DARE TO CHANGE YOUR POINT OF VIEW

Ever since my eyes were opened to the importance of Point of View (POV), I’ve paid close attention to narrative voice whenever I write as well as read. I’m happy to share my observations, with a focus on books that dare to push POV boundaries. My hope is that after you read this, you’ll be inspired to explore daring new POVs for YOUR stories!

Here are the FOUR TYPES OF POV:

1st PERSON

In 1st Person, the narrator is usually the book’s protagonist. Narration is characterized by use of the words “I,” “me”, “we,” and “us.” Traditionally, this style has been most popular with middle grade and young adult books (The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan and The Cay by Theodore Taylor are two great examples), but don’t rule out using first person with picture books. The prolific and timeless Dr. Seuss was one of the first (if not THE first) picture book author to use it – with Green Eggs and Ham, If I Ran the Zoo, The Cat in the Hat, and others. More recent examples include I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen and the Monster and Me series by our very own Paul Czajak.

3rd PERSON OMNISCIENT

Harry Potter at Universal imageIn 3rd Person Omniscient, an outside narrator has an all-knowing ability to tap into each character’s feelings and thoughts. Typically, the narrator is invisible and narration is characterized by “he,” “she,” and “they” instead of “I.” This is the traditional choice for picture books, but shows up in books for older children, too. In fact, this is the narrative style of a series you’ve likely read, seen, and experienced. My advice: skip the butterbeer, but get yourself a wand! Yes, I’m talking about the Harry Potter juggernaut by J.K. Rowling.

3rd PERSON LIMITED

3rd Person Limited is similar to the Omniscient type, with narration characterized by “he” and “she” rather than “I.” With the Limited form, however, the narrator is a specific character in the book – typically the protagonist (just like with 1st Person). A book that illustrates this style of narration beautifully is The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. Narrator Kit, forced to flee from Barbados, describes Puritan Wethersfield, CT with a lens colored by her tropical, free-as-a-bird upbringing.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak offers the most daring POV I’ve yet encountered. Death, the narrator, believes himself to be omniscient, but has a fascination with the main character’s penchant for “stealing” books. He alternates between dream-like fugues and a unique way of describing events. One could also argue that Death plays a huge role in this book – making him an actual character- but he lacks physical form. Is the narration style 3rd Person Limited Limited or Omniscient? Or is it both?

2nd PERSON

In 2nd Person, the narrator talks directly to YOU, the reader. While this style is most commonly used in How To books, it’s been cleverly applied to children’s literature as well. The Choose Your Own Adventure series is a classic example. Picture books have been blossoming with this perspective, and each of the above examples by Laura Joffe Numeroff, Jean Reagan, and Jodi Moore has one or more equally delightful spinoffs.

When 2nd Person is inserted into a book with a traditional POV, it’s known as “Breaking the Fourth Wall,” a term borrowed from the theater. Percy Jackson of The Lightning Thief fame talks directly to readers on occasion, and it’s very entertaining. Pseudonymous Boch, the blatantly anonymous author/narrator of The Name of This Book is Secret can’t help himself from blurting out warnings to readers.

CHANGING PERSPECTIVES

The Kane Chronicles, also by Rick Riordan, was the first book with dual POVs I ever read. The POV alternates between siblings Carter and Sadie Kane, with chapters clearly labeled CARTER or SADIE. Are the chapter titles an excuse for creating indistinguishable narrators? Absolutely not! Everything about these characters is different, including their narration styles. Wonder by R.J. Palacio alternates POV by chapter in a more random fashion (without consistent name labels), but also differentiates narrators with recognizable quirks, traits, and speech patterns.

Worthy of note: The Kane Chronicles changes narrators in a predictable pattern, while Wonder does not. Needless to say, both styles work. My advice is that if you start with a pattern, you should probably keep it. Otherwise, let the narrators switch whenever it advances or rounds out your plot.

