Over the years, we’ve run into a few … ahem … interesting misconceptions about what a writer can and cannot do in certain points of view (POV) narration. What follows is just a peek at the tip of the iceberg, as it were.
First person POV is obvious. “I” (protagonist) tells the story. Everything is shown/told by “I”. It’s a tricky one to do well, although there are writers who have it mastered (Jeff Gephart’s Accidental Adulthood and Amy Krout-Horn’s My Father’s Blood spring immediately to mind for me).
Second person POV—“you”—is rarely used, because it’s almost impossible to do well. And, as a reader, I dislike being talked to.
What we see most often as narrative style is Third Person POV. The narrator relates the facts, tells the story.
In Third Person Objective POV, the narrator has access to nobody’s thoughts. In Third Person Limited POV, the narrator has access to one person’s thoughts at a time. In Third Person Omniscient POV, everybody’s thoughts are available all the time, which allows for a great deal of flexibility in narration. This is the most common POV we see in submissions.
We have also been exposed to some misconceptions as to what’s correct in OPOV.
In OPOV, the narration can say: John thought it was a bad idea, but he didn’t know why. The narration cannot say: Why did John think it was a bad idea? The Third Person does not get to have emotions (cannot say Oh, poor John), cannot ask questions (Why did John do that?), cannot have its own thoughts or opinions (It’s interesting that John did that). It can only relate the facts. For emotions, questions, and thoughts, the writer must rely on effective dialog, both internal and external.
Another misconception is when a writer believes that because the narrator relates that John thinks something, that makes it John’s internal thought. If I want to show the reader John’s thought, I need to move into internal dialog, such as: John mulled it over in his mind. I think it’s a bad idea, but I don’t know why or “I don’t know why I think that’s a bad idea,” John thought, “but I do.”
Telling (narrative) the reader that John had a thought is third person, not first.
People do not think in third person. If my name is Sue and I’m thinking about getting a cup of coffee, is my thought: Sue would like a cup of coffee? Of course not. That’d be kind of silly. Instead, I think: I would like a cup of coffee. The same holds true in fiction. Third Person Narrator can tell the reader that Sue thought she’d like a cup of coffee, but that’s not the same thing as showing Sue thinking she’d like a cup of coffee.
The other thing we see on occasion is POV head jumping. It’s perfectly fine to change character perspective /POV—with a scene break or, in some instances, chapter break. It’s not perfectly fine to run it all together.
A very simplified example of what not to do: John picked up a half gallon of his favorite ice cream. That’ll be a nice treat for later. Sue didn’t really like that flavor, but she’d never tell him so, because she didn’t want to hurt his feelings.
John cannot be in Sue’s head. There is no way that he can know what he’s just told the reader. The fix is quite simple. Move back into OPOV (or a scene/chapter break if the situation warrants it) and share the information that’s in Sue’s head when John comes home with the ice cream.
POV is truly important. It can mean the difference between a well-told tale and a jumble of mixed up perspectives.
Hope this serves.