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Best of the Blogs

Christian Editing Services | Best of the Blogs | 18 November 2017

We’re more than halfway through November already! For those of you attempting NaNoWriMo this month, how are you going?

I’ve flunked. But I have written and loaded a heap of blog posts, almost finished the visual rebranding for a group blog (we’ll roll that out over the Christmas break), and I’m currently doing two online courses with Lawson Writer’s Academy, one on writing craft, and one on marketing. The writing course has shown me how little I know my characters … which is why I’ve flunked NaNo.

Anyway, on with the news …



Michael Hauge asks What’s Your Theme? A novel needs an overall theme … but it’s something a lot of authors either skim over, or try and shoehorn in at the end.

What Are You Writing?

David Farland asks Are You Writing a Book, or a Movie? He goes on to explain the differences in point of view for novels and movies. As it happens, I’m currently writing a blog post on this subject, inspired by a course I’m taking through Lawson Writers Academy.


Cover Design

Paul Barrett, Art Director of Girl Friday Productions, visits Author Marketing Experts to share Book Marketing 101: 10 Things Not to Do on Your Book Cover. There are so many bad book covers out there! Unfortunately, the authors don’t know they’re bad (because surely you wouldn’t deliberately allow your book to go out with an awful cover?).

I suspect that’s because many newbie authors can’t see beyond it’s a book! With my name on the cover!

They don’t know the principles of good design … and it’s something you need to know before you start designing your first book cover (actually, for many authors, that’s their first mistake. Designing their own cover).

Fighting Piracy

Following Maggie Stiefvater’s blog post about her experience with book pirates, Jana Oliver visits Fiction University to share what she’s doing to fight the book pirates in Why eBook Piracy Matters.



Belinda Griffin of SmartAuthorsLab visits The Creative Penn to share 7 Best Ways to Build an Authentic Author Brand.

If you’re interested in learning how to build your brand from nothing, I have two suggestions:

1. Follow my blog. I have a blog series on branding coming up in February 2018.

2. Click here to sign up to my Kick Start Your Author Platform information list. I’ll be running the programme again in March 2018 … and there will be more information about it coming up soon!

Cross Promotion

Diana Urban visits the BookBub blog to share 14 Ways Authors can Cross-Promote Each Other’s Books. You will note none of them include commenting on blog posts (although that’s always welcome!).

Facebook Chatbots

Louise Harnby introduces Facebook Chatbots in How To Market Your Book and Build Your Author Platform Using a Chatbot. What are chatbots? Are they the next big thing in book marketing? Who knows? But they are currently underutilised, and if there is one thing I’ve learned about book marketing, it’s that it pays to be at the leading edge of the curve.

That’s my top seven posts for this week. What’s the best post you’ve read this week on writing, editing, publishing, or marketing?

Best of the Blogs

Best of the Blogs: 15 April 2017


Best of the blogs: the best posts I’ve read this week on writing, editing, publishing, and marketing your novel. Well, mostly writing and marketing, including a useful posts about Elegant Authors from Elegant Themes.


On Christian Fiction …

TJ Mackay of InD’Tale Magazine visits Seekerville to share her views of the role of Christian fiction in a secular world.

Andrea Grigg visited Australasian Christian Writers to share a similar message. Andrea is Stepping Out and writing to encourage. And that might be in the Christian market, or the general market.

Point of View


Kristen Lamb continues her series on point of view with How to Immerse the Reader in Story.

And I continue my series on point of view with Using Point of View to Engage Readers. Great minds must think alike! Although Kristen has better graphics . . .


Cover Design

Holly Brady shares seven tips to consider when briefing your cover designer. Yes, I agree with Holly when she says she never recommends authors design their own covers.


MailChimp Autoresponders

It is a truth universally acknowledged that authors need an email list, and that MailChimp is the market leader in the field. Okay, not quite.

I’ve seen several comments over the last week from people having trouble with MailChimp account. One problem is setting up autoresponder emails: those emails a new subscriber to your email list receives automatically. (If you’d like an example of an autoresponder sequence, sign up for my email list using the box on the right.)

