POV: What are my main narrative Choices?

An Australian Story Set in the Forties and Fifties

POV Choices: Say you are  writing a story set in the forties and fifties. You have a character in mind, a young woman, Enid, who has the world at her feet… “the world is her oyster” … in a way.  She has strengths, assets, weaknesses or flaws, and … limitations. She meets and falls in love with a young man, Will.

You wish to seek consistency in point-of-view, so that the reader is clear about who the main focus character is,  i.e. who is leading the action, and how the other characters are to be shown through the filter of this main protagonist.

My first choice is to tell Enid’s story from the third person limited POV, probably the most popular POV (apart from first person present, especially popular for young writers and readers). Third-person subjective is often called “limited” because the author/narrator is limited to the lens of the main character. This would allow some of the intimacy of first-person, while still enabling the reader to remain a witness to the action, rather than an (almost) participant. The subjective narrative mode filters the story through the sole lens of Enid. The reader is invited inside and gets to play the role of “a psychic clinging to her back”, to borrow Chuck Wendig’s colourful words. (terrible minds.com).

The other main character, or focus character, is a young man. Your second possible POV choice is to bring his perspective in line with the woman’s and to alternate POVs, one chapter at a time, or one segment at a time. (This is called Third-Person Episodic or  Third-Person Multiple or Third-Person Limited Shifting).

However, this would probably slow the action down considerably. So far, you’re plugging for numero uno above. This means, you will, therefore, have to filter his POV through her lens, and through dialogue between the two and others, keeping in mind that dialogue also has the major role of furthering the plot in any narrative.

With 3rd person POV, the metaphorical “camera”—representative of the reader’s perspective—is outside the action, hovering over the female character, maybe pulling back all the way from time to time. Intimacy increases with this perspective: the reader is now allowed access to her internal realm. The “she” character filters everything through an intellectual, emotional, and experiential lens for the reader.

You must remember that, with this choice of a subjective perspective, the woman’s unfavourable characteristics will gain emphasis. However, another danger is that you may try to water down the character’s moral complexities to justify her negativities. You must stand firm in this: Highs and lows, light and dark, are important for the narrative.

You may find that a different choice — a different lens, camera, and filter — will work better, in order to tell the story you really want to tell. First Person/present tense? This would require restarting and making major changes to the novel as it stands. So, fingers crossed, you don’t have to go that far.

How about a decision to intersperse POV between the two main characters, but with an emphasis on one of them? Enid rather than Will?

2 Comments
  • dinadavis2015
    Posted at 13:12h, 04 December Reply

    Thanks, Anne. This is a very clear and comprehensive explanation of the fraught topic of ‘Voice”. Uou don’t mention ‘omniscient narrator’ in which the author is like a ‘drone’ seeing inti the minds of all the characters (like close-ups in a movie). What do you think about this technique?

    • Anne Skyvington
      Posted at 11:00h, 05 December Reply

      Hi Dina.I might have to do a separate post on omniscient, as it’s the hardest POV to use well, and to understand. It’s mostly employed in literary works todau, I think, or in plot-based stories, as in detective stories. The main problem for readers is the distance created between the narrator and the characters, and the fact that publishers and agents often give the metaphorical wrist-slap to the author for daring to use it. Still, if done well, it affords more flexibility for the writer. See Dickens’, Jane Austen’s and George Elliot’s major works! There are few modern examples.
      Vikram Seth’s “A Suitable Boy” and John Irving’s “A Widow For a Year” are rare modern examples.

Post A Comment