What is point of view (POV)?

One source says, “The subjective perception from which a story is told.” Another says, “How a character sees the world and his or her place in it.” There are many definitions for this literary element.

I define POV this way: The view from where the reader experiences the story.

But, leaving all the definitions behind, a crisp clear point of view in your work will not only make your stories more compelling to read, it will help you sell your work.

Here are my POV ground rules:

  1. Use scene breaks whenever you move from one person to another, or change the time or place of the action. Breaks allow your reader to mentally shift, expecting a variation in the story.  Without a break the reader will stumble and they will lose the story.
  2. Always establish the main point of view (POV) as early in the first paragraph of a chapter as possible.  This is done by various external/internal dialogue or action.  Usually the reader will assume that the first person that speaks in a paragraph of a new chapter is the main POV.
  3. All of the words in your story/novel need to go though the POV test.
    1. If your POV character cannot see, hear, taste, touch, smell, or feel the action check your POV, because something is off.

One thing that I have seen writers do to try and get around writing a tight POV is to skip back and forth between 3rd person (he, she, they) and 1st person (I, we).  Head-hopping (flip-flopping POV) is bad enough, but switching gears on perspective can get really tricky.

Generally, keep with one perspective, and keep one or two main POVs.  Like in a romance novel you may have two very legitimate POVs, the hero and heroine, but in other genres you may only have one main POV character.  My personal rule is if a main character is in a scene the POV will be theirs. [In a romance if both main characters are in a scene, decide if the action will be more powerful from the male or female perspective or who has the most at stake. Then go with that POV.]

If you are having trouble with the concept of POV try writing from the 1st person perspective. Put yourself in the action.  What do you see, hear, taste, touch, smell, or feel?  At each point that you add action to the scene can you, personally, be involved in the action?  If not then who has the POV?  Rewrite the scene until you keep the POV all to yourself.  Once you get the 1st person POV down you will more clearly see how to keep the POV clean in your 3rd person work.


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