How using Point of View correctly can beef up your novel

While there are still many novels that employ omniscient narration and little POV, especially fast-paced action reads that rely on plot more than characterisation, if you are keen to make your readers care about your Main Character and get engrossed in the story, then using a strong character POV is essential for writing a book.  It is closely related to 'Show, don't Tell', because, when you don't employ POV, you are mainly  talking about your characters, including describing what they are feeling and thinking.

Many novice writers who start off writing a book  think that they must break into first person or employ a first person narrator throughout to be able to show what's going on in the character's head, but this is not the case.  It is quite remarkable the way certain literary conventions have arisen in just a few hundred years of the development of the novel, and that readers have expectations based on these conventions.

For example, when you write in third person POV skilfully, the reader sees the words 'she' and 'her' and somehow converts them to 'I' and 'my' so that it is easy for the reader to believe that he or she is hearing the thoughts of the character.

Take this example:

Strange! She was certain she'd closed and locked  the door when she left for work that morning and here it was - wide open.  Was she getting forgetful?  Surely not. Someone must have broken in and, for that matter, they might still be inside.  What should she do? If she rang the police and it turned out she'd just been distracted when she went to the car... well, they'd think she was a right twit.  No, better to see for herself.  She edged into the hallway and stood near the hat rack, trying to be as silent as she could.  There was no sound.

When you look closely, you will see that we are really talking about this person as 'she' - that's in 3rd person. However, I trust you will agree that we have a sense of listening to this woman sort through the problem and we observe the world through her eyes.  What have we effectively done? Without any conscious mental effort, we have converted this in our heads to 1st person, present tense.

It is as if we had just read:

Strange! I an certain I closed and locked  the door when I left for work this morning and here it is - wide open.  Am I getting forgetful?  Surely not. Someone must have broken in and, for that matter, they might still be inside.  What should I do? If I ring the police and it turns out I' d just been distracted when I went to the car... well, they'll think I'm a right twit.  No, better to see for myself.  I edge into the hallway and stand  near the hat rack, trying to be as silent as I  can.  There is  no sound.

Now, both those versions are in strong POV, but the narrated past tense 3rd person is perfectly adequate to convey the character's thoughts and feelings.

Compare the first version with this 'telly' narration:

Mary Ellis paused and said 'Strange!' She was certain she had closed the door on leaving for work and now it was wide open. She considered the possibility that she was just getting forgetful but dismissed the idea. It seemed more likely to Mary that someone had broken in and might still be in the house. Mary agonised about what to do next, fearful that, if she rang the police and it proved to be simply that she'd been distracted on walking to her car that morning, they would think she was rather silly. Mary  decided that she should see for herself, and so, she edged into the hallway and stood near the hatrack, trying to be as silent as she could. She could not hear a sound.

OK, there's nothing hideously wrong with this piece of narration, but I hope you can see that the first and second are far more intimate and likely to engage the reader.

It is, of course possible to have several characters giving a POV and there is a right and wrong way to do this:

To look at MULTIPLE POVs, CLICK HERE.

To do an exercise worksheet on writing POV, CLICK HERE

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