The #1 Factor to Consider When Choosing POV Characters

This week’s video uses William Faulkner’s The Town to show choosing POV characters will influence and ultimately control your story.

Video Transcript:

How do you decide which characters should be your point-of-view narrators? This is one of the most important decisions an author can make in planning his book. The characters who narrate will largely control the flow, tone, and focus of your story. Change the POV characters, and you’ll likely change the entire story. And yet this is a decision we often devote very little thought to. We just do whatever feels right. Usually, we’ll give the POVs to the main character, the antagonist, and maybe a few minors who are present in important scenes in which our story’s big shots are not.

As far as it goes, this isn’t a bad way to choose POVs. A lot of books follow this formula, and it works well in carrying the reader to the places the author wants him to go. But, aside from the fact that it can sometimes lead to a haphazard “loose” feel, it overlooks one of the most powerful facets of the POV. And that is the POV’s ability to control the story. POVs shouldn’t be just about giving the reader eyes through which to see any old action. They should also be about structuring the story itself. William Faulkner’s The Town gives us an excellent example. His book offers three widely varied points of view: a young boy, an idiosyncratic entrepreneur, and an educated lawyer.

As much as his story is about these characters—and as much as their POVs tell us about them—a careful reading shows us that Faulkner chose these POVs not because of the characters themselves, but because of the juxtaposed views they presented of the story. So when you’re choosing your POVs, consider how each POV will add to the tone of the story as a whole. Don’t choose a POV just because it can show the reader things the other POVs can’t. Choose it because this character’s voice and viewpoint can bring a unique and important thematic layer to the story.

Tell me your opinion: How do you choose your POV characters?

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K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. For the most part I write from one POV, although at times I have done more. I generally just get this “gut” feeling about who should be the POV character for that scene.
    Thnx for another great article. 😀

  2. Gut feelings should never be ignored. Couple them with a purposeful understanding of the craft – and you’re pretty darn near unstoppable!

  3. Oh boy, this is something I’ve been agonizing over for a while. I’ve got two main POV’s I want to use, two important protagonists, either would work, but each one’s flavor would turn out really different. I’ll probably end up favoring one in particular at first, I’m not sure but I think it will increase the drama/mystery/sense of being grounded by a relatable character… If I favor the other for the first bit, I fear the whole thing may become anticlimactic.

    Structure! Aaah!!

  4. Sometimes it’s helpful to write a short scene from each person’s POV, so you can a taste of each character’s narrative before making your decision.

  5. Cheryl just sort of insisted on a POV. If I didn’t give her one, she said she’d run me over with her Mercedes.

  6. That kind of duress is hard to ignore!

  7. My main character noticed a situation no one was willing to talking about, but persisted in making it known even if they wouldn’t listen.

  8. My main character recently surprised me actually in a short story I had been writing – and she surprised me with one single statement, “My grip on reality has been sort of shakey lately.” Immediately I was captivated – and even though I was writing the story (we all know the power of the character), it seemed driven by the character herself. I plan on finishing up the story – and rewriting it to play up that loose grip on reality!

  9. @Lee: Sort of an Erin Brockovich type character?

    @Nicole: Whenever we find a character with a voice that strong, we can only thank heaven for the blessing.

  10. I choose my POV — which is omniscient — because of story requirements. So only one POV.

  11. Omniscient POVs are tricky and unconventional, but, when done well, they can be very effective.

  12. What do you say about a prologue from a POV that is not a main story POV? (In fact I may never revisit his POV.)

  13. Prologues that create a distance between the reader and the main part of the story – and particularly the protagonist – are tricky and generally to be avoided, in my opinion. You never want to make a reader start your story twice, which is what this kind of prologue inevitably does.

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