Playing with POV

A few weeks ago, I posted some thoughts about point of view, where I talked about how many first-person narratives were finding their way into my in-box. The interesting thing is that while I see many projects where the POV isn’t working for me–where the voice does not sound distinctive or the choice of POV in general rings false–I see very little in the way of experiments with POV. Most genre novels stick to fairly traditional points of view, depending on what is most typical for similar books. Romance novels tend to alternate between the hero and the heroine, much of the young adult work out there is still in first person, and so on. The experiments come from more literary writing, where playing with different aspects of the writing process seems to be more welcome.

That does not mean you can’t learn a great deal by playing around with point of view for your own project. Even if you will ultimately produce a story that adheres to the traditions of your genre, switching things up can be a great exercise, especially early on in the process. It helps you to find your characters’ voices or determine how deeply you want to delve into a given area of the narrative. Sometimes you’ll discover entirely different avenues you wish to explore, broadening your book and adding layers of interest. Also, certain narrative voices lend themselves to specific books by echoing genres or styles that may no longer be popular but still help set the mood for your reader. Think of the sounds of a fairy tale, of a noir detective story, of a spooky gothic tale–and the voice of the person telling those stories. Playing with point of view, even temporarily, may give you a narrator that conveys the perfect atmosphere.

In an interview over at Writer Unboxed, Erin Morgenstern discusses the POV shifts in her debut novel, THE NIGHT CIRCUS, showing that it’s possible to do something different with a first book if you think it through and it works for your story.

5 thoughts on “Playing with POV

  1. I love your posts.

    But I don’t get paid for playing around. I get paid for producing X books a year under X pseudonyms. That’s what my agents consider professional. That’s what my editors expect. That’s what my publishers pay me for. In the end, I’m doing it for the money. Passion lies behind the CHOICE to write. Passion MADE me write. But when I write, I need to be more professional than passionate.

    However, I’m sure this is great advice for someone with a day job, for someone who is trying to find his or her voice.

    (I don’t know why this comment sounds so petulant – it’s really not meant that way.)

    1. I don’t think it sounds petulant at all. 🙂 And you’re correct that many writers have already found that groove, what works for them. It sounds like you’re in a great, productive place with your writing, and that’s fabulous.

      I think I was speaking more toward writers who are still trying to figure out what works for them. Most of the POV issues I see in submissions are coming from writers who have not sold anything yet, who are still in those earlier stages of finding their voice, so they still have the ability–and in many cases the need–to try different things while shaping their projects. For a writer who is published, many of those hurdles have been mastered.

      Thanks for the input, and continued success to you!

  2. I can understand where you’re coming from. Lately, I’ve found myself drawn to the first person POV and have to stop and really put myself in the character’s shoe, where she/he is going, what will happen next and whether or not the story will flow. I usually write out the first couple of pages in first person, go back and read it out loud to myself. If it sounds awkward to my own ears, I go back and rewrite. But usually, from the moment the plot bunny nips, I can tell what sort of POV I’ll be using.

    Thank you so much for this post. It has really made me question my methods and as a writer, I appreciate that.


  3. I too think this post was meant more for those of us who don’t have to worry about fulfilling professional expectations and meeting contract terms yet. When you’re still new-ish in the game, playing with POV is both educational and can lead to something spectacular and unexpected. I’m working on revising one of my manuscripts right now, one I wrote quite a while ago in which I experimented with POV quite a bit. Did every experiment work? No, but a few did, and now I know that for manuscripts going forward. I’ll have to hope agents like what I did end up going with.

    The last manuscript I wrote started with one POV, and after about thirty pages I realized it wasn’t working like I wanted, so I changed it. It was much stronger as a result.

    A piece of advice I heard recently is that your POV should be whoever has the most to lose in a scene. I’m not sure I agree in EVERY situation. In the manuscript I wrote above, the person with the most to lose is supposed to seem a bit mysterious, so the POV is another character who is very important but whose stakes are a *little* bit lower. But it’s definitely worth thinking about.

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