Anyway, Elegant Themes have written an excellent post on how to set up an autoresponder sequence in MailChimp—complete with pictures. Note that autoresponders are a paid feature in MailChimp. You can select:

  • A monthly subscription where the price is based on the size of your list(s) and you’re allowed unlimited emails.
  • The pay-as-you-go model, where you buy email credits so effectively pay per email sent.

If budget is an issue, you could consider MailerLite. They offer free autoresponders if you have less than 1,000 subscribers.


If you prefer video instructions, then I recommend watching Day 3 of the free WP-BFF Five Day Website Challenge, and/or the paid WP-BFF MailChimp MasterClass (available through the BFF Academy, or separately).

Author Websites

Elegant Themes have introduced Elegant Authors, a Divi layout for authors. For those who don’t know, Divi is their popular drag-and-drop theme. They say the layout is free, but I suspect that means it’s free if you have Divi, which means if you have an Elegant Themes subscription.

I haven’t tried Divi or Elegant Authors—I currently use the free version of the Make theme on this site, and I’m happy with it. But I do use two Elegant Themes plugins on this website:

  • Bloom for capturing email optins.
  • Monarch for my social sharing icons.

What’s the best or most useful blog post you’ve read this week?


Using Point of View to Engage Readers

Shaping the Diamond Part One (Using Point of View to Engage Readers)

Last week I looked at the types of point of view we use in fiction. This week I’m looking at point of view from another perspective—why it’s important. The main reason we need to use deep perspective point of view is because it’s a great way to engage readers by making them feel part of the story:

As the distinction between narrator and character blurs, the distance between them shrinks, and so does the distance between reader and character.
– David Jauss, On Writing Fiction

This is especially useful in genres such as romance, women’s fiction and young adult fiction, where readers want to feel part of the story.

As an added bonus, proper use of deep perspective point of view helps prevent some of the most common issues I see in fiction manuscripts:

  • Headhopping and Author Intrusion
  • Writing Character’s Thoughts
  • Telling, not showing

Today I’m going to cover headhopping, author intrusion, and writing character’s thoughts. I’ll look at showing and telling next week.


Changing the point of view character in a scene is referred to as headhopping, which can be confusing for the reader. For example, the following paragraph shows three viewpoints in three sentences, first Alice, then Ben, then Dr Cook:

It was all too much for Alice. She turned, clung to Ben’s lapels and sobbed. Her heart was breaking. Ben held her against his chest and allowed the grief of years to be brutalised by hope. Dr Cook looked on benignly, waiting for her grief to subside before he continued with his examination.

This should be revised so the entire paragraph is from the viewpoint of a single character, the character who is most affected by the actions in that scene. This character should be named first, so the reader knows who is the point of view character in the scene.

Remember, a scene has a specific structure (which I discussed when I visited Seekerville). Adding a line break and *** does not create a new scene.

Yes, I’ve seen it done.

I think the author was breaking up the narrative into “scenes” to show she understood the rule of only having one point of view character per scene. But my reaction was that either she didn’t know how to write a proper scene, or that she was too lazy to revise her manuscript properly. Either way, the substandard writing showed a lack of respect for her potential readers.

Author Intrusion

If you’re using deep perspective point of view properly, the story is being told through the eyes of your characters. Author intrusion is when you slip out of the character’s viewpoint and tell the story as the author. An author intrusion can be as simple as one wrong word—an English character who says y’all or pavement. An American who says boot instead of trunk. A high school dropout who talks about serendipity.

For example, I have blonde hair courtesy of an excellent hairdresser. I might look in the mirror and think it’s time to get my roots touched up, but I’m not going to think of my hair colour if that’s not the focus of the scene:

The wind blew Alice’s carefully coiffured blonde hair everywhere.

It’s boring, right? Instead, deepen the point of view:

The gentle breeze whipped into a frenzy, blowing Alice’s hair everywhere–in front of her eyes, into her mouth. So much for the half-hour she’d spend drying and styling a professional coiffure for her job interview.

Author intrusion can also be more noticeable moralising and editorialising—the kind of preachiness which once gave Christian fiction a bad name (I think most authors now know better).

