Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography

Monday, 18 April 2016

Points of View on NPoV by Jennifer Young

Whose point of view from this viewpoint?
On a blog called Novel Points of View, it seems perfectly reasonable to talk about points of view in a novel. Doesn’t it?

I confess, it isn’t really a subject on which I have had much of a view, at least until recently. There are lots and lots of ways of doing it and most of them work, if you do them well enough. You can use first person or third person or omniscient. You can have a single point of view or multiple points of view. You can have one dominant point of view and many shorter ones. You can have the whole book written from one point of view, except for a tiny bit, if you really want to. Whatever, as far as I’m concerned. Just as long as it works.

It doesn’t always, of course, and the chances of success decrease as your combination of points of view become more complicated. Michael Frayn’s Spies is an example, in which I became so thoroughly confused by who was actually narrating that I gave up. But he was doing some really fancy circus tricks with the craft of writing, the sort that aren’t for the faint-hearted.

Generally speaking, it’s what works and how well you do it. A poor writer might not even handle a single point of view well, just as I can’t perform a simple, single dance step without falling over my feet. That’s all. Easy, no?

So it struck me as interesting, if not significant, that the last two reviews I’ve received, of two different books, have both raised the issue of point of view. I usually prefer to have my heroine in first person and my hero in third — it makes it easier to tell whose point of view each scene is from, and it allows the reader to become more closely involved with my heroine (who i always my main protagonist).

Of No Time Like Now, Suzanne Rogerson wrote: “I didn’t understand why the author chose to have Megan’s chapters in first person and Tim’s in third person. It didn’t detract from the story at all, but I don’t think it added to it either. I had no problem switching between both viewpoints and it was well written.”

Of my newest release, Going Back, Elizabeth Caldwell observed: “My only quibble is that the chapters from Leona’s point of view are told in the first person and those of the other characters in the third person, a stylistic choice I’ve never been very keen on – I’d rather see all first person or all third person”.

Admittedly, neither of these is particularly critical, but it did get me thinking. Do you have any preferences for point of view? Any must-dos or any no-nos? Or do you not care at all?


  1. Interesting points raised here. For short stories my favourite is first person, present tense, and I generally only have one character's point of view. A famous writer - I think it was Fay Weldon - once said of first person, present tense, novels that they are 'easy to write, easy to read, and easy to forget'. Ho hum..... I would so love to write a short novel that way but don't know that I'm brave enough now! A technique I've seen a couple of times in novels is to have different fonts when different characters are airing their points of view. I don't think it matters too much how a writer gets their characters points of view over as long as the writing is good.

    1. I think Fay Weldon is being harsh. I, too, write short stories in first person present, and I do have a draft novel that's partly that PoV. I like it. I don't think it's forgettable at all. (PoV, not the book!)

    2. I agree, Jennifer. Hers is only an opinion, when all's said and done.

  2. I do care and in fact think quite a lot about POV in my own writing. I would probably say that, like one of your reviewers, I don't like a switch from first to third person. Problem is, I read and loved No Time Like Now and don't recall noticing the first/third switch. Which just goes to show, if you write it well, it will work!

    1. Thanks, Gill. In a way I wish neither of them haf mentioned it, as I'm now in danger of over-analysing something which never bothered me before.

  3. Interesting debate, Jennifer. I've read a number of thriller novels recently written in first person, present tense which appears to be fashionable for that genre. Do you think fashion in POV influences what readers might or might not find acceptable?

  4. I don't know, Rae. I've written a romance in 1st person present, but I don't think that works and I will change it, but I think it would work for suspense.
    As for what's fashionable, I haven;t a clue. To be honest I'm now confused because I've just got another review, of another book, which sys the same about my preferred hero-third-heroine-first approach. So now I'm starting to get paranoid!