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Writing From One Point of View
By Jo Fulkerson


Every writers’ course and writers’ tip sheet I have ever read insists that writers should ALWAYS write from one point of view. That is, tell the story from one character’s viewpoint only. This message has been drummed into my head so often, it almost seems like it is an absolute crime to use more than one point of view in a story.

They seem to feel that a story with more than one point of view will confuse readers because the reader won’t know whose thoughts and actions are whose. One point of view also means that the feelings of only one character can be expressed in your writing.

I have always been the type of person who questions the "why" of almost everything. Why should a writer write from only one point of view? The explanation for this is the fact that readers will lose the thread of the story and will lose interest in it. By having the story told from more than one point of view, the reader is not able to follow what is going on.

My feeling on this is that the story loses emotional appeal and tension when only one side of an emotional scene is felt or described. Yes, the dialogue of the characters can convey feelings from more than one character in a scene. But then the novel can become “talky.” Then writing teachers and editors will say that the manuscript is too talky and lacks action. So writers are caught between a rock and a hard place in this situation. I have heard criticisms like these more times than I care to count.

Of course, if you aren’t careful, when you write from more than one point of view you can create problems. It is possible that the thoughts of each character, when expressed in a scene, can become muddled. You might not make it clear whose thoughts are being expressed and you can lose the reader’s interest completely.

As an example of this, let me quote to you from my own manuscript for “Sing Me No Sad Songs,” both before editing and after. Before I edited, I had written the scene as this:

“Lanny, I’m sorry I wasn’t here for you. Please,” he implored her, “just talk to me.”

“I have nothing to say to you. Now let me pass.”

Stephen stood back and allowed Alanna to leave the church. His eyes burned into her back as she approached the car waiting to take her to the cemetery. He glared as he watched Jared take her arm and walk beside her.

This is the same scene revised according to the “one point of view” suggestion I received:

“Lanny, I’m sorry I wasn’t here for you. Please,” he implored her, “just talk to me.”

“I have nothing to say to you. Now let me pass.”

Stephen stood back and allowed Alanna to leave the church. Alanna could feel his eyes burning into her back as she approached the car waiting to take her to the cemetery. She could sense that Stephen was probably unhappy to watch Jared take her arm and walk beside her.

It’s really a subtle difference, but editors seem to insist that one point of view be maintained. Actually, I prefer the first way I wrote it myself – it seems to have more tension, more punch, than the second way. And it seems perfectly clear who is feeling and doing what without taking the roundabout way of saying it.

If you have recently read anything written by two of my personal favorites lately – Danielle Steel and Nicholas Sparks – you will notice that they have used more than one point of view in their later novels. Especially so in Nicholas Sparks’ “Nights in Rodanthe,” where the main characters have their own points of view in several instances throughout the book. (Had I not been told many times that one point of view should always be used, I doubt if I would even have taken note of the different points of view.)

Sometimes the handling of point of view will depend upon which market you write for (i.e. romance, mainstream, etc.). Most romance markets seem to be most definite about this – they will not appreciate a story where jumping from one point of view to another occurs. And since most writers’ objectives are to sell their writing to editors, your point of view will have to take that into consideration, of course. Mainstream publishers appear to be more lenient when it comes to changing point of view, and allow for a more liberal use of point of view. But it still depends upon whether or not you can master point of view enough to make it work, both for your story and for the editor(s) to whom you hope to sell. 

I don’t claim to be on the same creative level as either Danielle Steel or Nicholas Sparks, of course. (Not yet, anyway.) I mention them only to point out that writing from more than one point of view CAN be done successfully. But it does take extreme concentration and attention to detail to handle it properly. Each time you shift the point of view from one character to another, each time you write one character’s thoughts and emotions and then shift to the thoughts and emotions of another character, the reader must know whose inner self is being explored.

If you feel that some of your storyline should have more than one point of view, be sure to make it crystal clear whose point of view you are writing. If a character says or does something and then leaves the scene, be sure you make it clear that the emotional response (which the first character will not see) is the response of the second character.

In my opinion, there are many times when a second character’s point of view (his feelings, emotions, reactions) could add something to the story without having to come through the first character’s viewpoint.

--- Jo Fulkerson has had songs recorded and published, and her screenplays, "Sing Me No Sad Songs" and "For Love of Teddy," won Honorable Mention in the recent Writer's Digest Screenplay competition.
--- email: puppykittens@earthlink.net 
--- Author of "Sing Me No Sad Songs"
--- Published by Desert Mesa Publishing
--- www.desertmesa.net 
--- Also in e-book from http://www.writersline.net 
--- Author of the e-book "Secrets of a Published Writer" from http://www.writersline.net 

 

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