To avoid author intrusion, remember that every word needs to be consistent with what your viewpoint character can see or hear, or what they would think. Nothing more.

Writing Character’s Thoughts

There are three ways to show character thoughts in fiction, but only one I recommend—interior monologue. I’ll discuss the other two so you know why I don’t recommend them.

Quotation Marks

I have seen people ask how you tell the difference between character thought and character dialogue. The rule I learned in school was to use one quotation mark for character thought (‘like this’) and two for dialogue (“like this”).

That’s a useful rule to remember if you’re reading fiction from the 1950’s or earlier, but this approach is now considered wrong:

Never, ever use quotes with your interior monologue. It is not merely poor style; it is, by today’s standards, ungrammatical. Thoughts are thought, not spoken.
– Renni Browne and Dave King, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

In the same way, don’t use thinker attributions (e.g. she thought). These indicate you’re using a distant point of view rather than deep perspective:

Princess Elizabeth sat waiting in the Royal quarters of the Tower of London. ‘I should be grateful I’m not in a regular prison cell,’ she thought. ‘The room is warm, and the food is as fine as I eat at home.’

Thinker attributions signal to agents, publishers, editors, and readers that you don’t know (or don’t understand) deep perspective point of view.

Direct Thought

Many authors choose to use italics to indicate direct thought:

Princess Elizabeth sat waiting in the Royal quarters of the Tower of London. I should be grateful I’m not in a regular prison cell.

However, there are disadvantages to this approach as well:

  • Italics are only effective for a few words or a short sentence. Any longer, and they become difficult to read.
  • Italics can slow the pacing of the scene.
  • Overuse of italics will annoy the reader (and my reader view is that most authors who use italics do overuse them).
  • Direct thought in italics changes the point of view of the scene from third person to first person present tense and back again . This change can be jarring for the reader.
  • Direct thought is telling where the author should be showing.

Interior Monologue

Interior monologue is what your point of view character is thinking, expressed in his or her own voice. There is no need for thoughts to be identified as such, because the rules of third person narration from a specific viewpoint character (or first person narration) imply this is the character whose interior monologue we are reading.

Interior monologue is favoured because:

  • It is showing, not telling.
  • Interior monologue doesn’t interrupt the flow of the story the way italics do, because it is the same tense and font as the rest of the story.
  • It forces the reader (and author) into the mind of the point of view character, which helps them know the character better. The better the reader knows the character, the more likely she is to empathise and feel the character’s emotions.

Interior monologue is stronger writing. It’s the writing which most engages me as a reader. If you want your reader to engage with your characters and experience their tragedies and joys, use interior monologue and deep perspective point of view.

Thinking Aloud

Some authors write scenes where a character appears to be talking to himself or herself, in that their words are set in quotation marks. But they’re alone in a room, so who are they talking to? As shown above, this can give a scene a slightly ‘off’ feel.

It’s rarely a good idea to have your characters mumble to themselves or speak under their breath… it’s almost always going to come off as a contrivance.
– Angela Hunt, Point of View


Note that prayer is different from thinking aloud, because we’re talking to Someone (God). Prayer can be:

  • Spoken out loud (indicated by quotation marks).
  • Direct thought (indicated by italics).
  • Interior monologue.

The right choice will depend on your character and the situation—she might normally be a pray-out-loud type, but she’s likely to pray silently when she’s hiding from the maniac with the gun.


As shown above, italics can be used for direct thought. They can also be used for emphasis. However, it’s easy to overuse both, so my view is it’s best to avoid the problem by not using italics for direct thought or emphasis at all. Instead, only use italics where they are the only correct choice:

  • Book and magazine titles
  • The name of a movie, TV series or play
  • Words from other languages
  • Specific names of ships, trains or planes (e.g. the USS Enterprise)

When italics for emphasis are overused, they are telling where the author should be showing. It’s the typographical equivalent of laughing at your own joke, or asking ‘did you get it?’.

I’ll be back next week to share the other way we can use point of view to engage readers: through showing, not telling.

Meanwhile, do you have any questions on deep perspective point of view?

