How Choosing Point of View Changes Everything

Ok. Maybe not everything (that might be hyperbole). The point of view probably won’t change your plot (only what you see of it). It probably won’t change your setting. It doesn’t have to change who your characters are. What it does change is how you write about it – and I’m not just talking about pronouns.

I should probably clarify because when I said “point of view,” I may not have meant it the way you expected.

For many people, point of view is labeling the story third person omniscient, first person, second person, or whichever of the point-of-view terms fits. In those cases, yes, a big part of the definition is what pronoun to use. For example, with 3rd person limited, the characters will be referred to as “he,” “she,” and “they” in the text (not including dialogue). They will be called their names, and the story is told from just over the main character’s shoulder. In most cases, the person or being telling the story is not identified, but that narrator sees and relates everything that happens to the main character.

The second half of that term, however, is closer to what I meant. “Limited” means that the narrator (and, therefore, the reader) only knows what the main character knows. That means that even if the passage is written in third person, it’s actually directed by one character’s point of view and knowledge. It might even include that character’s thoughts – but no one else’s.

Which is another way of breaking down the story by point of view.

Let’s say our main character is named Leela. If I say that the chapter is told from Leela’s point of view, that doesn’t tell you whether the chapter is in first person or third person. It only means that what we know and experience in that chapter is limited to what Leela knows and experiences in that chapter.

Choosing the character for that point of view can directly affect how the story is written because, technically, the way you write it is supposed to reflect the character and knowledge of that character. If the story is told from a grizzled veteran’s point of view, it probably shouldn’t be written in a bubbly, youthful style. Similarly, if the main character is a rather uneducated kid from the boonies, the writing shouldn’t be the most polished English ever. Technically, it shouldn’t even mention topics, words, or ideas that the character wouldn’t know about.

Oh, and that’s even more true if the story is in first person.

That’s where the balance between writing style, legibility, and characterization can get a little iffy. If you’re writing from a 5 year old’s point of view, you still have to use sentences and words/punctuation that a 5 year old wouldn’t know. Otherwise, make it a poem because it’s not going to make sense in paragraphs. At the same time, you need to keep the writing simple and child-like enough to convey the idea that it really is from a 5 year old’s perspective. That is no easy feat – which is why you won’t see many stories written from the point of view of a 5 year old.

That’s also why picking the main character can have a strong effect on the style of the book, and how people sometimes unknowingly sabotage themselves. If a writer has a great story idea but picks the wrong character’s point of view, writing the story can become inexplicably difficult. So keep an eye out for that.

If you’ve written a scene that conveys the information that you need while furthering the plot, and it still somehow doesn’t feel right, check the characterization through the writing. Sometimes, a few small tweaks will fix it. In other cases, changing the point of view works better.

Of course, keeping it in mind when picking the point of view can save you a lot of time and effort. But if it turns out that your choice isn’t working out, don’t get so tied up on using a specific character’s point of view that you get in your own way. Succeeding at writing from a 5 year old’s perspective would be very impressive, but trying to do it successfully could very well get in the way of writing your story. While you want to match the character’s point of view, don’t write yourself into a corner.

Like I said at the beginning, the point of view doesn’t necessarily change the plot, setting, or characters involved so much as it changes how you write the story – and how hard writing the story is.

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6 thoughts on “How Choosing Point of View Changes Everything

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