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Deciding Point of View

Which Point of View Should You Use in Your Novel? (Part 4)

How to Write a Novel to the End: Which Point of View Should You Use in Your Novel?

Note: This the fourth and final installment on point of view. If you missed Point of View, Part 1 , Point of View, Part 2,  or Point of View, Part 3, I suggest that you read those first, and then come back here.

To recap, briefly:

  • In part one, we defined point of view, discussed how many characters to have in a novel, and looked into possibilities for viewpoint characters.
  • In part two, we examined types of point of view in some detail.
  • Part three covers omniscient point of view

Subjective versus Objective Perspective in the Omniscient Point of View

There are a couple of ways of handling an omniscient point of view. The all-knowing narrator can be involved with the story or a separate, detached observer with no personality or opinions. The choice between a subjective or objective perspective determines the tone of the story.

If you want your story to be a commentary on societal norms, then a subjective omniscient point of view would work best. On the other hand, if you are writing a highly analytical science fiction novel, maybe you want the neutrality and distance of an objective omniscient point of view.

To decide this, ask yourself how emotionally involved in the story your narrator needs to be.

Objective Point of View

The objective point of view is written from a ‘he’ or ‘she’ perspective. The narrator doesn’t know what anyone is thinking or feeling, and is limited to observing the main character. The action unfolds like that in a movie, and the narrator has as much personality as a camera lens.

This viewpoint is  sometimes called ‘Fly on the Wall’ Point of View. It can yield a nice immediacy because it forces a writer to show, not tell.  However,  it is demanding and hard to keep up in a natural way over the course of an entire book. The narrator’s role of neutral observer and lack of personality creates distance that can be hard to bridge.

Example

She hesitated, but then put the bald tires of her car on the highway with rain streaming across the lanes. Just ahead, a semi swerved, and she tightened her grip on the wheel.

The Subjective Point of View

The subjective point of view is also written from a ‘he’ or ‘she’ perspective but the narrator has personality, opinions, and is involved in the story. The narrator knows what the character(s) sees, thinks and feels as filtered through his or her own perspective. The narrator is a strong voice in the story. George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones is one example of a subjective omniscient point of view.

Example

She should have stayed home, but why should she when Jack was gone forever? Poor girl, if she only knew that he was just turning into her driveway, ready to beg her to take him back, she might not have put bald tires on a highway with rain streaming across the lanes. She’d suffered from an impetuous nature all her life, and on this occasion more so than usual. Perhaps grief drove her beyond the constraints of wisdom. She might, even, have hesitated, given a rueful twist of her lips, and thought to herself that she’d make the best of a foolish notion. Whatever her motive, she had cause to regret her rash action when the semi just ahead swerved.

Narrative time

The verb tense you choose grammatically positions your story in time.

Past Tense

By far the most common tense used in literature, the past tense depicts events in a story as having previously occurred.  Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell is just one of many books written in the past tense.

Past tense draws upon a long-held storytelling tradition handed down to us by generations of oral story tellers who recounted events that had already happened. Past tense has the advantage of being the established norm, and therefore invisible to readers.

Present Tense

The events in a story are happening in real time. This tense is not often used in literature. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins uses present tense.

Present tense brings immediacy and stands out because it is not the usual fare. This can be good, depending on its appropriateness to the voice of the story and how well it is handled. However, the fact that present tense is not what readers expect presents a hurdle the writer must overcome.

Future Tense

When events are projected to happen at a future time, future tense is used. This might happen as a device in dialogue, but to my knowledge, no books have been written in future tense.

Which Point of View Should You Use in Your Novel via @JanalynVoigt | Live Write Breathe
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Written by Janalyn Voigt

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I’m Janalyn Voigt, an author, speaker, and former social media mentor. DawnSinger and Wayfarer, the first two books in my epic fantasy series, Tales of Faeraven, released with Pelican Book Group and will be followed by at least two more installments. I’m also working on a romantic suspense novel set in an Irish castle, but then historical fiction has a grip on me too. Being unabashedly multi-genre makes me into what some might term a reluctant rebel, but I prefer to think of myself as a storyteller.

2 thoughts on “Which Point of View Should You Use in Your Novel? (Part 4)”

  1. Thank you so much for this series… I have been struggling with POV with a story that I am writing. And I have been truly lost. I am sure that I will haave a better handle on it.

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