Novel Writing Techniques – Point of View

Recently I have been once again considering the thorny issue of point of view in writing fiction. There are many decisions to be made when choosing a point of view for a novel. Margaret Geraghty’s The Novelist’s Guide gives a good explanation of all of them and their pros and cons.

I have chosen the third person POV for my series of crime novels and this in itself has several permutations. We can take the stance where the narrator is not a character in the novel, but some omniscient being who is able to see and know everything that is going on (ie the author incarnate). Often with this approach, the perspective from which the story is told keeps shifting. One moment it will be the main protagonist and then we will get a thought about, or an emotional response to, that character from their side-kick or best buddy or worst enemy.

David Lodge in his excellent book The Art of Fiction, suggests this carries the twin danger of getting in the way of an intimacy with the characters and of breaking the unwritten contract a writer has with the reader. As writers we are inviting the reader into a world we have constructed and we are asking them to come with us and BELIEVE. By being able to move smartly from the thoughts and emotions of one character to another and then to another, god-like, we are breaking into the fantasy of this being a reality.

Personally, I also think there’s a challenge for writers in sticking to a restricted number of POVs. Yes, maybe it would be convenient at that point for the reader to know what our protagonist’s wife is actually thinking about him. However, there is a skill in writing the scene, sticking with the perspective we have started out in AND allowing the reader to discover what’s really going on.

I have chosen three third person POVs for my crime series novels. This does give me a freedom in terms of telling the story and showing the main protagonists from differing angles. It also, in my humble opinion, tests (in a good way) my capabilities as a writer to encourage the reader to enter a made-up world, become intimate with the characters, and, at some level, experience it as they might the world around them.

This is my approach. However, I have just read two of Nikki French’s Frieda Klein’s mysteries, and the POV changes in these books more often and quicker than my Twitter feed updates. They’ve sold shed-loads of books, so, in the end, what the hell do I know?

Next time: my thoughts on dialogue.


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