How to Write a Novel: Point of View 6

How Many Point of View Characters?

The final question in is how many point of view characters your novel should have.

Fewer is better.

If you are writing in first person, the ideal number of POV characters is one. If you are writing in third person, use deep perspective, and avoid author intrusions and head-hopping.

The number of POV characters will depend on genre and word count (which are also related). The purpose of point of view is to create intimacy with the characters, to make the reader care about what happens to the character. For this reason, authors tend to limit the number of viewpoint characters to between three and five in a standard-length novel (around 90,000 words). As guidelines, based on what I see as a reader:

  • Category romance (e.g. Love Inspired, approximately 60,000 words) has two points of view: hero and heroine, with approximately a 40/60 split between the two;
  • Contemporary or historical romance and women’s literature (90,000 words) has two or three points of view: hero, heroine and significant other character. This may be a best friend, or it may be the heroine of the planned sequel;
  • Romantic suspense (90,000 words) has between two and four points of view: hero, heroine, significant other character and villain;
  • Thriller (90,000 words) may have up to five characters hero, heroine (if there are romantic elements) and two or three seemingly-unrelated viewpoints, one or two of which will be the villains;
  • Science Fiction or Fantasy (up to 120,000 words) will have up to five characters: hero, heroine, sidekick, mentor, villain

Each character is someone you want your reader to get to know, to understand. If you have too many viewpoint characters, you reduce the ability of your readers to truly know and understand your characters and their motivations: “The more characters you add to the mixture, the more difficult it will become to keep up with all of them and to keep them in the action” (Ronald Tobias).

But, I hear you say, George RR Martin has nine POV characters in A Game of Thrones, the first book in his A Song of Fire and Ice saga (with thirty-one POV characters and over 1,000 named characters in the five books published so far). However, Game of Thrones is 1,088 pages long, making it almost four times longer than most published novels.

You are not George RR Martin (well, maybe you are. If so, welcome, Mr Martin).

A Game of Thrones had the length to carry nine POV characters. A standard 90,000 word book does not. And George RR Martin had been published for twenty years before he even began Game of Thrones. A multi-published award-winning author can break the rules. An undiscovered unpublished author shouldn’t. And not everyone likes even a bestseller such as A Game of Thrones: I know more than one person who hasn’t been able to get through Martin’s books because there are so many points of view. It got confusing.

So, fewer is better. Read, work out the expectations of your genre, and go from there.

How many point of view characters to you use? Is this the best number for your genre and plot?

How to Write a Novel: Point of View 5

Multiple Viewpoint Characters

My previous posts have looked at the main types of point of view and how to choose the most appropriate point of view for your novel (usually third person deep perspective from several characters, but occasionally first person from a single character throughout the novel).

This post shares my three golden rules of point of view.

Multiple Characters: Three Golden Rules

If your novel has more than one point of view character (and most do), there are three rules you must follow:

  • Only one point of view character per scene;
  • The viewpoint character should be the character who is most impacted by the events in the scene;
  • A new scene is indicated to the reader by an additional line break (or a centred *** if you prefer).

Constantly changing the point of view character in a scene is referred to as head-hopping, and is something that should be avoided at all costs in modern fiction:

When you jump from head to head, you’re trying to achieve narrative intimacy with all your characters at once, and readers will almost always find that more confusing than engaging… and readers can lose their engagement in the story.

Note that a scene is one continuous piece of action in one time and probably one place (just like a scene on television). Once the action moves to a different time or place, it’s a new scene. It’s not a new scene if you are simply adding an additional line break to indicate a new point of view character. You can, under certain circumstances, change point of view once in a scene. Only once. Otherwise it’s head-hopping, and is something your editor, agent or publisher will want you to revise and eliminate.

Remember, the viewpoint character should be the person most impacted by the events in that scene. In almost every case, this should be one of the main characters, not a minor character who only appears on one or two scenes in the entire book (there might be an exception if you are setting this character up to be the protagonist in the next book in a series).

Do you use one point of view character or more? Are they the most appropriate characters?

This brings us to the next question: what is the ideal number of viewpoint characters in a novel? I will discuss this in my next post.

