Importance of Point of View (POV) in a Novel

Guest Blog by BJ Neblett.

Using a different point of view for your story can make the difference between an interesting piece and a winning one. I sight Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian. In it the author uses a different member of an extended family to voice each chapter. It is very effective. I especially liked the way a bird (get it: Bird’s Eye View) caps one of the final chapters.

My first novel, Elysian Dreams is actually three interconnected stories. I chose the somewhat unusual third person, present tense, ie: he takes; she goes, for the first section. The more traditional third person past tense, ie: he took; she went, is used in section two; and first person, past tense, ie: I took; I went, highlights the concluding section. I have been told it works beautifully. I tend to agree.

But why does it work? In the first section, Collin Crowly lives his guarded life going back and forth between 1988 and 1928. I wanted the section to sound as if the action was happening right now, regardless of where the scene took place, just as it is happening to Crowly. I believe this helps to draw the reader directly into the plot. There is a narrator, third person, but he describes the action as it is happening in real time, present tense.

The second section is of course in the more familiar and traditional form: third person narrator, past tense. Since the action all takes place in the past, this gives the reader a deeper sense of having already happened. The reader is afforded a glimpse into a time and place long gone.

Section three is told by a teenage girl as she writes a note of farewell to her mother. These are her thoughts and recollections, as she sees and recalls them. Therefore the only choice was first person, past tense. There are also chapters within the final section where her mother has found the note, read it, and is relating what has happened as she is aware. She tells her story. It is much the same story as her daughter has just related, although through her own eyes and point of view. Naturally there are some subtle as well as sharp differences between the two accounts. Remember the old childhood game of Passing the Secret? The mother tells her story, as she sees and understands it, from first person, past tense.

It’s fun to play around with tense and point of view. Try rewriting sections, even whole chapters using a different voice and point of view. Even try having different characters tell the story. Just remember the basic rules of person and tense: a first person narrator only knows what he or she sees, is told and/or understands. They cannot predict; nor can they read another’s thoughts or feelings. And it is important to keep the tense even through the entire section. Unintentionally switching tense from past to present and vice versa is one of the most common mistakes for writers both skilled and novice.

In short it is your story. You are creating the scene, the mood, the characters and everything else. Play the role of creator and do whatever feels best and natural to you.

– BJ Neblett

About the Author:

bj ballard

BJ Neblett

BJ Neblett is a continuing contributor to Romance Magazine, available through Amazon. He is the author of the extremely popular Elysian Dreams, a contemporary romantic fantasy adventure novel about searching your dreams while seeking your destiny. His newest work Ice Cream Camelot, about his growing up during the Kennedy administration, was released as an e book to very positive reviews. The historical memoir explores the times, troubles and triumphs of life during the early 1960’s as seen through the eyes of a young boy. It will be available in paperback shortly. BJ hosts two blog sites: for poetry, and for his short stories and other writings. Recently, BJ was asked to write a short memory about JFK for the Kennedy Library. His poems Black Wall, published on the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial blog site, and The 12th Day Of Never are being considered for inclusion at the Vietnam War Center in Washington. You can find more of BJ’s incredible stories in other popular publications, including eFiction Magazine and Northern Liberties Review, as well as on line at Short Story Me. Presently, BJ is busy working on a follow up memoir to Ice Cream Camelot titled A Change Is Gonna Come; a sequel to Elysian Dreams, The Amber People; collections of poetry and short stories, and, as always, more short stories and more romance. BJ’s writings have been compared to that of Haruki Murakami and Isaac Asimov.

Categories: Writing Advice

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