What the Heck is Point of View?
So many new writers hear this term over and over in workshops and creative writing courses and even absorb the general idea — but when they sit down to write a short story or an even longer piece like a novella or a full novel, they feel overwhelmed trying to figure out which point of view to use. So let’s take a deep breath and review the different choices and what might work best. Here’s an easy explanation I jotted down when I was recently guest blogging at Suite T for Southern Writers Magazine. I think it might help you decide.
Choosing the Right Point of View for Your Story (Part One)
I can already hear the groans from emerging writers who are confused about which point of view to use for their story. Rest assured, even seasoned authors have a difficult time deciding. In choosing the right point of view, the author sets in motion the vantage point from which the story will be told. Here are the different points of view an author can use:
- First Person – “I” or “We” (told from one character’s perspective)
- Second Person – “You” (rarely used in fiction, from an onlooker’s perspective writing about you — often used in advertising and speeches)
- Third Person – “He,” “She,” “It” or “They” (the narrator tells the story through one character’s point of view — or if carefully divided by paragraphs and/or chapters — one or more or even several character’s points of view)
Writers must settle on the best point of view for their story and be consistent throughout the manuscript in order to create a rich experience for the reader. Many authors swear by first person, writing emotionally charged scenes allowing the reader to get deep inside the psyche of the character. More often, novels are written in third person, freeing the author to expand the plotline while still delving into the heart and soul of the characters. In part two, I’ll share more details about each point of view.
Choosing the Right Point of View for Your Story (Part Two)
In Part One, I gave a quick synopsis on point of view, but now, let’s go deeper.
First Person (I or We)
First person is used when the writer wants the reader to have a personal experience with the narrator. Everything is seen through the narrator’s eyes and is limited to a single point of view. Most of the time the narrator is the main character, but some authors use first person for a character watching the story unfold along with the reader. For instance, in The Lovely Bones, author, Alice Sebold chose to tell the story from the first person ‘omniscient’ point of view of 14-year-old Susie Salmon who was murdered and is now in heaven. Often used in mystery writing, the Sherlock Holmes Books by Arthur Conan Doyle were narrated by Dr. Watson. Using first person across genres creates a more intimate experience for the reader. A writer can use dual first person characters if done well. For instance, not within a single paragraph, which can be jarring, even confusing for the reader. Instead, dual first person functions better within separate paragraphs or chapters. Getting inside the narrator’s head and seeing things from their point of view can help the writer build an emotionally driven, powerful experience for the reader.
Second Person (You)
Writing in second person is not often used in fiction. More often this point of view is used in advertising, technical writing, academic writing, or for speeches. Second person is often utilized as a tool to pull the reader into the action. For instance, notice how the following sentence speaks ‘for’ you: You landed safe after a bumpy ride and exit the plane as soon as you can, drained and exhausted from the experience. Using second person can limit the development of characters and make it difficult to sustain a work of broad prose in fiction. But second person is often the perfect choice for non-fiction and opinion pieces such as blogging.
Third Person (He, She, or It)
Unlike first person, where readers experience the story told through a focused, singular point of view, with third person, an author uses a narrator to relay the heart and mind of the character. Within third person, authors can use omniscient or limited. Using omniscient reveals the thoughts and feelings of all the characters through the ‘all-knowing’ narrator. If not done well, the reader can feel overwhelmed by jumps between characters. Two great examples of third person omniscient are Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. More often, authors choose to use third person limited. The narrator reveals the story through the eyes of one character allowing the author to create a broader picture. An example of third person limited can be found in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Although, multiple character’s points of view are possible using third person limited. The narrator will need to keep the reader inside one head at a time by using character breaks or even better, one chapter for each point of view.
So You’ve Written and Published a Book — Now What?
Here’s some quick Book Marketing 101 on how to get bookstores to put your precious new book on their shelves. Wait. What? Doesn’t the publisher do that for me? Yes, sometimes, depending on your publisher and your contract (did you read your contract?!). For those of you outside the norm — you know who you are — the self-published, the mid-listers, the boutique and university press authors, etc, etc. You will need to promote your own books.
So here’s a crash course on how to develop relationships with booksellers…
First, stores are under enormous pressure to sell books and deal with distributors and wholesalers representing New York publishers. This makes getting on the shelves more difficult for authors outside the traditional market. By getting to know your local booksellers or booksellers in areas where your book will likely sell, it will be easier to pitch your book for their shelves. Make a list of bookstores you want to target and then create a quick meet and greet type of pitch scenario for when you call on stores.
How To Pitch:
- Know your audience, research the store beforehand, make an appointment with the buyer or stop by on a quiet day, never Saturday.
- Buyers are busy so think ‘elevator speech’ — a quick author summary, short book synopsis, marketing plan and where else the book is selling.
- Bring a presentation packet with a ‘one-sheet’ including book info, ISBN, sales numbers, awards, reviews and endorsements, advertising, social media links, websites, bookmarks and your business card.
Be Prepared To Answer Questions:
- Why your book is a good fit for their store.
- Do you take returns? (Always say Yes)
- Your terms and discounts. (40-55% is standard)
- Would you be interested in their consignment program?
Make Yourself Available:
- Offer events, workshops, lecture series, or entertainment that ties into your book with invitees.
- Get to know other authors in your area and offer to organize events such as monthly author interviews, or independent author nights.
- Volunteer to help at other store events.
- Also, be sure to build a potential market through newsletters, social media and book clubs.