Picture books have the added potential for juxtaposing the perspective between pictures and text. A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever by Marla Frazee is a stellar example of this.

Gifts doing handstands imageNo matter how or if you switch POV, all your characters should be unique. Speech patterns, personal goals, quirks, traits, strengths, weaknesses, interests, concerns, and family dynamics are just some of ways characters can be differentiated. This is important, even if they’re twins.

In an outstanding interview on writershelpingwriters.net – March 12, 2015 – YA author Lisa Gail Green (her novel Soul Crossed alternates between angel and demon perspectives) shares tips on how to switch POVs successfully. To paraphrase one of her key ideas, she advises resisting the urge to repeat action through the POV of different characters unless it’s critical for your plot.

DARE TO CHANGE YOUR POV!!

My characters tell me how they want their stories told. Even so, I still challenge them by changing the POV for a single chapter – from 3rd to 1st, or to a different character’s perspective. If you dare to follow this approach, you may end up scrapping the exercise. But… you may uncover narrative gold.

Reading upside down imageGo ahead and push POV boundaries! And have fun doing it.

 

18 comments

  1. POV is one of the most important choices a writer makes. It’s worth trying out both at the beginning to see what feels/sounds right. Choosing 1st person may seem more natural to some writers, or even more accessible to young readers. However, it’s important to know the strengths and limits of each type of POV. With 1st person, the reader has to stay in one character’s head the whole time. So, this character must have a strong voice and be compelling enough to carry the story.

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    1. Dear Evelyn, thanks for your insights. 1st person often seems like the natural choice with YA, as we can’t help but identify with our main characters. But then you end up with, “I, I, I.” And I, as you say, must be gosh darn compelling! I’m glad you agree that POV deserves considerable attention.

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    1. Dear Alison, I tend to gravitate toward 1st person POV too, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to try something fresh and new. Your stories are always so original, your POVs could be out of this world (literally and figuratively!)

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  2. Ohhhhh! I just read through this and not only am I honored and thrilled that you included me and my sweet Dragons…it is one of the best articles I’ve ever read on differentiating (and encouraging!) different POVs – fantastic definitions and examples! Thank you sooo much! 🙂 xoxo

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    1. Dear Jodi: a thousand times, thank you! I worked very hard to make this understandable and encouraging, and I’m so glad you like it. It was MY honor to include When a Dragon Moves In as an exceptional example of the 2nd person POV used in a picture book!

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    1. Thanks, Marti! If you haven’t already, I strongly recommend you check out the interview with Lisa Gail Green. I thought it was incredibly insightful.

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  3. Wonderful post, Laura. Such a good in-depth look at POV. My third novel started out as 1st person and then I switched the whole thing to 3rd which surprisingly took much less effort than I expected. Thanks for the reminder to play around with POV more often.

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    1. Marcia, Roller Boy turned out so well in 3rd person, it’s hard to imagine you started in 1st person! You truly ended up with narrative gold.

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  4. What a useful post you have written, Laura. Experimenting, as you advise, is the way to discover the voice of any nascent story. The first dual narrator book that I remember is the Newbery Honor Book “The Wanderer”, by Sharon Creech, which appeared in 2000. In this wonderful tale the narrators, Sophie and Cody have clearly different voices. The sequence of their chapters does not alternate. It actually follows their developing personalities so that at the beginning of the book Sophie’s chapters are more frequent. Cody who is a reticent voice speaks in less frequent and shorter chapters. By the end of the book their chapters alternate as Cody’s self image solidifies. Yes, it is amazing what a good writer can do with POV, as you suggest.

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    1. Dear Joyce, thank you for providing another example of well executed dual POVs. I’m a huge fan of Sharon Creech, and will definitely add “The Wanderer” to my reading list.

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    1. “My monster” is such a compelling and original way to start a picture book. I agree that playing around with POV doesn’t necessarily mean a complete overhaul.

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