Choosing a Point of View

I didn’t plan to write Fly Up into the Night Air. In fact, I didn’t plan to write anything. I woke up one morning with some characters in my head. They were talking to one another, and what they had to say was intriguing. (The inspiration for this anomaly was probably the Lois McMaster Bujold novel I finished the night before, so thank you, Lois, I’ll always be grateful.) Their situation was interesting enough that I went downstairs and wrote a couple of pages of notes. Then I started writing a story. I didn’t know it would be a novel. I didn’t know where the story would lead me. But the writing was fun, so I continued writing after work every day. Two months and two days later, I had the first draft of what would eventually, after a lot of work, become Fly Up into the Night Air.

I had no illusions that what I’d written was great literature or even good enough to want to share with anyone. It was fun, it was a little different from anything I’d read before, having elements of a police procedural, a courtroom drama, and romance set in a fantasy world. The story spoke to me, but I knew that it needed a lot of work. So bought books on writing, joined a local writers group, attended a bunch of workshops, and started attending a critiquing group, all with the goal of learning more of the craft of writing. One of the things I learned about was point of view (POV).

I had learned about first, second, third, and omniscient points of view in high school and college. But not having tried to write fiction before, I’d never really thought about them from a writer’s perspective. So while I’d known that I was writing third person close, I hadn’t really thought about why I’d chosen that POV. Moreover, my choices regarding the POV character for each scene were entirely intuitive. As I edited my story, I found I’d occasionally switched the POV character in the middle of a scene. Few writers can get away with that no-no without confusing the reader. I’m not one of them. I fixed those problems.

By the time I got to writing my second novel, The Door Behind Us, and while I was still editing Fly Up into the Night Air, I started to consciously ask myself what character’s perspective would best serve the story in each scene. The choice of POV character is a useful tool for generating tension or suspense. By moving the POV character away from the protagonist of the story, I found I could conceal information or delay its release, or I could present the perspective of an unreliable character. What fun! Now I always choose the point of view character for best effect. I may not always get it right—especially in the first draft—but the choice of the POV character has become a favorite tool in my editing toolbox.

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