The Crime Writers' Association

The Debuts

It’s All In the Point of View by Jared Cade

If you ask most people what point of view is, they will probably answer along the lines: ‘It’s whether you write in the first person (I thought he looked ill) or third person (She thought he looked ill).

It’s a little more complicated than that. Point of view comes down to seeing the action unfold through the eyes of a specific character. Let’s call him Fred. He’s on the brink of a painful divorce. He’s just discovered his wife Chardonnay is having an affair with his best friend Randy. Fred loves his wife and his reaction to the situation in which he finds himself is going to be different to Chardonnay’s and Randy’s individual reactions.

Each character will have a different point of view. It is imperative you do not slip in and out of these three characters’ thoughts and emotions within the SAME scene. Otherwise you will confuse the reader who will not know which character’s plight he/she should be championing.

What is the thrust of your story? Are you writing a book about a man who saves his marriage after discovering his wife has been unfaithful?

Are you writing a story about a battered wife divorcing her brutal husband and finding true love with his best friend against all the odds?

Are you writing a story about a lonely man called Randy who struggles to come to terms with the fact he’s in love with the wife of his best friend who once saved his life?

Of all the characters in your book, which one do you want the reader to empathise with the most? The answer to this question will provide you with your main protagonist.

The reason a lot of fiction gets rejected by publishers and agents is because the writer doesn’t get the point of view right. It’s no good imagining you are a genius and the rules of the writing game don’t apply to you.

Remember, the majority of your readers won’t be geniuses and will not be able to keep up with you if you slip in and out of multiple points of view within the same chapter or scene which honestly just amounts to bad technique. If you don’t get your point of view right, your story will become as confusing and discordant as a game of musical chairs.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can disguise bad use of point of view by giving Chardonnay the thrill ride of her life by having Fred and Randy jump into bed with her at the same time à la Jackie Collins.

The reason Jackie Collins is so successful is because she gets her point of view right.

Here are the crucial rules to getting YOUR point of view right:

  • Each CHAPTER devoted to a single scene must be written from the specific point of view of one character ONLY.
  • Each SCENE within a chapter must be written from the specific point of view of one character ONLY.

If you feel the urge to switch point of view between two characters within a scene, you would be better advised to write two different scenes.

The stronger your point of view is in each chapter or scene, the stronger your hold on the reader will be.

The more scenes you write from one character’s point of view, the more your reader will relate to that character and want to follow their journey to the end of the book.

The more confident your point of view in each chapter or scene, the more clearly the reader will be able to see the action unfolding and moving forward.

Don’t make the mistake of lumbering your point of view with too much backstory or your novel will stagnate and bore the reader.

There would be no point in four people playing a game of bridge if each player could see what cards their opponents are holding. So, remember to be mysterious and hold back a certain amount of information when using point of view, especially multiple point of view.

Now let’s return to Fred, Chardonnay and Randy whose ménage à trois in the bedroom is going full throttle. Suppose they were to look up from their water bed and see a masked intruder standing in the doorway pointing a machine gun at them…?

Reaching for the phone on the bedside table and listening to a dial-a-prayer is not an option for any of them.

Whose point of view are you going to enter into in order to reveal what happens next?
(It’s okay to have a cup of tea – or a gin and tonic – while you ponder this question provided you remain in front of your writing desk).

If you can only save one character from being machine-gunned to death, who will it be and how will this drive your story forward?

Jared Cade is the author of Murder on London Underground. You can find out more about him and his books here.

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