One of the writing issues we encounter most in the manuscripts we receive here at Sixth Element is POV (point of view). Whether from new writers or some of the most experienced published authors, it doesn’t matter… POV is still tricky.
POV is not just deciding if you’re writing first person or third. And that, I think, is where most people go wrong.
Writing first person is easy. It’s fun. You’re the ‘I’ and that’s it. Be that character, play being that character, be a girl or a boy, be a mage or a barbarian. You’re it and you can thunder your way through the story as you like, because you’re telling it. You can only see what you see, you only know what you know. Just a word of caution… be aware of where ‘you’ are when you’re telling the story. There are two ways to approach first person – right now, where you are telling the story as it happens, not necessarily present tense but it can be – or, my favourite, sitting by the fire at some point in the future, looking back. It doesn’t have to be a fireplace. It can be a ship drifting in deep space, waiting for aliens to catch up to you and attack… but it is firmly anchored at some point in the future and ‘you’ are looking back and telling your story to a specific audience right there with you at that future place. This is especially fun because you then have a second story running in the present, and you can make reference to both… the ‘if I’d known then what I know now’ delicacies of intrigue. I like first person, can you tell? I like writing it (that’s why I like writing little LC so much) and I do like it when we get a book that lands on our desk with a strong first person main character (like Mark’s Hannibal Smyth novels)… usually it’s a sign that the writer has found themselves and is having fun with a character and a world they feel at home in.
Writing third person is different. It’s easy to get wrong. Writing close or deep (limited) third person is awesome. Your connection as a writer, and the reader’s connection with that character, is as close as it gets. You are right there with that character, going through thick and thin with them. You only know what they know, right then, and you can only see what they see, think what they think. I love close third person and that’s what I use for my big books. But… and it’s a big but (why does my husband always laugh when I say that?)… this is tricky if you have more than one main character. I cheat and only ever have one main character per book. When I read a book, I hook into one character and that’s the character I want to stay with, hang out with, root for. So when I write, I keep to one character and go through every twist and turn with that one character. I only switch when I switch to a different book.
When you have a cast of several main POV characters within one book, it’s more difficult to get that deep connection. Don’t have too many POV mains and don’t ‘head hop’. Don’t do it. It’s superficial and it’s not the same as omniscient (see later). As the writer of your story, you have to consider who is important enough to deserve a POV. Who has star status on your panto poster? They’re your mains. If it’s a minor character, no matter how much fun you might have had writing them, how much of a ‘darling’ you might have invested in them, if they’re not a main, don’t give them a POV, especially not for just one scene for them never to appear again. That’s confusing and irritating. Be respectful to your reader. As soon as you give a character POV, you are signposting them as important. If they’re not that important, don’t give them POV (don’t even give them a name). Let the reader get to know them through the eyes and mind of your main POV characters, the ones you and we all know are the important ones we should care about.
Omniscient is different again. And this is where we usually see writers who haven’t considered POV leaping about and having a whole host of characters that sometimes have POV and sometimes don’t. Truly omniscient writing has an amazingly charismatic narrator telling the story, commenting on the vast cast of characters with a voice of their own, someone you enjoy spending time with, someone you trust to tell the whole story from every angle, including all those bits some of the characters can’t even see… the ‘meanwhile on the other side of town, little did they know…’ It can be fun, but it does have to be handled carefully. I must admit I’m not keen on omniscient. But it can be done well. One of our writers has a great style that has you imagining Judy Dench sitting there in her regency gown and bonnet, china tea cup to hand, just itching to tell you what happened. The biggie is that the narrator needs to be consistent. Don’t switch to close third randomly for no reason. That’s a fast way to knock your reader out of the story. Establish early in your story which you’re writing, and stick to it.
I think the only way you get to find out how you truly want to write, how you find your ‘voice’ as a writer, is to write. Try each. Try writing different tense, different POVs and different characters. Have fun. We love throwing the rules out of the window. But some rules… and POV is one of them… are there for a reason.
About CG Hatton (by Mark)
CG Hatton is the author of the fast-paced, military science fiction books set in the high-tech Thieves’ Guild universe of galactic war, knife-edge intrigue, alien invasion, thieves, assassins, bounty hunters and pirates.
She has a PhD in geology and a background in journalism. She loves meringue and football (supports Tottenham Hotspur), drinks spiced rum and listens to Linkin Park, has climbed active volcanoes, walked on the Great Wall of China, and been mugged in Brazil.
- You can find out more at https://cghatton.com
- Follow the thieves guild series on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/cghatton/
- Follow CG herself on twitter @cghatton
- And written a hell of a lot more about her books on here, as I have reviewed several of them over the years by clicking on the indieomacon
Gillie is also the beating heart behind Sixth Element Publishing (with her business partner Graham)
Sixth Element is the home of the Harvey Duckman Presents anthologies and so much more, and I can not recommend them enough to any writer, whether you just go to them for a little advice to start with or want to publish through them.