What is POV and how do I include it successfully in my novel?
1. You, as the author, must decide which character will tell the story. This is point of view (POV). You can write in first person or third person or even omniscient* (although omniscient* is not often used these days and many editors don’t like it), but you will tell the story through this person’s eyes, thoughts and emotions. If you decide to have multiple points of view, it is recommended to stay to two or three until you are proficient in the basics.
2. Multiple points of views are used for frequently in certain genres, notably romance and romantic suspense. In a romance, for instance, many writers use both the male protagonist’s and the female protagonist’s POV. The reader wants to know what each of these characters is thinking and feeling. It draws us into the story. However, as an author, the rule is to have only one POV per scene. You can change the point of view by indicating a scene break (perhaps by using three asterisks) or by starting a new chapter.
3. When you are writing from one character’s perspective, your character must see, and hear only what that person would be able to see or hear at that time, in that place. For instance, if your character is in the kitchen cooking, he or she cannot see what someone is doing in the bedroom. Neither can they know what another person is thinking. So, if you write another person’s thoughts within that same scene, you’re “head-hopping.” They cannot see their own face either. For instance, she cannot see her face flush. However, she can feel the warmth rise in her cheeks. If you’re writing in first person, your character can never hear what another person is thinking.
4. Once you have chosen the POV for your book or for a scene, make sure you have no author intrusion. For the writer to explain something to the reader or make a comment about what is happening is author intrusion. Describing a scene from your own point of view instead of from the character’s point of view is also author intrusion—unless you’re writing omniscient* POV. Stay within your character’s head. An easy way to avoid this is to bring your POV character into the first line of each new scene or chapter.
Here’s a scene I rewrote from my book Looking for Justice.**
In the parking lot outside the second-story office window, a man climbed from a black truck. He was not one of the students or faculty. Tall and thin, the man circled the back of the truck and crossed the parking lot before heading up the front walkway.
Here, the description is of a person. But who is describing him? The author, obviously. Below is the same paragraph as it appears in the book. We know this is Luke’s POV because we name him in the first sentence.
Luke’s attention was drawn from the mountains outside his second-story office window to the man climbing from a black truck in the parking lot. Not one of the students or faculty or anyone he knew. Tall and thin and about his own age, the man circled the back of the truck and crossed the parking lot before heading up the front walkway.
5. When using POV correctly—what a character hears, sees, thinks, and feels—you draw your reader into “deep POV.” They connect with the person you created, and want to read more about them. Internal thoughts are important to your reader. What is the character thinking or feeling? In many books today thoughts are not italicized. That can pull the reader out of the story. If done correctly, thoughts are part of the flow of the story and don’t have to be italicized.
In this section of Looking for Justice, the viewpoint is that of Alexis, a professor at a Christian college. Luke is another professor.
A movement at the door jerked her head up. Luke leaned against the door jam. The sleeves of his shirt were rolled to his elbows, and he wore dress slacks that somehow gave the feeling of casual elegance. She focused on his shoes. No boots today, a pair of dress shoes instead. Similar to what he’d worn the first day of class but without the jacket. He looked relaxed and amused.
Alexis knew she was frowning even as she stared at him. His casual pose and the amusement didn’t sit well with her. Yet, he’d defended her and the way she dressed. Did it reflect his real opinion? Well, she didn’t care. People’s opinions about her dress had never made a difference to her.
Notice how the descriptions of Luke are all from her perspective. In the last few lines, we slip into Alexis’s thoughts without italics, and yet we have no problem identifying these as thoughts.
POV is varied and complicated, and this is by no means a complete description. I, like many other authors, still struggle with aspects of point of view. But knowing and using these five basic principles will keep your manuscript off the reject pile.
*Omniscient is sometimes called the God POV. The author can see everyone’s thoughts and can describe anything from any point of view, even his/her own.
**Using quotes from my own books is much easier than getting permission to use another author’s work.