Point of View

Ah, point of view. So essential and yet, sometimes so hard. As a quick recap, point of view determines who is telling the story and how close the reader (or watcher, as movies/TV shows/etc. also have PoV) is to said character. Related is tense, such as present or past tense. So stories generally have a PoV (or multiple) and a tense, and these tend to be consistent throughout.

PoV is loosely divided up into third person (they, he, she), second person (you), or first person (I, me). Third is further divided up into close/limited third or omniscient third, depending on whether the story still stays close to a single character or is more like someone is observing the whole thing from on high.

(Omniscient third is very hard to do correctly, because if you get too close to a character, and then get too close to a different character in a short period of time, it’s extremely jarring to the reader.)

Now, me, I typically write limited third past tense. It’s what I like to read, and it makes the most sense in my brain. I do occasionally write first person, or present tense, if a project works better that way (short stories, anyway), but for all intents and purposes I write limited third, and limited third is my default.

So you can imagine my surprise when I had a writing session last week on the high fantasy story I’ve been working on, and my brain desperately wanted everything to be in present tense. 35K into the book. And it was, for some reason, really hard to not write in present tense. (I read back through the next day and found a few instances where apparently my brain won.)

It was, even more strangely, just one of my PoV characters that wanted to be in present tense.

(Aside from your type of PoV, you can also have multiple PoVs–not at the same time. I’m reading a book right now with two, one of whom is in third person and one of whom is in first person. I read a book once that had a ton of PoVs–eight, maybe?–and they were all limited third past, except for two of them, who were first person present. But normally all your PoVs are the same PoV type. I typically have two or three viewpoint characters per book.)

Let’s review.

  • Point of view determines whose eyes we’re seeing the world through, and how intimate we are with that character
  • Tense determines what time frame things are happening in (past, present, future)
  • You can typically only have one viewpoint at a time
  • You can have multiple viewpoints in the same story, and they don’t necessarily have to be the same
  • My brain is a strange and unfathomable place

What’s your PoV/tense of choice, Squiders (for reading or writing)? Any stories you can think of off the top of your head that do really lovely things with PoV (or tense)?

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