Wednesday, April 13, 2016

#WeWriteBooks, Post 11: Point of View

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She's currently writing a post-apocalyptic book with all of you called THIRST in conjunction with the #WeWriteBooks series. 

Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website, where you can read THIRST. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.

Welcome to week ten of #WeWriteBooks Wednesdays, where we are writing books together. I am writing a book called THIRST. Click here to read chapter nine.


Week one was genre (THIRST is post-apocalyptic YA). Week two was premise. Here's my premise:
A waterborne disease has sprung up in every corner of the globe, decimating the human race. Young survivors Eli McShane and his friends journey toward Colorado and the rumored location of a safe water source.

Week three was Storyworld. Week four: maps and floorplans. Week five: protagonists and main characters. Week six: side characters. Week seven: prewriting. Week eight: plot structures. Week nine: Theme. Week ten: creating a plot outline or list of key scenes.

Today's Topic: Point of View

People tell stories every day, but talking is a lot easier than writing. It takes lots of practice. When you write a story, there are several elements you must choose that will make up the narrative structure of your story. The goal is to choose the best way to present your characters and draw your reader into the adventure. Today I'm going to talk about the biggies, the foundational choices that will make up your story. Perspective, tense, and distance. All in all, I'm talking about the point of view(s) in your story and the way you go about writing them. First, here are some archived posts on the subject:
Posts to help with point of view:
Why Choose Only One Point of View?
How Many Points of View Should My Novel Have?
Are Multiple Points of View Right For You?
How to Switch Points of View
How to Write the Opposite Gender
Going Deep
Point of View Trouble: Head Hopping 

Narrative Perspective

How will your narrator communicate with the reader? This is the narrative perspective of the story. There are three major types of narrative perspective in fiction writing: First person, second person, and third person. (Of course, you can always get creative and mix and match in the same book. A common combo these days is to have books with one POV in first person and all the others in third person.)
Narrative perspective is also called point of view or voice--not to be confused with distinct character voices or the author's unique "voice" in how he or she puts words together.
1. First person: In this perspective, the narrator refers to him or herself as "I." The narrator is often the protagonist, but not always. Most first person stories have only one point of view character, though some have multiple points of view all told in first person.

2. Second person: In second person perspective, "you" are the narrator of the story. Second person stories are best known for those popular Choose-You-Own-Adventure books.

3. Third person: This is when the narrator refers to the characters as "he" and "she." The story may follow only one character or several.

Narrative Tense

When did the story happen? In the past? The present? Or the future? That is narrative tense. Stories are typically told in past or present tense. But if you wanted a challenge, you could certainly try telling a story in future tense. ;-)


Narrative distance is referring to how far the narrator is from the reader. In omniscient point of view, an all-seeing, all-knowing narrator tells the story form a third person perspective, and can communicate to the reader the thoughts of different characters in the book.

The degree of knowledge that the narrator has determines his level of omniscience. If he knows what every character is thinking, then he’s fully omniscient. If the narrator only reveals what certain characters are thinking, he has limited omniscience.

Omniscient point of view stretches the narrative distance between the reader and the characters by bouncing from head to head. Writing a strong omniscient viewpoint can be difficult to master. When poorly executed, it can be difficult for the reader to connect emotionally to the story. This type of narration often tends to be more impersonal to the reader.
Limited perspectives are limited to the reader looking out through one character's eyes at a time. This is currently the most popular type of storytelling. The reader experiences all or part of the story by the narration of one character at a time. And if the story moves into another character's head, it remains limited to that character until a new character takes over. Switching from one character's limited point of view to another is best done at chapter or scene breaks.
Deep or Close perspective is similar to limited perspective, but you write the story as if the reader is not merely looking out through the narrating character's eyes, the reader IS that character. The reader gets into the head of the narrator, sees, feels, and experiences the story as that character would. Deep perspective seeks to eliminate every shred of the generic narrator. There is no need to justify the point of view character's thoughts or actions. They just come as they are. The author cuts out all those common writing phrases like "he thought" or "he reminded himself" and instead writes the actual thought or reminder. (Ex: Oh, man! He needed to feed the dog when he got home. The poor thing was going to starve if he didn't get his act together.) The author also tends to use short sentences and sentence fragments, because in deep perspective, the prose is written the way each point of view character would think. And if there is more than one point of view, they should feel like different people to the reader. 