How to Write a Novel: Point of View 4

Choosing a Point of View

My previous posts have looked at the main types of Point of View (POV):

  • First person;
  • Second person;
  • Third person (omniscient, cinematic, inner limited and deep perspective).

Choosing the Right Point of View

How do you choose which point of view to use? In modern fiction, the only real choice is between first person and third person, ideally third person deep perspective. Browne and King say:

So what degree of narrative distance is right for you? Broadly speaking, the more intimate the point of view, the better. One of the most vital and difficult tasks facing a writer is creating believable and engaging characters, and an intimate point of view is a terrific way of doing this.

Remember that some publishers and readers won’t consider a novel written in first person. However, this is still a better option than second person (which virtually guarantees no one will read it) or omniscient (which only a very few publishers will consider. These are usually vanity publishers or small trade publishers with little or no knowledge of writing and editing, and no discernible market).

Genre may play a part in your decision: romance, women’s literature and cozy mysteries often use first person point of view. It is occasionally used in fantasy, but rarely used in thrillers or suspense. Middle Grade novels are likely to be third person but may use omniscient or cinematic viewpoint, while Young Adult novels tend to be first person or third person deep perspective.

Using Multiple Points of View

The next question is whether to use a single point of view throughout the entire novel, and whether to have a single viewpoint character or several.

Most novels are written using multiple points of view, as this provides variety and interest. However, these multiple points of view are where the new author can really get in trouble (and what shows an editor, agent or publisher that you’re a new author). There are three main ways of using multiple points of view in fiction:

  • First person point of view with multiple characters;
  • Two main characters, one first person point of view and one third person point of view;
  • Third person point of view with multiple characters.

Some novelists like the intimacy of first person, but want the variety of several characters, so write multiple characters from the first person point of view. From Browne and King:

[some authors] write in the first person but from several different viewpoints—with different scenes done from inside the heads of different characters. This technique can be highly effective in the hands of an experienced writer.

Translated: multiple characters in first person is not a technique for beginners. Done well (e.g. Invisible by Ginny Yttrup or Gone to Ground by Brandilyn Collins), it is excellent. Done badly, it is virtually unreadable.

Gayle Roper uses the technique of combining first person and third person successfully in Shadows in the Sand (with first person for her heroine and third person for two secondary characters and for the villain), but again, it is not a technique for beginners. The constant change between first person and third person can remind the reader ‘this is only a book’, as I found when reading Leaving Lancaster, by Kate Lloyd.

This is why most authors stick with the tried-and-true option of writing multiple characters from third person point of view, varying the narrative distance depending on the individual character and the genre. There is enough to learn about writing without making life difficult by choosing a point of view that is more challenging to write well. Experiment with multiple points of view by all means, but learn the basics first.

What point of view do you use?

My next post will share my three golden rules of point of view.

How to Write a Novel: Point of View 3

Third Person Point of View

The previous posts have defined first person, second person, cinematic and omniscient point of view. This post will continue looking at third person point of view, this time focusing on what is most commonly seen in modern fiction: inner limited and deep perspective.

Inner Limited

Third person inner limited puts the reader in the position of observing the action through the eyes and thoughts of a single character. It’s much like first person, but written in the grammatical third person language of he/she and his/her. Note that the reader can only know the thoughts of the point of view character: unless the character is a mindreader, the character can only observe the actions of the other characters in the scene. This is the viewpoint favoured in modern fiction:

Princess Elizabeth sat waiting in the Royal quarters of the Tower of London. She knew she should be grateful she hadn’t been placed in a typical prison cell. At least the walls of the Royal apartment were covered in fine tapestries to keep the heat in, there was a large fire to fight London’s cold winter, and the food was as fine as any she had eaten in her Hatfield home: freshly cooked and still warm when it was served to her. She sat, bored, thinking of her half-sister Mary, the Catholic Queen who was now her enemy.

