional person – 2nd (you) – which is infrequently used so we won’t cover it.)


What degree of distance do you want to achieve between your POV character(s) and your reader?

1.       To communicate directly and intimately to your reader, 1st person with one or two characters is the closest match.

2.       To communicate from the perspective of one or more characters, but with more distance than 1st person, you will most likely choose 3rd person.

3.       To communicate at a greater distance as an all-seeing, all-knowing narrator, 3rd person omniscient will be most appropriate.

As part of your POV preparation, it is essential to decide how many POV characters to include. Many writing teachers say the fewer the better. Certainly the fewer the easier it is to maintain consistency. Choosing multiple POV characters necessitates creating and managing their distinctive voices, language, mannerisms, motives and actions which raises the level of detail and difficulty for a fiction writer.

Deciding on point of view is also a matter of a writer’s personal preference. Some writers actively dislike writing in the 1st person, probably as their inclination is to tell the story from a greater distance than through the 1st person close-up lens. Other authors always write their novels in 1st person. The novelist Geraldine Brooks comes to mind as an author who writes in the 1st person. Her method is to research and find her POV character’s voice. Once she has that voice in her head, she is off and writing.

Thinking about the degree of intimacy is helpful for clarifying POV. Do you intend your reader to be totally in the head(s) of your POV character(s), feeling what they are feeling, experiencing their joy or anguish, empathising with them? Going so deep means you should at least be considering writing in 1st person. Particularly  if you are writing a psychological thriller,  you will want your reader to be up close and personal with your POV character(s). In the psychological thriller ‘Gone Girl,’  author Gillian Flynn chooses 1st person and two POV characters. She wants to bring her readers in very close, and for them to be deep within the minds of her two main characters, Nick and Amy. She could have written ‘Gone Girl’ in 3rd person and it would have worked, but I believe not nearly as well. What follows is  a subjective experiment to test the 1st person against a 3rd person telling in ‘Gone Girl.’

New Yorker Amy tries to fit into her new mid-west community by attending a plasma donation centre with her mother-in-law. Trouble is, Amy has a phobia about blood and needles. As readers, we are plunged deep into Amy’s senses in the following passage:


"I begin to feel ill, the sound of blood churning, the long plastic ribbons of blood coursing from bodies to machines, the being, what, being farmed. Blood everywhere I look, out in the open, where blood isn’t supposed to be. Deep and dark, almost purple. I get up to go to the bathroom, throw cold water on my face. I take two steps and my ears close up, my vision pinholes, I feel my own heartbeat, my own blood, and as I fall, I say, ‘Oh. Sorry."


I have rewritten the above same passage in 3rd person, as follows:


‘She begins to feel ill, the sound of blood churning, the long plastic ribbons of blood coursing from bodies to machines, the people being, what, being farmed. Blood everywhere she looks, out in the open, where blood isn’t supposed to be. Deep and dark, almost purple. She gets up to go to the bathroom, throws cold water on her face and her ears close up, her vision pinholes and she feels her own heartbeat, her own blood, and as she falls, she says, Oh. Sorry.’

What do you notice about the two passages? Do you prefer one over the other? As you read, what signals was your body transmitting to your brain and vice versa? Do you understand why Gillian Flynn chose to write her novel in 1st person with two POV characters?

Her characters are in a love/hate, but mostly hate, marital relationship, and Flynn pits them against each other. She wants her readers to experience  Nick and Amy’s raw emotions without any barriers. This is not to suggest you cannot write a novel of emotional depth in the 3rd person. But there will be degrees of distance in any 3rd person telling which extend all the way to the 3rd person omniscient observer.

Is there a process for making POV decisions? Not really, not one that is set in stone. Some lucky writers will have the POV characters in their head, talking to each other and the plot coming to life. Other writers will have to think it through, do some basic research and test alternative approaches, such as:

  • Ask yourself how deep, close and personal you wish to set your POV lens: extremely close, moderately close, or at a distance.

  • Do a survey of books in your genre on the POV established authors chose? Read a few excerpts and decide what feels right for your book.

  • Write a couple of sample pages in the different  POVs and read them aloud. Which one feels authentic? Which one motivates you?

Once you decide on the POV and commence writing, keep checking that you are being consistent and not slipping into a non-POV character’s head. A reminder tip I use may be helpful:

A post-it note on the edge of the computer screen, with POV in large letters and the first name of the POV character. When writing in more than one POV character, as you swap characters, remind yourself as you write or revise by means of new brightly coloured post-it note.

In summary, pay attention to and choose your POV before you start writing and thereby avoid having to fix up scenes or chapters or, in the worst case, your whole manuscript. It happens. But not to you. You will save yourself a great deal of bad stress and a whole lot of time because you won’t have to do extensive rewriting.

I hope this article has provided you with some practical advice to settle on your POV and to keep it front of mind while you are writing. If you would like to go deeper into this topic, I recommend K.M. Weiland’s authorshelpingauthors website; here is a link to a selection of excellent articles on POV.

Let me know in the comments below if you have questions on point of view which are not covered in this article and/or if you have any suggestions on how to choose POV and use it consistently.

If you would like to know more about our suite of editing and publishing solutions, please be in touch via telephone, text, email, or website form. Talk soon,

Lynne Lloyd Moss


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