Point of view. POV. It’s one of those terms you see crop up time and time again in writing syllabuses, how-to guides, books on the craft … You know what POV is (it’s the perspective from which your story is told), and you know that muddling your POV is bad news. But how much do you really think about POV?
Considering the viewpoint from which you choose to tell your story is essential.
It has serious ramifications. It can make all the difference between a story that’s gripping, and a story that’s as limp as Sideshow Bob’s hair after a hot shower – and here’s why.
Two characters will never tell the same events in the same way.
Even if a multitude of characters are experiencing the same events, they will tell different stories. Simply put, your experience of the world is different to mine.
I might notice things you don’t, or have knowledge of something you don’t, or have experienced something in life that makes me think about things differently to you – and all these things will mean I interpret the world in a unique way.
So how does knowing this help you write a more compelling story?
When you limit knowledge, you create drama.
Think about this: You’re writing a scene with two characters, one of which has a secret that the other wants to know. What would be more exciting? If you were aligned with only one of the characters – sharing their thoughts, their worries, their observations and interpretations, every skipped heartbeat, every bead of sweat – or if you jumped from head to head, effortlessly finding out the answers to each of the character’s concerns?
For example, Character A might be thinking ‘She held my gaze for a moment longer than necessary – oh my God, she knows’ while Character B might be thinking ‘Ah, he has such pretty eyes’, instantly subduing the tension caused by Character A’s concerns.
Of course, there is a time and a place for omniscient narration – but even then, what you choose to reveal will have similar ramifications.
Think carefully about the point of view you choose. Because the perspective from which your story is told is not an arbitrary decision. Get it right, and your reader will devour your writing. Get it wrong, and you’ll send your reader to sleep.