Point of View Examples

1. Omniscient Point of View
Here’s an example of omniscient third person from the novel Magyk by Angie Sage. Notice how we start in Marcia’s head, then move to Sarah’s head, back to Marcia’s, and end up in Silas’s head.  

Marcia looked around her. It was true, it was not somewhere you would ever expect to find a princess. In fact, Marcia had never seen such a mess before in her entire life.

In the middle of the chaos, by the newly lit fire, stood Sarah Heap. Sarah had been cooking porridge for the birthday breakfast when Marcia had pushed her way into her home, and into her life. Now she stood transfixed, holding the porridge pan in midair and staring at Marcia. Something in her gaze told Marcia that Sarah knew what was coming. This, thought Marcia, is not going to be easy. She decided to dump the tough act and start over again.

“May I sit down, please, Silas . . . Sarah?” she asked.

Sarah nodded. Silas scowled. Neither spoke.

Silas glanced at Sarah. She was sitting down, white-faced and trembling and gathering the birthday girl up onto her lap, holding her closely. Silas wished more than anything that Marcia would go away and leave them all alone, but he knew they had to hear what she had come to say. He sighed heavily and said, “Niko, give Marcia a chair.”

More examples of popular books done in omniscient POV: the Gossip Girl series, the Septimus Heap books, the Luxe series, the Redwall series.

2. First person Point of View
Here’s an example of first person past tense from Out with the In Crowd by Stephanie Morrill: 

All winter break, I’d planned for this moment, the one about to happen.

“Hey,” Eli said as we passed each other in the hall.

I intended to say hello back, to smile like things between us hadn’t changed, but something inside me bristled. I locked my jaw, turned away from his hypnotic smile, and picked up the pace.

Then I mentally kicked my butt as I sped toward my locker. That was not how it should’ve gone.

More examples of books written in first person: All Sarah Dessen novels, the Twilight saga by Stephenie Meyer, Divergent by Veronica Roth, the Matched Series by Ally Condie, the Delirium series by Lauren Oliver, the Percy Jackson novels by Rick Riordan.

3. Second Person Point of View

Here’s an example of second person past tense from the choose-your-own-adventure book The Abominable Snowman by R. A. Montgomery. 

You are a mountain climber. Three years ago you spent the summer at a climbing school in the mountains of Colorado. Your instructors said that you had natural skills as a climber. You made rapid progress, and by the end of the summer you were leading difficult rock and ice climbs.

That summer, you became close friends with a boy named Carlos. The two of you made a good climbing team. Last year you and he were chosen to join an international team. The expedition made it to the top of two unclimbed peaks in South America.

One night on that expedition, the group was seated around the cook tent at the base camp. The expedition leader, Franz, told stories of climbing in the Himalayas, the highest mountains in the world.

“The Yeti is said to be a huge beast,” Franz tells you, “perhaps a cross between a gorilla and a human. People cannot agree what it is.”

“Is the Yeti dangerous?” Carlos asked.

Franz shrugged. “Some say it is. Other people say the Yeti is very gentle.”

“Have you ever seen one?” you inquire.

More examples: The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank has a chapter in second person, Cherry by Mary Karr is a memoir partially written in second, and Hart’s Hope by Orson Scott Card has sections written in second as well.

4. Limited Third Person Point of View
Here’s an example of third person past tense from The Maze Runner by James Dashner:

“You know this girl, shank?” Alby asked, sounding ticked off.

Thomas was shocked by the question. “Know her? Of course I don’t know her. I don’t know anyone.  Except you guys.”

