One story element I struggle with is Point of View. I’ve read lots of warnings about head-hopping, meaning the switch from one character’s viewpoint to another’s within the same scene. Since I’ve decided to rework my novel to include the viewpoint of a secondary character as well as the main one, I’ve done some research into how it should be done. Hopefully it will help me avoid that horrible head-hopping (don’t you just love using alliteration?). Here’s what I came up with regarding the three most common viewpoints for telling a story.
1. Omniscient (Third person unlimited)
The author tells the story through the perspectives of two or more characters, using third person (he/she), with shifting points of view. The author has unlimited knowledge of what is going on, and can interpret the behavior of any of the characters. The author can also comment on the significance of what happens in the story.
2. Limited Omniscient (Third person limited)
The author tells the entire story in the third person (he/she), from the viewpoint of one character in the story. He tells us what that character sees, hears, thinks and feels. He may interpret that character’s thoughts and behavior but has no knowledge of what other characters are thinking, feeling, or doing. That character can observe what is going on, and make inferences based on what he/she sees, but the author can’t reveal anything other than what that chosen character thinks or knows.
There can be a switch to another character’s viewpoint in a separate scene or chapter, but never more than one viewpoint in a scene.
3. First person
The author steps into the role of one of the characters, who tells the story from his or her perspective (I). The reader can only know what the narrator sees, thinks, feels, knows, or experiences. The reader gets all information from the view of one participant in the story, and the author’s input in the events is eliminated.
I think I’ll go with limited omniscient for my novel. That will give me the ability to reveal a bit more about what is happening, and also make my secondary character stronger.
Edit 10/25/09: I found a great site that goes into more detail about point of view: http://research-writing-techniques.suite101.com/article.cfm/point_of_view_definitions_and_examples
Edit 11/17/09: Agent Nathan Bransford has an interesting blog post on how to decide whether to use first person or third person point of view: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2007/07/first-person-or-third-person.html
Edit 4/23/10: I just read a post by Walt Shiel that does a good job of explaining the different points of view: http://waltshiel.com/2009/05/21/avoid-mid-scene-point-of-view-shifts/
What is the number of point of view characters you typically like to have in a book: one, two, or more? If you’re a writer, which point of view do you prefer to use for your stories? Why?