9 Ways to Use Point of View to Strengthen Your Story’s Characters

9 Ways to Use Point of View to Strengthen Your Story’s Characters

One of the author’s primary tools to create great characters is point of view (POV). The character or characters through whom the reader experiences your narrative will become the people they know best, and, if those characters are compelling, the friends they carry with them after the story is done.

As writers, we must consider how our approach to crafting point of view will influence the story being told, and in particular, how it will create the readers’ impression of character. (For a review of POV basics, including which POVs to use and first- versus third-person, check out Jason Black’s article.)

3 Keys to Character–and How Point of View Can Help

What makes a great character, and how can POV help you display those traits? You want to create characters who are:

1. Sympathetic

Readers root for the character in pursuit of his goals.

2. Believable

The character possesses traits, attitudes, and awareness that makes him seem real.

3. Compelling.

Readers are eager to follow the character’s journey

Great characters can begin in many ways. I build characters from the inside out, thinking about their goals, their fears, and what actions they’ll take because of those things.

Instead of focusing on superficial details, think about values, quirks, and personality traits. Consider the character’s social background, career, and relationships. Focus on what sets this character apart and what will help to engage your reader.

You can write up what you know about the character in paragraphs, a character sketch or worksheet, or just list the information.

6 Details to Bring Life to Your Character’s Point of View

What you know about your character should inform everything that character says, does, and senses in a given situation—and should be unique to that individual. When you write from that character’s point of view, this information will influence every choice you make, from what elements of a scene you describe, to which words you choose to describe them.

1. Goal

Why is the character here? What does he want, and how will he go about trying to get it? (If the character doesn’t want anything in the scene, it’s probably the wrong scene.)

2. Knowledge

The character’s level of understanding filters what he notices and how he observes it. A history major has a different view of the Washington Monument than a stone mason would—but both could be very interesting.

3. Selection

What interests your character in a given scene or moment? Selection is based on a variety of factors, including age, gender, backstory, occupation, and preoccupation (what’s on the character’s mind). A person who longs for a child might be drawn to playgrounds. A chiropractor might subconsciously diagnose other people when describing them.

4. Personal History

What does this scene mean to the character? What is his relationship to the other people present?

5. Attitude

How does the character feel about where he is, who he is with, and what is happening? Does the character’s attitude change during the scene? A fearful person will notice different things and use different language from someone who is bored.

6. Authorial Need

What key features, traits or clues do you, the author, need to convey? I put this one last for a reason. If you focus on what the character needs, wants, and sees in the scene, rather than what the author wants, you’ll achieve a more natural POV that will be more believable and engaging to the reader.

3 Important Considerations for Word Choice in Point of View

Whether you are writing in first-person or a close third person view, filter the scene through the experience of that individual POV by using precise word choices. Allow the character’s attitude to color everything in the moment.

1. Diction

How your character speaks, what words and concepts he employs, how long or complex his sentences might be.

2. Metaphor

Comparisons add resonance to a work, and are a great chance to show the character’s background and attitude.

3. Connotation

Shades of meaning that separate words with similar definitions showcase what the character is thinking (like:  skinny, lithe, slender, scrawny).

Being deliberate about these small choices can create a strong impression of that character’s unique view. You can also use contrasts between the readers’ expectations of character and what he reveals on the page to suggest deeper layers.

4 Red Flags to Watch for in Your Story’s Point of View

 These are a few stumbling blocks to delivering a clear POV:

1. Couching Language

Phrases such as he saw, she thought, they felt direct the reader outside the character’s perspective.

2. Head Hopping

Briefly showing a different character’s POV within a paragraph or scene, or revealing something the character wouldn’t know, will distract readers and distance them from the narrator.

3. Backstory

Lots of background included too early in a work feels artificial and slows the immediacy of the story at hand.

4. Withholding

If you need to keep secrets from the reader, you’ll need to switch POV or end the scene before that information would naturally arise for the POV character.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What is your biggest challenge right now in mastering your story’s point of view? Tell me in the comments!


9 Ways to Use Point of View to Strengthen Your Story’s Characters

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About E.C. Ambrose | @ecambrose

E.C. Ambrose writes The Dark Apostle series, beginning with Elisha Barber (DAW, 2013), continuing with Elisha Magus, and Elisha Rex. As Elaine Isaak, she wrote The Singer's Crown and its sequels. Her how-to articles have appeared in The Writer magazine and online. A graduate of the Odyssey Speculative Fiction workshop, she is proud to return there to teach this summer. She has led workshops across the country. You do not want to be her hero.