“That’s not . . .” Alby began, then stopped with a frustrated sigh. “I meant does she look familiar at all? Any kind of feelin’ you’ve seen her before?”

“No. Nothing.” Thomas shifted, looked down as his feet, then back at the girl.

Alby’s forehead creased. “You’re sure?” He looked like he didn’t believe a word Thomas said, seemed almost angry.

What could he possibly think I have to do with this? Thomas thought. He met Alby’s glare evenly and answered the only way he knew how. “Yes. Why?

More examples: Uglies by Scott Westerfield, The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants by Ann Brashares, Edge of Recall by Kristen Heitzmann, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, and The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.
5. Deep Third Person Point of View
In my third person novels, I tend to fluctuate between limited third person and deep third person. Here’s an example of deep third person from my book King's Folly: 

Hinck arrived at Seacrest and handed his horse off to a boy with as much indifference as he could muster. This was in hopes of imitating the behavior of Janek’s friends, which included barging in the front door. The racket he made sent five servants scrambling into a line to greet him. Their behavior so surprised him that he almost apologized for his rudeness.

Timmons, Janek’s onesent, stood center front. “Your lordship. How can I be of service?”

Hinck forced himself to answer with confidence. “I’ve come to visit Sâr Janek.”

“Of course, sir. I didn’t realize you and Sâr Janek were friends.”

Hinck flushed, annoyed that a servant would question him, but not surprised that Janek had trained his man to be particular. “Sâr Trevn gave me the day off. My father has encouraged me to make new acquaintances, so I figured…” Hinck’s bravado dwindled. “Will he see me, do you think?”

Timmons shrugged. “Sâr Janek’s moods change more than the tides, your lordship. I shall announce you, and I daresay his answer won’t be long in coming.” Timmons left Hinck in the foyer. The other servants scattered.
Hinck should have written first, but that would have given Janek opportunity to decline. Showing up unannounced was a gamble, though. He bided his time, worrying what was to come, hoping Janek might refuse him so he could go home.

Assignment Time

My first book was The New Recruit. I wrote it in third person from Spencer's point of view only. Then I rewrote it with multiple points of view. But it wasn't until I tried first person that I found Spencer's voice and what had been missing in that book. I ended up adding in one minor third person point of view in each story to give a glimpse of the mystery Spencer would eventually help to solve. And whenever Spencer has a prophecy, I wrote this in present tense, so that they would jar the reader.
So, do what you want! Maybe you want to mix first and third points of view. Maybe you want to try omniscient future tense. It's your story. Have fun. But if you later discover that the point of view you've chosen is hindering your story, be flexible and willing to try another one.

Share in the comments the following three things:
1. The point of view you're writing in (first person, second person, third person, or a combination).
2. The tense you've chosen (past, present, or--if you're up for a challenge--future).
3. The distance you're using (omniscient, limited, or deep).

Write on, everyone!


  1. My story is in third person, set in the past, and I tend to fluctuate between limited and deep, though I'll probably pick one during editing :).

  2. I'm writing in first person present, with one narrator. But I do have a question: At one point in the book, the MC's team leaves her at one place and travels to another to do some very plot-important stuff. I can't change the plot to have MC go with them, because her part is plot-important as well. Would it be too odd to have a couple chapters in third person (the team's POV) so readers could see what was happening with them?

    Thanks for the post, Mrs. Williamson!

    1. That's up to you. And--if you were to sell the book to a publisher--up to them. Some editors would advise you to skip those chapters and just show the effect of them. You could always write a novella that shows that side adventure. But if you want them in the story, putting them in third person would work. This could be something to ask your beta readers later on.

    2. Thank you so much for your advice! That section of the plot is a little way down the road, so I have time to think about what to do.

  3. I'm doing first-person present, but because my supporting characters have a separate storyline (trying to start a rebellion) and that isn't central to the main plot (which is primarily a revenge story), I've also been doing third person from two other POVs. I might not keep the extra viewpoints when I rewrite, but for now it's helpful to know where the other characters are.

