“There is an inside to experience as well as an outside.”
The way a character (or author or other narrator) perceives the world and interprets it is called point of view. We are in Sally’s head and heart when we read,
Sally couldn’t wait to get into the classroom and confront the students about their cheating ways. She felt her stomach clench; she was so angry she could spit.
This is an example of Sally’s point of view (POV). We are in her head (she can’t wait to confront the students), in her body (feels her stomach clench) and in her emotions or heart (so angry she could spit). This is an example of “deep-penetration” or “close” point of view, or point of view that goes deeply inside a character and reveals their attitudes, emotions, and motivations. Nothing is held back, as it is in a more distant, omniscient, god-like point of view. Deep-penetration is not the only type of POV used today, but it is by far the most common and, some would argue, the most satisfying to readers.
Point of view is a filtered perspective on two levels. First, Sally is made up of a set of values and ethics, traits, background, economic situation, old injuries—physical, spiritual, and emotional influences—the various factors that the writer fabricated to bring her to life in the story. Second, Sally is also created from the writer’s memories, world-view, and emotions. It is difficult to separate the fabricated Sally from the writer’s world-view; the two levels blend without our notice; we almost can’t stop ourselves from imbuing Sally with some of our personal hopes and fears. That’s okay; go there. It takes courage to reveal our deepest selves—and doing so creates great characters, memorable stories.
The influence of the writer’s essence happens automatically, behind the scenes, and influences not only Sally’s persona but also the decision about who will narrate her story. There are many choices: the author, termed “authorial point of view”; the character Sally herself, as in the example above that utilizes the “deep-penetration point of view”; Sally plus a cast of other characters, called “multiple point of view” or “multiple deep-penetration point of view”; a made-up “voice” who drops into her story like a visiting aunt to explain things called simply a “narrator” (which gives “narrator” two meanings); or a god-like presence who sees into every room and every mind and dictates or comments on the action of the story, called “omniscient point of view.”
Note: Memoir is often written from the omniscient point of view but in recent years is trending toward the deep-penetration single or even multiple point of view story with omniscient passages.
As you gain knowledge about the craft of writing, you will encounter other experts who hold a variety of opinions about which point of view is best, or best for a given type of work. The varying opinions bewilder. However, the wide array of memoirs utilizing multi-character points of view, first-person or third-person authorial point of view, and a host of other combinations suggests that there is no one right way to master or to deliver point of view. That’s true whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction.
What do I recommend for new writers? I’m always suggesting the first-time student write a deep-penetration work because (a) I know a majority of readers like it and (b) the new writer tends to hold back from revealing emotions and this form encourages the opposite. The deep-penetration book is flexible; it can be written in first person (“I”) or third person (“he/she/they”) and still be an effective read.
I also recommend that writers working in a deep-penetration third-person point of view stick to one point of view per scene. Doing so develops reader loyalty to the character, makes the reading experience more satisfying than the head-hopping variety, and staves off confusion.
Ultimately the read has to be satisfying to the reader or the book may never get read let alone adopted as a favorite.
So here’s a definition:
The way a character (or author or other narrator) perceives the world and interprets it for the reader is called point of view.
The Big Two Points of View:
- First, omniscient point of view is found in classical literature, notably in the noir writings of the 1920’s through 50’s, and in some of today’s good fiction and memoir. Utilizing the he, she, they pronouns, the omniscient narrator is rather like a mastermind moving chess pieces on a board. In addition to masterminding the action in entire books, bits of omniscient narration appear in many third-person narratives, particularly to open the book or a chapter set in a new location.Omniscient passages are often characterized by exposition, by “telling” rather than “showing” in cinematic fashion. We “tell” children a story at bedtime, often opening with “Once upon a time.”
Authorial omniscient utilizes the author’s opinions and perspective about the characters, their activities, their feelings, and their plans; many first-time writers cannot avoid being intrusive—a condition sometimes termed “author intrusion.”
The omniscient narrator typically can delve into several characters’ feelings or avoid feelings altogether and report actions and reactions. The distance narrator floats above to watch and report on several characters’ activities.
- Second, the deeper, or deepest, reader access to character is called deep-penetration point of view. There are two types:
- First-person narration, using the pronoun I, is both classical and used widely these days; it’s easier to learn than the other types; and most of all, it’s the most facile when you’re trying to learn how to include character emotion in your writing. Because the reader is unavoidably inside the head and heart of the central character for the entire book, and there is no omniscient presence to narrate, the writer pretty much has to devote attention to “feelings” and “motivations.” The feelings and motivations can be “reliable” (the character never lies to the reader) or “unreliable” (character lies on purpose or due to some illness or incorrect thinking or bad information).
- The second type of deep-penetration narration is close third person point of view; it’s what huge numbers of readers enjoy reading, and the technique gives the writer a great deal of flexibility and depth. One option is to write the entire book in third-person deep-penetration point of view, revealing a central character’s mind, heart, motivations, and reactions. Another is to write it using one dominant point of view, supplementing with one or more supporting points of view that reveal other characters’ inner emotions and motivations. The pronouns he, she, and they populate this viewpoint.
In a nutshell, point of view is all about perspective–whose? It’s about seeing the world through a unique set of perceptions, senses, and attitudes. You are the god of your story: you have to decide how best to tell it. By understanding and mastering point of view, you have the power to create worlds with unique visions and perspectives.