Friday, October 1, 2010

Editing Tip #47: Point of View Options

Kathy Ide’s Editing Tips
© Kathy Ide, 2010

In this column, freelance author, editor, and speaker Kathy Ide shares tips on self-editing your manuscript.


When it comes to point of view, authors have a variety of methods to choose from. The most common form for contemporary fiction (and the preferred option for new authors) is third person ("She said this; he did that").

In a singular third-person narrative, the entire story is told from one character's perspective. This is a commonly used viewpoint for mystery novels, with the story revolving around the character who is solving the mystery.

The point-of-view character must be present, awake, and conscious in all scenes, and everything is experienced through his or her senses. The character's thoughts are revealed, if not precisely in his own words, at least within the scope of his unique personality. Other characters' thoughts, feelings, and personalities are displayed through their dialogue and actions.

In the singular third-person point of view, readers bond with one character throughout the story.

Multiple Third-Person

Authors who aim for a broad readership comprised of men and women of varying ages may create a cast of point-of-view characters. The story is not told by one individual, but through the emotions, thoughts, and desires of two or more major characters. When done well, multiple points of view involve the reader emotionally with all of the POV characters.

Authors can get into trouble, however, if they try to track the emotions of too many characters. The focus tends to become confused, and reader involvement with the lead characters diminishes. Shifting the point of view back and forth may do more damage to the flow of the scenes than the various viewpoints are worth. Readers adjust to being in someone's head. When you shift to another character, you throw them off, even if just for a moment.

Whenever you change from one character's point of view to another, it's best to insert a scene break (a blank line with a centered pound sign or three asterisks). The scene break will prepare your reader for a shift (in time, place, or point of view). Changing POV at a chapter break is even better.

The identity of the POV character is established in the first paragraph of the new scene or chapter—preferably in the first sentence. You can accomplish this by showing what the point-of-view character is doing, thinking, and/or saying. Since a chapter or scene break can indicate a change in time and/or place as well as POV, you should also include a description of the character's surroundings.

Romance novels are always written from two points of view. About two thirds of the story is told from the heroine's POV, and the rest from the hero's.

How do you decide whose point of view to use when writing a scene? Choose the character whose perspective is the most interesting and who has the most to gain or lose by the outcome of the scene. Be sure that everything you want to show in the scene could be observed or felt by that character.


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Kathy Ide has written books, articles, play and movie scripts, short stories, devotionals, and curriculum. Her books include Polishing the PUGS and Fiction and Truth. Kathy is a full-time freelance editor, offering a wide range of editorial services for authors and publishers. She also speaks at writers’ conferences across the country. She is the founder and coordinator of The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network ( and the Christian Editor Network ( To find out more, please visit

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