    1. That's a great point, Ellie. I've written lots of POVs to help me figure out what's going on that never made it into the story.

  4. I was looking for this post the other day and alas, here it is! Thanks a lot, I need some help choosing POV's right now :D

  5. I'm doing first person past with three POVs. I've tried third person before and find it works ok for me, but first person is always my favorite--at least so far.

    1. Fun! It's good that you know which you like.

  6. I'm doing first person present. Most of my favorite books are written this way and it just feels natural. One question--I heard that some publishers don't like this POV/tense combination. Is this true?

    Thanks for the post!

    1. I answered this last week. I'll paste it here as well:

      As to first person present... It can work. It worked for Hunger Games. It's jarring at first, but then the reader tends to forget about it if the story is engaging enough. A few years back, there were some editors and agents saying they didn't want to see any books written in first person present. But that was mostly due to the large number of people copycatting Hunger Games. I'd say, if you love it, write in it. But if you're not sure, try writing a chapter from first person past and third person. See which feels more natural and pick that one.

  7. Throughout my story I have a narrator watching over the other characters who are basically sorting out his mess. The narrator talks about the characters in past tense third and has limited omniscience, but he does occasionally get scenes where he is actually doing stuff and that is in first. The rest of the time he talks in a mixture of first second person when narrating the rest of the story and third when talking about the characters. It's a lot less complicated than it sounds I'm just bad at explaining it haha! XD

    Again great post. Really enjoying the series and thoroughly enjoying reading your story! Thanks!

    1. That sounds really cool, Charlotte! I don't think I've seen it done the way you're describing before. Good luck with it!

    2. Thanks, Lily! I was inspired by a kind of Lemony Sniket kind of narration so that might be it? Good luck to you too! :)

    3. That's so cool, I loved Snicket's narration style, but have yet to try it myself :)

  8. My story is past tense third person, and will either be deep or limited. I think I am leaning toward deep third person. :)

  9. First person deep. Present.
    How on earth do you write in future?

    1. Probably like,
      I will walk up the stairs. I will feed my cat.
      Maybe like that?

    2. Yep. Or the third person equivalent: He will drive to the store and order a milkshake, but it will never arrive. He will get angry...

      Seems like there's a reason it's rare. Lol

    3. I will feed my cat... If i will get one

  10. I love deep POV, looks so easy but is so hard to write! I'm really struggling with it, I always feel like it's not clear that it's my characters thoughts or feelings and not a description of any kind. I think I need to go deeper still ;)

    1. A lot of it happens in the editing stage. When you're to that stage, just keep tweaking things. For now, just get your rough draft written.

  11. The current story i'm working on is third person. It's also a combination of deep and limited, so I'll need to fix that. One of my other WIPs is first person, but I like third the best. I think that switching character perspectives is easier in third because first person voices get mixed up in my head and I forget which character is narrating.

    1. I hear you. Good plan. Multiple firsts is very challenging. Each voice must be recognizable to the reader or the reader will be lost too!

  12. I think I'm going to do first person limited in the present tense. Your post was amazing as usual and it really helped me with my story. Thank you :)

    1. Sounds good, Anya. I'm so glad it was helpful! :-)

  13. I usually use the 3rd person, but occasionally use the 1st person. Well, thanks a ton!! I love your writing!

  14. 3rd person limited perspective, past tense :)

  15. I use 3rd person past tense omniscient, which is strangely easy for me to write.

  16. (as of now) My story is 3rd person, limited, and past tense :).

  17. Thanks for this post, Mrs. Williamson!
    I'm currently plotting/planning a novel that will most likely be written in first-person past tense. However, my MC is very self-critical, and I've read that it's difficult to show your narrating character's strengths in this POV. Still, I really love my MC's voice, so I'm still planning to use 1st person anyway. Do you have any advice? Thanks so much!