This example is rather distant, in that the reader is watching a scene rather than being drawn into that scene. The reader can see some of what is going on inside Elizabeth’s head, but words like ‘thinking’ inject narrative distance and remind us that this is just a story. This technique has some uses in modern fiction (like cinematic point of view), but can feel distant if used for an entire novel as it fails to engage the emotions of the reader. The solution to this is a deep and more intimate third person point of view, almost like first person.

Deep Perspective

Modern readers favour a more intimate third person (especially in genres such as romance and women’s fiction), as this pulls the reader into the scene and provides a degree of narrative intimacy more like first person:

She sat, drumming her fingers on the desk. These might be the Royal quarters, befitting her station as Princess Elizabeth, daughter of King Henry VIII, but it was still the Tower of London, still a prison. She gazed around the room. Perhaps the view had changed. No. Still the same wall hangings, showing that awful hunting scene. The poor stag. It hadn’t deserved to meet that grisly end at the hands of her father. That was back when he was married to Catherine of Aragon, before he split from the Roman Catholic church to divorce Catherine and marry Elizabeth’s mother.

At least the fire was warm and the food was as good as at home in Hatfield. Deep breath. What to do? There were no new books, nothing to sew and no one to talk to until the guard arrived with dinner. It was luxury compared with the hovels most people lived in, but it was still prison. A gilded prison, so here she sat, waiting upon the pleasure of her half-sister Mary, the Catholic Queen. Her enemy.

The reader should be able to feel Elizabeth’s boredom and impatience. If this was done really well, the reader would also be able to sense Elizabeth’s underlying fear: that she may have to die in order for Mary to secure her throne. That is the beauty of deep perspective: done well, it shows us things the character themselves may not even be aware of. But the example above also shows one of the problems of deep perspective. It takes more words to show than to simply tell (184 words compared to a mere 65 for the cinematic example).

To better understand deep perspective point of view, I recommend Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View, by Jill Elizabeth Nelson, a well-known Christian fiction author. It is short (63 pages), but well worth reading. It is available at www.Amazon.com for around USD 5.99, and can be read either on a Kindle e-reader, or on your PC by downloading the free application.

The next question is which point of view to use. This will be the subject of my next post.

How to Write a Novel: Point of View 2

Omniscient and Cinematic Point of View

The previous post defined first person and second person point of view. This post starts our discussion of third person point of view, which uses pronouns such as ‘she’ and ‘her’. It is the most common point of view in both contemporary and historical fiction, but there are several degrees of third person, and it is important to understand the distinctions between them.

Unlimited or Omniscient POV

Some people see omniscient point of view as one end of a continuum of a range of third person viewpoints, while others see it as unique and separate from third person. I include omniscient in third person because it is written using the grammatical rules of third person, and uses he/she and his/her pronouns.

Princess Elizabeth sat waiting in the Royal quarters of the Tower of London as the guard entered with her breakfast. She should be grateful she hadn’t been placed in a typical prison cell. At least the walls of the Royal apartment were covered in fine tapestries to keep the heat in, there was a large fire to fight London’s cold winter, and the food was freshly cooked and still warm when it was served to her. He knew many people who didn’t have these luxuries at home, never mind in prison. Elizabeth was waiting upon the pleasure of her half-sister Mary, the Catholic Queen. Mary was afraid of Elizabeth, afraid of her popularity with the common people, and afraid she might fight for the throne as that wretched Jane Grey had. She was dead now, having paid the ultimate price for the ambition of her father.

Unlimited is the omniscient external narrator, who not only sees everything but knows what is going on in the minds of all the characters as well. This was the favoured point of view in the past, but can be seen as confusing for the reader (see how the example moves from Elizabeth’s mind to that of the guard, then to off-stage Mary?). Modern fiction prefers a more intimate point of view where the reader can see inside the mind of the main characters—but only one character at a time.

The advantage of omniscient point of view is that the reader gains a level of perspective over the whole story. The disadvantage is that the reader doesn’t feel any intimate connection with any of the characters. Many readers dislike the omniscient point of view, because it can lead to moralising author intrusions (‘she should be grateful’), and is thought of as old-fashioned and patronising.

