Executing Proper Points of View

A lot of writers seem to be confused about the proper use of point of view.  For example, in several new works I’ve read, the author, from a third-person perspective, “gets behind the eyes,” or gets into the interior thoughts, of any and every character in the manuscript.  But that’s not how a third-person point of view, whether limited or omniscient, is supposed to work.

Generally, a fiction writer will present his or her story from either the first-person, third-person limited or third-person omniscient point of view.  In a first-person point of view you can get into that character/storyteller’s mind.  In a third-person limited point of view, you can likewise get into that particular character’s mind — but, strictly, no one else’s.  Of course, you might have two strong protagonists and may want to structure your story from both of their points of view.  That can be done if you know what you’re doing, and if you intend to structure your story in that way.  The Harry Potter series is a good example of this approach.  The story is told mostly from Harry’s third-person limited perspective; at times, though, the limited point of view shifts to other characters — but, again, not every character.  In general, don’t give yourself free reign to just jump into several characters’ minds.  Especially don’t do it unintentionally.  The final, popularly used perspective is that of third person omniscient.  Here, you look down on all the action as if you were omniscient, and you can comment, somewhat objectively, in the detached voice of the author, on the characters or events that transpire.  But still, this doesn’t mean that you can get behind the eyes of any of the characters.  Dickens and a lot of older, classical novelists expertly structure their novels in the third-person omniscient point of view.

The adherence to strict point of view perspectives has become less important in newly published works.  As a general rule, though, it’s neither recommended nor considered acceptable to lurch back and forth into the minds of any characters that you choose.  Once you decide from which perspective you’ll present your story, stick to it.

 

Comments

  1. I really didn’t know it was possible to “Break” the 3rd person limited rule at all. Thanks for the Harry Potter example. I’ve been quite sacrilegious with the cannon but it sorta ended .

    The novel I’ve written has 3 main characters who meet halfway through the saga, and at first I was committed to staying with just them. But then the noblewoman grew 3 sisters who had important roles and the eunuch got a slave who became a spy for the King. I ended up with one or two chapters each being told from the limited 3rd person POV of these “Supporting” characters. It seemed less awkward to do that then to all of a sudden get 3rd person omniscient. THEN I had to work in small section “Glimpses” for the King once HE got interesting. I didn’t do it all the time, but those “Glimpses” were necessary because such a character didn’t do a lot of communicating to others in ways that the main characters, or even the supporting characters, would pick up on the internal conflict.

    In your opinion, did I do the right thing? I know this is confusing. Sorry if you had to read this paragraph more than once .

  2. Hard to say without reading your ms. The key thing is to limit your third person limited view to one or two protagonists, so the reader isn’t jumping “behind the eyes” of too many characters. It’s not generally recommended to slip into a limited third-person POV for a minor character: there are other ways to communicate what these minor characters might be thinking.