How do you choose your point of view?

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First person, present tense narration – they told me both of these were no-nos, but I read them everywhere. Multiple-viewpoint, told in a mixture of first and third person, is another unlikely mix that I seem to read now all the time. Then there are dual-viewpoint novels, with alternating first-person chapters that let you “get into the head” of both the protagonists and “really understand them.” If you’re George R R Martin you’ll write different chapters from multiple different viewpoints and be everyone’s hero. (If you’re me, you’ll write Divide by Zero similarly, then follow up with Infinite Sum – first person, present tense.) But what do readers want? What do stories need? And what should I be doing?

I read these questions asked in a blogpost about multiple-viewpoint-novels recently: http://www.writersonthemove.com/2015/07/multiple-points-of-view-good-or-bad.html. The author ends her post with a question:

So, what do you think?  Have you ever written anything in this style?  Do you have any examples of books you love (or don’t love) told like this?  When you read one, do you find yourself hurrying through one or more POVs to get to your favorite character?  I’d love to hear in the comments.

This, of course, provoked me to think and comment. I have read and written novels told from multiple points of view. Some I love. Some are okay. And some annoy me. But why? Here’s what I came up with:

  • Changing viewpoints are distracting when they feel forced – when the author chooses the POV because it’s time for a change, rather than because the story demands it.
  • They’re annoying when they make the story repetitive – same scene, alternative view, putting narration on hold.
  • They’re frustrating when the view-points feels cloudy and ill-defined – I have to read the chapter title to realize whose head I’m in ’cause they all sound alike.
  • They’re tiring when they flog the story to death – every view-point told with no exceptions till the reader falls asleep.
  • They’re confusing when they’re unnecessarily inconsistent – A thinks B thinks this but B thinks that and C thinks A couldn’t possible think…
  • But sometimes they’re great.Infinite Sum

So here’s my question. Have you read Divide by Zero? What did you think of the multiple view-point, village-tapestry approach? And will you read Infinite Sum, even though it’s a different story, told in a different way?

And here’s a writing exercise

Get ready to write

  • Choose two characters.
  • Choose one location.
  • Choose a time where your characters might meet in that location.
  • Choose a topic they might discuss.

Write

  • Working from the point of view of your first character:
    • Write one paragraph describing your approach to the meeting place.
    • Write one paragraph describing your first sight of the other character.
    • Write one paragraph describing the discussion
      • Include your feelings
      • Include the other character’s responses.
    • Write one paragraph describing the other person’s exit from the meeting.
  • Now repeat the process from the second character’s point of view.

Read and think about it

  • Which version was easier to write?
  • Which version is easier to read?
  • Why?
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4 thoughts on “How do you choose your point of view?”

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