Thursday, March 10, 2011

P is for Point of View

This week I am pleased to welcome author Jane Toombs who talks with us about Point of View.


Think of readers as becoming fairly easily confused. Unless you tell your story in a clear and logical format, you can count on them getting annoyed with you. If the reader happens to be a first reader for a publisher, you can count on your confusing story getting rejected right then and there.

Who is telling your story? If you decide to use the I character to make it more immediate, then you’re using first person.

1. With the I character, you must remember no one else in your story can have a point of view. Everything that happens is shown through how she or he sees or hears the action. This is called the first person point of view.

This character is always I or me so you can’t use a name. Some writers have gotten around that by having a chapter or two told by somebody else, but that’s tricky to do and some readers don’t like it. But many readers do enjoy the I person telling the story because it definitely is more immediate.


When I realized neither Arthur nor the pretty blonde he had his arm around had seen me, I was ready to call out, but held when he pulled her closer.

Arthur stared in disbelief over Beth’s shoulder at his fiancĂ©e. Damn. She was looking straight at the two of them. Have to talk fast to get out of this one.


When I realized neither Arthur nor the pretty blonde he had his arm around had seen me, I was ready to call out, but held when he pulled her closer. Then he spotted me. His guilty look changed to a forced smile as he let go of the blonde and waved.

What was wrong with the first example? In first person with the I character, no one else can have a POV—and Arthur did.

In the second one the I character interprets what she sees him do.

2. The You is called second person point of view. In other words “You went to the store .” You is the character, and, again, nameless . The entire story is told from that second You point of view and no one else can have a viewpoint. Most writers find this very awkward and most readers find it off-putting. Second person is rarely used for this reason. It’s difficult to do successfully.

3. The third person character point of view is the one most commonly used because it allows more scope for the writer. The characters do have names. But do remember that third person can be from only one character’s point of view at a time, most often the hero or heroine. Be careful to separate by an extra space or **** when another character takes over. If there is a villain, he or she and also have a point of view if separated from the two others. I find it easiest to give the villain a separate chapter or chapters, even if they’re short ones. Be extremely careful not to head hop.

To avoid that, use a line break to help the reader realize someone else is speaking. Try not to do this more than once in a single scene.

Wrong: Mary felt his embrace was somehow false and stiffened in his arms.

John muttered a curse word as he let her go. Mary was just too bloody perceptive.

Right: Mary felt his embrace was somehow false and stiffened in his arms. John released her immediately, but she heard him curse and he glared at her.

What was wrong with the first example. Again, without a line break of any kind, we were switched into John’s POV.

4. Omniscient third person is where any character can have a point of view. This multiple POV takes skill, if it’s not limited, so can be a disaster for a writer who isn’t already skilled in handling this. My advice to any writer who doesn’t have a few books to their credit, is to leave it alone. After all, any character in a story can voice their opinions without getting into their POV.

Wrong: Janice took aim and pulled the trigger, felling Fred.

Gloria screamed, afraid she’d be next, but Betty sprang forward, determined to wrest the gun away from Janice.

Right: Janice took aim and pulled the trigger, Fred fell. Gloria screamed, no doubt afraid she was next, but Betty sprang forward, so Janice took aim at her.

What was wrong with the first example? All three women had a POV--bing, bang, boom. This is not the way to handle omniscient POV. .

5. Animal POV. Unless most of the story is going to be told, for example, from a dog’s POV, don’t have that dog speak or think anything. This holds true for all animals. If you want to indicate the animal has an opinion, say something like: “From the way my cat looked at me, I could tell he was disgusted.”

Or as my oldest son said to me when he was eight: “Don’t bring me any more books from the library where animals talk, because they don’t.”

Go figure--he wound up being a doctor.

~ * ~
Jane Toombs, born in California, raised in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, has returned "home" to live in the beautiful Upper Peninsula on the shore of Lake Superior--with the Viking from her past. Jane has five children, two stepchildren, seven grandchildren, a calico cat named Kinko and two computers.

She's the author of over eighty published books, both in paper and electronic. These include the various romance genres--gothic, suspense, contemporary, historical, Regency and paranormal--as well as other genres such as mystery, fantasy and horror. Jane has used pseudonyms--Ellen Jamison, Diana Stuart, Olivia Sumner--but is now writing under her own name except for her Zebra/Pinnacle romances for which she uses Jane Anderson.

Find out more about Jane's books at:
and visit Jane (Dame Turquoise) at:


Rosemary Gemmell said...

Great post, Jane! I like either first person, or third person from one or two separate viewpoints.

Love the comment from your son - very down to earth!

Linda Rettstatt said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Linda Rettstatt said...

Thanks, Jane. This is a great primer for all of us on use of point of view. I just finished reading a book that was an enjoyable story, and would have been even more enjoyable if the point of view shifts had been more clearly defined. The way the story was formatted made me feel like I was being jerked back and forth. You make some great points here.

Sandra De Lorenzo Bonaldi said...

Great Post!!
I have caught myself so many times head hopping. It's almost like an impulse but I am trying to learn how to master it, your post was very informative, thank you.

Cheryl said...

From one Michigander to another - thanks for the advice, Jane. It's good to review the rules once in awhile.

Fiona McGier said...

I had never heard of "head-hopping" until I started having editors accuse me of it. Since many of the books I love to read have had scenes like that, I wanted to know why they could do it, and not me. I guess it takes a certain finesse to do it seamlessly. I'm trying to learn.
Great post on a subject very near and dear to authors' hearts.

Patg said...

POV is probably the most discussed writing technique ever. So much of what was expected has changed over the years and yet agents and editors still use the old 'don'ts' to get a rejection out.
Head hopping, even changing from first person to third is fine with me as long as the author knows they intend to do it and do it well enough so that the reader is not confused. Good, clear writing in a flowing style will win over all objections.

Unknown said...

Hi, Jane--I knew nothing about POV when I began I know too much. When I read a novel and the POV is wonky or all over the page, it really annoys me. I recently finished a long novel by an author who also owns a publishing co. It had the worst head-hopping I've ever seen--real whiplash--and the guidelines for the publisher states--pure POV--no headhopping. I'm still scratching my head over that one.
Thanks for the tips--I can always use them--Celia

Heidiwriter said...

Excellent post and examples, Jane. POV is sometimes difficult for new writers to grasp.

Tara Andrews said...

Thanks, Jane. Very helpful examples to keep in mind.

Angelica Hart and Zi said...

We have to keep reminding ourselves not to head hop. Your examples were wonderful.

Therese said...

Interesting post, Jane! I'm with Pat; I'm ok with head-hopping as long as the author does it intentionally and does a good job with it. But I have read many books, a few by well-known authors, where POV changes aren't smooth and really throw me from the story.