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Choosing Your Point of View (Part 2) by Ally Carter

Writing.ie | Resources | Better Fiction Guides | Plotting and Planning
Ally Carter

Ally Carter

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How do you know which Point of View to use? If it’s first person, how do you pick which character tells the story? This is one of the things authors worry most about when getting started. Because, trust me, it’s not an easy thing to fix if you get it wrong. The first thing you’re going to have to consider is whether you should write in first person, second person, third person limited, or third person omniscient POV. I’ve written in all but second person (because it is the most rare), and they all have their pros and their cons.

Part 1 of this article covered First Person, Second Person and Third Person Limited.

THIRD PERSON OMNISCIENT is sometimes confused with third person limited because both use he/ she/ they instead of, for example, I/we, but there are some really important differences. In third person limited, you’re tied to what your POV character(s) know and see and smell, etc. In omniscient, the story is basically being told by some all- knowing, all- seeing narrator who can see inside the characters, and also into the past and the future.

An omniscient narrator knows not just how the characters are feeling but also how the story will end.

The story is being told by you – the author – in other words, so everything you know, you can put on the page. Which is very appealing! But it’s also where it’s easy to get into trouble.

After all, just because you can put everything you know onto the page doesn’t mean you should. In general, new writers often like to “tell” readers everything – all at once. This is often called an info dump.

Molly was having a very bad day, which was about to get worse with a knock on the door. She opened it to see John outside, and Molly was mad. John was, too. He and Molly used to be friends, but then she ate all the regular M&M’s and left only the peanut M&M’s even though she knew John was allergic to peanuts, which his parents found out when he had a reaction when he was four and almost died. John also had red hair and green eyes and was taller than Molly now. He liked dogs more than cats and really needed a haircut.

See? With omniscient POV you could, theoretically, dump every bit of information about every single character and thing right on the page – boom! All in one go. Needless to say, that’s not usually a good idea.

Part of being a writer isn’t just learning what to write; it’s learning what not to write – what you should show instead of tell (more on that later) and when you should sprinkle information into the story rather than dumping it all down onto the page.

But that doesn’t mean that omniscient POV doesn’t have its uses! When I was writing Heist Society, I knew that, most of the time, I’d be in the head of my heroine, Kat, but there would be times I’d have to show the reader stuff that my heroine wasn’t present for – like guards checking a video surveillance feed or a bank manager checking the locks on a door.

Heist stories are, by definition, pretty complicated. It was important for the reader to see the whole picture – not just what was going on with Kat but also what was going on elsewhere in the world/ story. In this case, having an omniscient point of view helped build suspense – the reader could see things that Kat might not know, which would ratchet up the tension and keep readers on the edges of their seats. It also helped the reader to understand all the different pieces that were in play.

Think of it like this: Sometimes your book is like a chess game. Omniscient POV is the best way to allow a reader to see the entire board. Sometimes that’s best. And sometimes it’s better to see the game only through the eyes of the queen or a knight or whoever your POV character happens to be.

Omniscient POV also allowed the Heist Society books to have a very different voice and scale and feel from my (first person) Gallagher Girls series. We weren’t limited to one lens, in other words. The reader could see big, sweeping scenery shots or close- ups and everything in between. And I can’t imagine writing that series in any other way.

When it comes to picking a POV for your stories, keep all of this in mind. Also, be sure you read a bunch of books done in each. Then sit down and try your story each way. One POV might feel a lot easier than the others once you start writing, and then you’ll know exactly what to do.

(c) Ally Carter

See Part 1 of this article here.

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About the author

Ally Carter writes books about spies, thieves, and teenagers. She is the New York Times Best-selling author of Heist Society, Uncommon Criminals, and the popular Gallagher Girls series, including I’d Tell You I Love You but Then I’d Have to Kill You, Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy, Don’t Judge a Girl by Her Cover, and Only the Good Spy Young. She lives in the Midwest where her life is either very ordinary or the best deep-cover legend ever. She’d tell you more, but…well…you know…

  • The Dark Room: A thrilling new novel from the number one Irish Times bestselling author of Keep Your Eyes on Me
  • www.designforwriters.com

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