What is point of view in a story?

Every story has an angle or perspective from which it is told. This perspective is called point of view.

Notice how this scene is from an outsider’s perspective, as if the narrator were looking down upon the action from a viewpoint that is able to see all:

Even before the sun rose, Evod and Nevar prepared themselves for the race. Silently, they inventoried supplies, examined their craft’s hull and unpacked Nevar’s ceremonial suit. Evod inspected each items with a drill instructor’s eye, discovering problems that really weren’t.

Here’s the same scene, this time told from Nevar’s perspective. We “hear” what he is thinking and only through his eyes know what Evod is doing:

Nevar turned over the food pack in his hands in the pre-dawn light. Silently he examined the craft’s hull and then unpacked his ceremonial suit. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Evod staring at the control panel, fretting again about a problem that really wasn’t.

Selecting the best point of view is important because it needs to be consistent throughout the story to establish unity of effect. Without a consistent point of view, the reader can lose track of who the story is about, and dramatic tension is weakened.

Your viewpoint ought to be from the character “who has the most at stake” often is advised by self-help writing books, and as a general rule, it is a good guideline to follow. But point of view selection is a more sophisticated process than simply writing the story’s perspective from that of the antagonist or main character. Sometimes the main character’s viewpoint is not suitable for revealing the story’s theme.

Even if you’re consistent with your point of view, should you select the wrong perspective from which to tell the story, you run the risk of writing a story that reeks of:
• Mannerisms – The author’s persona shouldn’t become more important than the story’s events itself. Often flamboyant diction occurs.
• Frigidity – Excessive objectivity can trivialize the story’s events.
• Sentimentality – This occurs when trying to evoke an emotional response that the story’s events cannot evoke by themselves.

For beginning writers, point of view perhaps is the most difficult element to master. Scenes often are envisioned in different points of view and so are knitted together. These individual scenes may be the best options for what the author wishes to achieve, but when connected to the rest of the story, they cause the story to lose unity of effect.

When writing, follow these point of view guidelines:
• Use one point of view per story. Jumping around is confusing.
• Usually the point of view in a scene is that of the story’s main character.

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