How to Edit: Point of View
A guide on what POV is and how to use it as a fiction author
The most important thing to focus on when writing a first draft is to get the words out. The first draft might look terrible, but you’ve released the words onto the page and that’s all that matters. Then, it’s time to edit. While editing, there are many things to look for, so let’s get into specifics of what to focus on while editing.
The goal of any good storyteller is to immerse their reader in the story. The reader is no longer staring at words on a page, instead they are lost in another world. Many of these changes we’ll talk about will seem insignificant and unimportant. However, when not fixed, these tiny errors will take a reader out of the story and remind them that they’re only staring at words on a page.
Point of View
Point of view has two parts to it, which I’ll call POV type and POV character.
When it comes to point of view type, this refers to the tense and perspective in which the entire book is written. There are three main parts that form the POV type.
First person- I ran.
Second person- you ran.
Third person- he ran.
Limited- the reader can only see through the eyes of the single character. The reader can learn the sensory details and thoughts of that character. Who that character is can change only with a chapter/section break.
Omniscient in-head- the reader has a bird’s eye view of all characters and can hear the thoughts of all characters. This perspective is not common or recommended.
Omniscient out- the reader is looking up from the sky to see only the actions of characters.
Narration- the narrator is telling the story. This narrator could be trustworthy or not. And a part of the story or not
Present tense- the verbs place the story as currently happening. o I run, I’m running.
Past tense- the verbs place the story as having happened in the past. o I ran
Future tense- the verbs place the story as will happen in the future. o I will run
Now while there are many ways you can combination these POV aspects industry standard is third person with a limited perspective and past tense. Another common one is first person with a limited perspective and a present tense. Technically, while you have other options, readers, editors, and publishers are most comfortable with the two above. This means that branching out, especially as a first-time author, will make success more difficult. Remember, we want to remove as many obstacles as possible that take the reader out of the story, a unique POV that the reader isn’t accustomed too will take them out of the story immediately.
Whatever POV type you choose to use, here’s the most important thing to remember: stick with it. You cannot switch from past to present tense, you cannot switch from limited to omniscient perspective. This is one of the biggest things an editor will look for, especially with a first-time author.
Point of view type is mainly what you’ll hear about. However, the way most novels are written today requires us to talk about a specific aspect of POV, what I’ll call POV character.
What POV character means is that when writing a story from a limited perspective, which you should be doing, you can only be in one character’s “head” at a time. This means everything written is done through that one character’s eyes, thoughts, and senses. If it’s in first person, that’s easier to remember. But it’s equally true for third person. This can be difficult because as the writer, you must immerse yourself in all the characters’ minds, but the reader only gets one.
The reader has the unique privilege to immerse themselves in the minds of another. They get to go on an exciting adventure through the eyes of your character. But they can’t see through everyone’s eyes. Only one character at a time.
What this means is that if you’re in Bob’s POV, the reader can only see what Bob sees, they can only know what Bob knows, you can only write what Bob knows. Things might be happening all around your world, but if Bob doesn’t see/know it, then you can’t write it. If you do, it’s an author intrusion that will break POV.
The great thing though is that you can switch who the POV/focus character is, meaning you don’t have to stay in the head of one character the entire book. But you can only do so with a section or chapter break. If you switch in the middle of a chapter without some sort of break, it will confuse the reader.
Now the other thing to remember with POV character is that the modern reader has been subconsciously trained to recognize who the POV character is in a particular chapter according to whose name is mentioned first. What this means is that in chapter one, the first name mentioned should be the character who’s perspective we’re in, and preferably within the first sentence or two. If you’re in a different character’s perspective for chapter two, then their name needs to be mentioned in the first sentence or two of chapter two. This will let the reader know whose head they’re in. It’s subtle yet essential.
Then once you let the reader know who the POV character is for that chapter, don’t break the POV!
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