Christian Fiction Writer


Point of View, the Story Teller's Perspective, by Vicki McCollum

Point of View Vicki McCollum © 2008

Point-of-view (POV) is not just the character’s opinion or world view, although, characters may express strong opinions. Point-of-view is a literary term that describes the perspective of one (or more) characters from which a story is told. First-person and third-person POV are commonly used in modern fiction. Let’s look closely at first-person point-of-view.

1. First-Person Point of View: I, Me, My

First-person point-of-view stories are typically told by main characters with the most at stake. First-person POV characters invite readers to experience the story intimately and feel the emotions felt by the character. First-person POV uses the pronouns, I, Me, My.

Example of First-Person POV

I shivered behind a clump of trees in knee-deep snow, searching the white-powdered limbs for my kitten, while my twin-brother bombarded me with snowballs.

2. First-Person POV Limitations (and ways around them)

A. Physical Appearance
Readers want to know what characters looks like. How can authors describe a first-person POV character’s looks without “slipping-out of POV” in the process?

(1) In the example below, someone (the author) describes the character’s rosy-red cheeks and cascading hair. The character can’t describe her appearance (without a mirror) and maintain first-person POV.

Example of a POV-Slip
I shivered in knee-deep snow, searching the white-powdered tree-limbs for my kitten. My cheeks were rosy-red from the brisk mountain air. My hair had escaped my cap and now cascaded in thick, brown curls down my back.
(2) Alternatively, the rewrite below allows the character to use sense words to describe how it feels for the wind to whip her hair and the cold to chafe her cheeks.

Example without a POV-Slip
I shivered in knee-deep snow, searching the white-powdered tree-limbs for my kitten. Mountain air chafed my cheeks, and a sudden gust blew my hat away. I cupped my hands over my eyes, protecting them from the stinging slaps of my long hair. Ouch! Jeffrey’s sure-sighted aim blasted me, a wet clump of snow slid down my collar. “Tabby, where are you?” I yelled.

Maintaining POV involves showing versus telling, and may require more words to portray the same information. But, readers gain an immediacy that places them inside the character’s head to hear, feel, and see what the character hears, feels, sees, and thinks.

B. Head-Hopping

First-person POV characters have a limited perspective; they can only relate what they see, think, feel, and hear. If they tell what other characters see, think, hear, or feel, that is called “head hopping.”

(1) In the following example, the first paragraph is told from Jesse’s POV. But, in the second paragraph, the author “head-hops” from Jesse’s head to Jeffrey’s. The reader sees through Jeffrey’s eyes (he saw Jesse hiding), and overhears Jeffery’s thoughts (he knew she was plotting revenge), but shouldn’t be able to do so.

Example of Head-Hopping
I jumped behind a clump of trees. Jeffrey will never find me here. Then, laughter. Jeffrey.
When Jeffrey saw Jesse hiding behind the trees, he knew she was plotting her revenge. He grinned slyly. "Want me to stack your snowballs?”

(2) In the rewrite, the reader hears Jesse’s word choices and senses her feelings about her predicament. Instead of telling Jeffrey’s thoughts directly, the author allows Jesse to use phrases like “towered over me,” and “grinned slyly,” to characterize the situation (and her feelings about Jeffrey) without “head-hopping.”

Example without Head-Hopping:
I jumped behind a clump of trees. Jeffrey will never find me here. Then, laughter. Jeffrey.
Jeffrey towered over me, and laughed. “Ah, ha! You can’t hide from me!” He grinned slyly.
"Want me to stack your snowballs?”

Now it’s your turn!

Writing Exercise Write a scene using the internal dialogue (thoughts) of one character in conflict with another character. Possible relationships: parent/child, husband/wife, teacher/student, supervisor/worker, the list is endless. Then, rewrite the scene from the other character’s first-person POV.