Point of view (POV) is the term for who is telling the story in a book. Most books are written in the third person, as an independent narrator, who may or may not reveal things that the characters in the book don’t know. This is the way I write.
The problem with this POV is that it’s possible to be distanced from the events you’re talking about, do too much ‘telling’ and not enough ‘showing’. Then your readers won’t connect with your characters, won’t care about them. You need to get inside your characters’ heads, show what they’re thinking and feeling.
I had trouble with this in my first novel, so when I read the first page to my writers group, it was suggested that I rewrite it in the first person. This POV has one of the characters telling the story, saying ‘I’ instead of ‘he’, so it’s much more personal to write and to read. One of the main characters is the Captain of the spaceship, so I wrote the beginning from his POV. It worked. Everyone agreed it was much better. So I decided to change the whole book to the Captain’s POV.
I hit a snag straight away. There were some scenes that the Captain wasn’t in. How then, can he tell that part of the story? Sometimes he can find out about it afterwards, or read a report, but not always. Switching POV during a book is very difficult to do, but I have seen it done, and done very well. In George R.R. Martin's best-selling book series A Song of Ice and Fire (aka Game of Thrones) every chapter is labelled with the name of the person who will tell that part of the story.
So that’s what I tried. Changing it over was going to be a lot of work, so I only changed the first part, to see how it went. I achieved the aim of getting more inside that character’s head, but I didn’t like using first person POV, so I changed it all back again, but kept the improvements. That was a lot of work, and showed me what I had sacrificed in order to tell the story in the first person.
- Any activity that took place without the POV character being there couldn’t be told, unless they found out about it later.
- The action took place in several locations at once, so I could only resolve it by huge flashbacks or changing my POV character. I chose to have three POV characters but told by a narrator.
- The best advice is not to hop between heads in one chapter because it’s too confusing. So I had to rearrange the storytelling in order to stay with the same character for a whole chapter.
- Some scenes that would not logically be told to someone later had to be removed. (NOTE: Save everything!)
- You don’t get to find out how anyone else is feeling in a scene unless it’s obvious by their actions or demeanour or they tell you. I ended up writing a lot of things like, ‘I don’t think he’s very pleased about that.’
- Going back to the manuscript after some time, I could see that it had suffered from this butchery. So I had to find the bits I deleted (NOTE: Save everything!), rearrange and put them back.
I learned a lot from this experience, and don’t regret it at all. I do think that if you’re going to use first person POV, you should do it from the start. But changing POV highlighted some of the problems for me.
Ann Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now.