The other disadvantage of omniscient is that it is hard to write well. The above example isn’t true omniscient: it’s third person with head hopping. True omniscient point of view has a separate narrator with a distinct voice, as in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or The Princess Bride (which has been criticised in reviews for the author intrusions).

Outer Limited or Cinematic POV

Outer Limited describes the action through the eyes of an external narrator who sees only the external, observable actions and dialogue but none of the thoughts or feelings of the characters. James Scott Bell describes as this as Cinematic POV, and I consider his description makes the concept easier to understand. If the reader is only seeing what a camera would see, the point of view is Outer Limited:

Princess Elizabeth sat waiting in the Royal quarters of the Tower of London. The room wasn’t a typical prison cell: the walls were covered in fine tapestries to keep the heat in, there was a large fire to fight London’s cold winter, and the food was of high quality. Elizabeth sat, waiting upon the pleasure of her half-sister Mary, the Catholic Queen and her enemy.

This is distant, and like omniscient point of view, it tends to tell the reader rather than show, and doesn’t give the reader that much-needed intimate connection with the characters. However, it can be a useful point of view in certain circumstances. It is often used in thriller and suspense novels to show what is happening away from the sight of the main characters (e.g. the villains making their plans), and the narrative distance it provides can be useful when describing certain scenes (e.g. physical violence).

The next post will move into the most common point of view in modern fiction: third person inner limited.

How to Write a Novel: Point of View 1

Introduction to Point of View

One of the most important aspects of writing a novel is getting the point of view (POV) correct, and it is one of the major issues for many first-time authors.  Sol Stein considers that point of view “is possibly the most mismanaged aspect of the writer’s craft”. The basic approaches are:

  • First person;
  • Second person;
  • Third person;
  • Omniscient (which some writers see as a type of third person).

This post will look at first person and second person point of view, with examples that break several of the rules of modern fiction but are written purely to illustrate the different points of view:

First Person

First person uses ‘I’ as the personal pronoun, taking the reader inside the mind of one particular character, able only to think, see and experience from the viewpoint of this one character:

I sit waiting, waiting, waiting. These might be the Royal quarters, as befits my station as Princess Elizabeth, daughter of King Henry VIII, God rest his soul, but it is still the Tower of London. It was still a prison. Despite the wall hangings, a warm fire and the fine food, I still sat there, waiting upon the pleasure of the Queen, Mary, my half-sister and now my enemy.

First-person point of view gives narrative intimacy, the feeling that they are getting to know this character’s deepest thoughts and emotions. In Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Browne and King say:

In order to succeed in the first-person point of view, you have to create a character strong enough and interesting enough to keep your readers going for an entire novel, yet not so eccentric or bizarre that your readers feel trapped inside his or her head. Also, what you gain in intimacy in first person, you lose in perspective [and] your readers get to know only one character directly.

Note that some readers don’t like reading novels written from the first person point of view and some publishers won’t accept first person manuscripts, so choosing this option might limit your market.

Second Person

Second person uses ‘you’ and ‘your’, putting the reader inside the story:

You sit waiting, waiting, waiting. These might be the Royal quarters, as befits your station as Princess Elizabeth, daughter of King Henry VIII, God rest his soul, but this is still the Tower of London. It is still a prison. Despite the wall hangings, a warm fire and the fine food, you are still sitting here, waiting upon the pleasure of the Queen, Mary, your half-sister and now your enemy.

This feels contrived. You are not Princess Elizabeth, so are you really going to sit through a 90,000 word novel and pretend that you are? Second person works for instructional non-fiction, and is the mainstay of ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ books, but it is not considered appropriate for novel-length fiction. In the words of Newman and Mittlemark (authors of the tongue-in-cheek How Not to Write a Novel):

Certain late twentieth-century novelists used the second person singular successfully—notably Italo Calvino in If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler and Jay McInerney in Bright Lights, Big City. But there it ended. In fact, it was named the “second person” when McInerney became the second person to get away with it and it became clear he would also be the last. Very occasionally, an editor sees past the contrivance and buys such a book—on the condition that the author revise it completely into a traditional third-person narrative.

The next post will move two misused points of view: third person unlimited and outer limited (also known as omniscient and cinematic).