Viewpoint

I’m in a Facebook writers’ group for writers of all levels. Someone asked what the POV (point of view) limit was on a traditionally published debut novel.

The answer, of course is: there isn’t one. Sometimes you find prescriptive pieces on writing offering advice to new writers, but treat them as guidelines, not commandments. Sure, you don’t want hundreds of viewpoint characters, but you need the right number to tell the story you want to tell.

First Person
I wrote the Rowankind Trilogy (Winterwood, Silverwolf, and Rowankind) in first person all the way through. Ross Tremayne, my cross-dressing female privateer captain, is my only viewpoint character. In a way it’s limiting because I couldn’t write anything that my viewpoint character didn’t know, or experience personally, but it did mean that I could really get under her skin. The second book, Silverwolf, really belongs to my other main character, Corwen, but I still tell it all from Ross’ point of view.

There isn’t necessarily a limit to first person viewpoints in a book. There could be alternating chapters from two (or more) different first person viewpoints. If I recall correctly Andre Norton did this very successfully in The Crystal Gryphon.

Second Person
Mostly you wouldn’t write a full length novel in second person, though you might get away with it in a short story. (See what I did there?)

Third Person
These days it’s more fashionable to have one or multiple tight third person viewpoints: s/he did this; s/he did that etc.Avoid changing viewpoints in the middle of a paragraph. I change my viewpoints at a scene ending, or even a chapter ending.

I would recommend avoiding scene-stealing secondary characters suddenly popping up once or twice as a viewpoint character and then never again. The main viewpoint characters should tell the story. There is no limit, but I suggest only introducing a new viewpoint character if they have a necessary perspective on the story that no one else can tell.

My first trilogy, the Psi-Tech trilogy (Empire of Dust, Crossways, and Nimbus) is in tight third with multiple viewpoints. When I was writing it I started out with one VP character, Cara, but to a certain extent she was an unreliable narrator as things had happened to affect her that she didn’t know about. I had to add in another main viewpoint character, Ben. So Cara and Ben do the heavy lifting throughout the trilogy, but I had to let the antagonist have a few viewpoint scenes throughout the whole trilogy in order to build tension.

My latest book, The Amber Crown, started out with four viewpoint characters, but it was obvious after the first few early chapters that the fourth (though I liked her) was bloating the story. So now it has three viewpoint characters in tight third. They take alternating chapters with the headings, Valdas, Mirza, and Lind, instantly telling whose viewpoint we’re in. It does mean that I’m able to tell the story from different angles. Some of the characters know things that the others don’t find out until they need to know for the sake of the story.

I didn’t set out to have three writing projects utilising different viewpoints, it just worked out that the stories wanted to tell themselves in those ways

Omniscient
Writing in omniscient viewpoint used to be very popular. These days it tends to be known as head-hopping. Every character, main or peripheral, has thoughts that hit the page.

This is a quick example:

Fred thought Lola was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. He wanted to sweep her off her feet and take her home immediately. Lola thought Fred was the creepiest psycho she’d ever met. If he came any closer she’d have to pepper-spray him. PC Plod thought Lola was overreacting. Fred seemed harmless enough.

If you want to read a little more on viewpoint, Juliet McKenna’s blog piece of First Person Narrative is here on the Milford blog.

About Jacey Bedford

Jacey Bedford maintains this blog. She is a writer of science fiction and fantasy (www.jaceybedford.co.uk), the secretary of Milford SF Writers (www.milfordSF.co.uk), a singer (www.artisan-harmony.com) and a music agent booking UK tours and concerts for folk performers (www.jacey-bedford.com).
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