Engaging the Reader With a Tight Point of View
Plot, settings, characters. These are the building blocks of your story. But what’s the glue that holds them all together and breathes life into the story?
The answer is voice. And the quickest path to a strong voice is writing a tight point of view (POV).
Choose Your POV
The two most common POVs are first person and limited third person.
If first-person POV is like a protagonist who’s holding the camera and filming the world as he sees it, limited third-person POV is like following the protagonist around and filming the world over his or her shoulder.
Both create the same effect of putting the reader behind the protagonist’s eyes, privy to the way the protagonist views the world, perhaps even privy to his or her thoughts.
The first-person POV is slightly more intimate, and works best when a major part of the plot takes place within the protagonist’s mind.
The limited third-person POV can achieve the same results, and it gives you a few more pronouns and nouns to work with. It’s the most common POV in literature, my personal favorite, and the one I’d recommend for most stories.
In both these POVs, your narrative “camera” is trailing a single protagonist at any given moment.
Here are three ways POV affects your writing:
1. What Your POV Character Witnesses
Everything you write should be filtered through your POV character’s eyes. That means you can’t describe what’s happening behind their back unless they turn around to watch it. You can’t describe things they cannot see, like their own expression or eye color. If your POV character is blind, you can only use hearing, smell, and touch to describe their world.
2. How Your POV Character Thinks
There are various ways to describe a location, a person, or an object. If you and I were given a salt shaker to describe, we’d probably wind up with two different narratives.
Is there a right way to describe things?
When you write a tight POV, there is. It’s the way your protagonist would view that location, person, or object. What would your character notice first? What would be his or her emotional connection to it? You have to crawl into your character’s brain and deliver your description from there.
Would a monk and a housewife describe a living room in the same way?
The monk might note the room’s aura and atmosphere, and might marvel or scoff at its luxuries.
For the housewife, such “luxuries” might be everyday items. She might notice if the curtains match the sofa and if the room is easy to clean. (Stereotypical, I know, but it illustrates the point. Bear with me.)
3. How Your POV Character Speaks
Match the language you use to your character’s vocabulary and thought patterns. If your POV character is a child, don’t use bombastic words and complex sentences. If you’re writing a soldier, utilize his or her military jargon and frame of reference. A poet would use one set of words; a gangster, another.
This is true not only for dialog, but for every word you write.
Keep this in mind when you choose your metaphors, your similes, and the plain words you use to describe things. No battle-hardened warrior would use the words “fuchsia stilettos” to describe shoes–even if that’s precisely what they are–unless you have a very good reason for your warrior to notice those details and think in those terms.
A tight POV creates a character’s unique voice.
When you wonder what to write–try to think what your POV character would notice around him or her.
When you wonder how to write it–try to think how your POV would describe something.
Live behind your POV character’s eyes, filter everything you write through their mind, and use their words.
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