The days of omniscient point of view are long gone and it’s time to buckle down and limit point of view just as you would experience life. Just like you do experience life. We don’t view life from an omniscient viewpoint and neither should your main character.
How to Limit Point of View
The easiest way is to write from a first-person narrative, using pronouns like ‘I’, ‘me,’ ‘my,’ ‘mine,’ over the third person view.
This helps novice authors stay in point of view and although I never published a work in first-person point of view, I have written shorter works in this narrative and it helped me remain in a limited scope throughout the work.
If you find yourself naturally writing in third-person, using the character’s name, plus pronouns like ‘he,’ (she, if the point of view character is female), ‘his,’ etc., remember six things:
1. The reader should only see what the point of view character sees.
2. The reader should only hear what the point of view character hears.
3. The reader should only taste what the point of view character tastes.
4. The reader should only touch what the point of view character touches.
5. The reader should only smell what the point of view character smells.
6. The reader should only read the point of view character’s thoughts.
Side note: I’m saying the point of view character and not the main character, as there are times your point of view character isn’t your main character.
For instance, in my Neo Skyehawk novelette series, Neo is the main character in Book II, Fighting Treason, but Seneca LaSalle, who is Neo’s best friend, takes over as the point of view character and eventually, the main character in later works.
What You Need to Know
Okay, small spoiler alert: In the Lord of Columbia Series, Cain is hard at hearing, which means the reader isn’t going to hear everything. In Cain’s point of view, other characters mumble in his eyes, so he has a tough time understanding words. They sound slurred to him.
So, if I were to be clear with what Lira Ross or any other character in the series says to Cain all the time, it loses that point of view connection. Instead, I’ll state another character said something unintelligible, prompting Cain to lean forward or ask that character to repeat what they said.
That’s point of view, but it took me a nice little learning curve to get it right, so if you struggle early, don’t flip.
Say, for instance, your point of view character is short and a taller character peers over a wall and sees something. In the shorter character’s point of view, the reader should only get an idea of what’s over the wall by reading the taller character’s face.
From a sense of sight, only when the point of view character sees something should the reader also see it. Only if the point of view character knows something should the reader know it.
Now, there might be a time where this breaks. For instance, in Prince Caspian, the reader is experiencing a story from Caspian’s viewpoint for a part of the novel. Assuming the reader already read the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, they do know about the Pevensie Kids’ reign in Narnia before, however, Caspian is just learning it.
The reader knows the Pevensies stopped the White Witch, however, Caspian is beside himself with excitement when he learns this early in the book, much like he is when he finds that the animals talked.
So, if you’re writing a series and are introducing a second point of view character, feel free to bend the rule a little bit here. However, I would only recommend this if your books still stick with a primary point of view character from the series itself, much like Lewis did with Prince Caspian.
How Many Point of View Characters?
Ideally, one point of view character per book, however, there are numerous exceptions, as Jerry Jenkins once pointed out when he wrote Left Behind, which took place on a global scale, necessitating two points of view.
The same goes for you.
What is the scale of your book?
If it’s on a global scale as Left Behind was, more than one point of view character (Rayford Steele and Buck Williams) is necessary.
However, if you’re writing a book on a much smaller scale, like when I wrote Northern Knights, only one character (Cain Riscattare) was necessary.
Again, this is an ideal situation and isn’t required by any means, especially if you have a large ensemble of characters.
At the very least, you should aim for one point of view character per chapter, but you can narrow this down more if need be to one point of view character per scene, but nothing less.
So, one per scene or one per chapter works, but one per book should be the primary aim.
If you are doing one per scene, it’s best to remember the following steps:
1. Always, always, always use the point of view character’s full name if you’re flipping back and forth. For instance, Jerry Jenkins would state Rayford Steele when in Rayford’s point of view and Cameron Williams when it Buck’s point of view.
2. Always use a typographical dingbat to distinguish point of view. For instance, I use this **** as my cue AND the character’s full name to cue a reader in a change of point of view.
Go Distant, or Go Deep?
Now, there are two types of point of view; distant and deep and yes, it’s okay to switch between the two unless a reader specifically likes distant or deep point of view.
I’d say my Lord of Columbia Series is more of a hybrid. There are some deep methods in it, but other times there are distant methods when I couldn’t concoct anything below the surface.
Some of the best writers out there use deep point of view in an exclusive manner and unfortunately, I’m not one of those writers and it’ll take about 5,000 more hours of invested writing and editing before I scratch the surface.
What is the difference between distant and deep?
Distant point of view is used when you’re seeing through the characters eyes but are still using some dialogue tags such as ‘he said,’ ‘she said.’ Also seeing and acting upon the point of view character’s thoughts aren’t so clear. Again, this is okay and some of the best books out there are written in a distant point of view.
Deep point of view consists of when a character is only acting on his or her thoughts and the entire narration is based among these thoughts. In other words, the reader never leaves the main character’s head. Deep point of view, from a narration standpoint, can even be told from the main character’s voice.
If you’ve ever read The Catcher in the Rye, you’ll have a decent idea of what deep point of view looks like, as the entire story is told in Holden Caulfield’s voice. Every thought that passes through Holden also passes through the reader.
Dialogue tags are still alive and well in this book, but it’s a great example of writing where nothing is going on beyond what Holden sees, hears, feels, etc.
When you’re a novice author and are just trying to take your first stab at writing, I recommend just starting from a distant point of view. You will find places where you can go deep, but with each subsequent work, you’ll find yourself diving deeper into a point of view from a natural standpoint.
I found this out after completing Swords of Destiny, where Cain’s point of view was much deeper in it than Northern Knights. And I’m sure the point of view is even deeper in Missing in Columbia than Swords of Destiny. Each passing work will help you improve as a writer.