Ah, yes. We’ve reached one of my very favorite writing topics in our series. *cracks knuckles and wiggles fingers*
What can I say? POV gets me fired up – especially when it’s messed up for no good reason.
I’d rank POV in the top three of the most important considerations to make when crafting a story, because it sets up how your reader experiences your story world. There are a number of ways to do it.
The POV that allows the reader to get closest is first person and third person limited – it’s no surprise these are the preferred POVs for the vast majority of modern published literature (check the third link up there), so I’ll spend most of the post words on these.
First person puts the reader in the position of “I”, reading through the eyes of the main character. Third person limited is the same except it uses third person pronouns (he, she, they). The reader gets to experience every thought and feeling of the main character and what they know is limited to the character’s perception, just like a real-life person. I’m sitting in a Starbucks right now and I don’t know what any of the other people in here are thinking or doing outside of what I can see and hear. If I were to write a story about someone sitting in Starbucks and writing a blog post, it would include the same details as my real experience.
I bolded that line because this is where the nerd-rage happens – when an author sets up (that’s important) a first or limited third POV story and then suddenly jumps to another POV without a scene or chapter break. We’re enjoying the story in Bob’s head, and then we magically travel to Mary’s and see things through her eyes. That’s called head-hopping and if it happens, a lay-reader may sense something was “off” but can’t verbalize what. Head hopping takes away from the reading experience because it’s disorienting. If seeing things from a new POV is necessary, that POV should stick for the duration of a scene or chapter.
Now, how the story is set up matters. If the author chooses an omniscient POV and jumps heads at will, head hopping is less of a problem because the reader gets used to the style. Omniscient POV was much more common in classic literature than it is today because someone important to the industry decided readers prefer a deep, more personal POV (I certainly do).
What POV is in the stories you enjoy?