Wednesday, 22 September 2010

What's the Point (of View)?

Rob from the Costa Blanca in Spain writes: Several of my writing associates from our new group, Writers Abroad, have been struggling to resolve the issues surrounding the ‘Point of View’ often simply referred to as POV. Our main POV problem lies in writing in the 3rd person and the introduction of multi POVs. Is this permissible or must it be avoided?

The use of multiple points of view is one of those areas where you will most probably receive a different answer from every person you ask.

For very short stories, it is certainly not advisable to use more than one point of view, as it is easier for the reader to identify with a single character. For longer works, there is no reason why you cannot use several points of view, as long as your reader is able to follow what is going on.

Changes of POV can be very confusing unless clearly signalled, but the technique is extremely successful when used correctly. Anyone who has read Lord of the Rings will be aware of just how effective it can be. The POV switches were used to increase the tension, leaving the reader gasping to know what was happening to the characters they’d left behind, but at the same time relieved to catch up with others.

Some writers say you shouldn’t change POV within a chapter, but I think it is fine to switch, as long as the guidelines below are followed.

• Don’t change point of view mid-scene

• Clearly signal a point of view change by leaving a line of space, or inserting three asterisks, before moving on to the next character’s viewpoint

• Make sure the reader knows whose point of view they are in from the outset of the new section (it is very frustrating to think you are still reading from one POV, only to find out several paragraphs later that you are, in fact, in a different POV)


  1. I'm trying this technique in the childrens book I've just started. I was told to avoid miltiple POVs in kids fiction, but the bits I've got down so far seem to work. I'm trying it with different chapters instead of writing two or more POVs within the same one, but I might experiment with that too. Not sure how well a nine year old will cope though.

  2. I've used two points of view within chapters in Vlad the Inhaler. My agent seemed to think it works okay.

  3. Thanks for this Lorraine, I'm one of the members at Writers Abroad who continually 'head hops'. I'm getting better now at short stories, just have to concentrate. As I am mid-edit a novel (for adults) and making notes of POV your answer makes interesting reading, as where I do use it in a chapter it makes sense and helps the tension, so I shall let things be for now and see. Thanks