Hello, Write Owls! Welcome to Day 11 of Storytelling 101. Today we’re talking about point of view and character voice.
What is point of view (POV)?
Point of view is who is telling the story. Typically this is the person whose story it is, i.e. the protagonist, but not always. You can have one or more POV characters. Writing multiple POVs is difficult. You have to know how to navigate the common mistakes associated with it like repeating certain scenes to show it from both POVs. Ask yourself if you truly need to include all of the POVs or whether your story can be told using just one POV character. What do the other POV characters bring to the story? Once you choose a character, stick with them. You can’t jump heads. Even if you have multiple POVs, you must use scene or chapter breaks to show the character change.
POV is written in first, second, or third person. We’re going to ignore second person because most people don’t write in it.
First person uses words like “I”, “me”, and “my” in the narration. The “I” is the POV character. First person is intimate, direct, and honest (Lenard-Cook). Most writers find it easier to write than third because they’re inside the character’s head. It allows for a more informal telling of the story. You have to be good at character voice in order to write well in first person (Moreci).
Third person uses words like “she”, “he”, and “they” in the narration. Third person can be omniscient or limited. Omniscient is when the narrator knows everything like a god observing the events of the story. Omniscient narrators aren’t commonly used anymore because of the narrative distance associated with them. Limited is when the story follows a single character, which like first person, gives a sense of intimacy (Lenard-Cook). Third person stories tend to be more formal. It allows the writer to demonstrate their personal voice (Moreci).
If you’re struggling to choose, write your story in first person. This allows you to get closer to your POV character(s), and you can easily change all the pronouns to third person later if you so choose. You can’t do the same thing going from third person to first because the way the story is told changes too much. Third person is more commonly used, though first person is common in Young Adult Fiction.
Once you’ve chosen your POV character(s), you have to give them character voice. Developing your character’s backstory and personality will help you find their voice. What is unique about them? How do they see the world? Use this to develop their voice (Maass).
For example, your character sees a building for the first time. If they’re an architect, they’re going to admire the technical aspects of the structure. If they’re a maid, they’re going to look with dread at the massiveness of the mansion, indicating the never-ending work they’ll have to do inside. If they’re a burglar, they’re going to notice low spots in the wall, windows they can reach, and other access points that allow them to easily get inside. If they’re rich, they may think the building is small and humble. If they’re poor, they may see it as warm and inviting.
Use metaphors and figures of speech that reflect your character’s personality. If they’re an athlete, use sports references. If they’re an outdoorsman, use nature references. Word choice is another way for you to show a character’s voice. Are they educated and therefore use large words and complex sentences? Are they illiterate and therefore use short sentences and lots of slang?
These are the basics of POV and character voice. If you have any questions about these topics, please leave them in the comments; and I’ll try to answer them either as a reply or in my Q&A on Saturday.
Feel free to answer these in the comments if you want to chime in!
1) Do you prefer first person POV or third person POV?
2) Do you typically write stories with one POV character or multiple POV characters?
3) What gives your character a distinct voice?
Lenard-Cook, Lisa. “Chapter One: Fictional Seeds.” The Mind of Your Story. Writer’s Digest Books, 2008.
Maass, Donald. “Chapter Two: Premise.” Writing the Breakout Novel. Writer’s Digest Books, 2001.
Moreci, Jenna. “Writing First Person and Third Person POV.” YouTube, uploaded by Writing with Jenna Moreci, 2 January 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCIrEuiHTSc