Friday, October 29, 2010


by Kimberly Ivey © 2010

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The majority of writers tell their story in the viewpoint of their protagonist, or central story character (a.k.a. hero, heroine, main character).

In a novel, and in some longer short stories and novellas, a writer may tell their story in the viewpoints of more than one character. However, in a short story, it is generally limited to one character.

How do you know which type of POV is best?

First of all, I suggest you practice with different viewpoints and choose one you are comfortable with. Write a few pages in one point of view, then rewrite in another POV. Does anything change—for better or worse? Often this will help you determine which POV is best for telling your story.


Time/Tense Person Point of View

1. Time (or tense) Past, present, future

2. Person (1st, 2nd, 3rd) 1st-- “I” pronoun 2nd “You” pronoun 3rd -- “he” “she” pronoun

3. Point of View

Full Omniscient – reader sees into the minds of all major characters and sees them from the outside as well as the inside (their actions, appearance, thoughts, etc.).

The story is told by the author-narrator.

*Drawbacks are the dangers of losing your reader’s “empathy” due to constant viewpoint shifts (reader doesn’t “bond” with any one character) or the telling of too much information.

Limited Omniscient – reader sees into the mind of only ONE character and sees them inside and outside (internal thoughts) and physically. The author narrator focuses on the thoughts of one protagonist. This viewpoint is usually told in third person, using the “he” or “she” pronouns.

Single Character Subjective – reader sees inside one character at a time. 1st or 3rd Person is used. Only the thoughts and feelings of the viewpoint character are presented.

Single Character Objective – in this viewpoint, NO thoughts or feelings (internal) are presented and the character is seen from the outside only.

Dramatic: the viewer (or reader, if reading a play) sees outside of one or more characters. Dramatic viewpoint is presented in a stage play, movie, or television program and only what the viewer can see.

Stream of Consciousness: a phrase first used first by William James in Principles of Psychology, published in 1890. SOC is a literary technique pioneered by Virginia Wolf, James Joyce, and others which uses interior monologue, sensory perceptions, flowing or fragmented thoughts, memories, experiences, feelings, etc., to describe or narrate the story.

SOC does not necessarily adhere to logic or sequence of events. It doesn’t always have or need a coherent structure or cohesiveness.

The short story, “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” by Katherine Ann Porter is an excellent example of S.O.C.


This is a popular viewpoint for much of today’s fiction and for a good reason. The author-narrator voice disappears which allows the reader into the mind of the protagonist, a crucial point in order to obtain reader identification.

In third person subjective, the reader will only know what the character feels or knows through:

• interaction with other characters (dialogue)
• overheard conversations
• introspection (interior monologue—character thinking/talking to him/herself)
• the author cannot supply thoughts and feelings from other characters

Time/Tense: Past Person: Third POV: Single Character Subjective

Sharon had just crossed the darkened street when the sound of foot falls on the pavement behind her caught her off guard. Her first thought was that David, a coworker had followed her with hopes of convincing her not to quit her job. But when she turned around, a dark hooded figure knocked her to the ground.


If you’re ever confused about “whose” story you’re writing, ask yourself: which character has the most to gain or lose in this story? What is at stake for this person? Are the consequences greater (either worse or better) for any particular character than the others?


By selecting ONE POV character PER SCENE (not chapter!), the author strengthens reader identification with this character. Switching POV character in mid-scene is all right under certain conditions:

1. You do it in such a way that the reader is not consciously aware the shift has taken place. This takes skill and experience to pull this off well so I don’t recommend doing this if you’re a new writer.

2. You absolutely NEED to show something in that scene from another character’s POV. If it’s something that can be left to another scene or chapter, save it.

I personally do NOT shift POV within a scene. I like to give each POV character their own “stage,” so to speak.

Don’t misunderstand. You do NOT have to tell your story from only one POV character, but they DO in my opinion, need and deserve their own scenes, whether it’s a paragraph or pages.

In a short story, you already have one protagonist (maybe two if you’re writing a genre romance and it’s a long story). A simple extra space between paragraphs or an asterisk will denote that you have changed POV characters. This gives your reader warning and does not jolt them out of the story.

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