Omniscient Point of View

omniscient POVOmniscient POV gives the power to see and know all. It was used much more frequently in the 18th century than it is now, though many beginning writers use it without realizing it.

Writing in omniscient point of view allows you to pop into the mind of any character you choose when you choose… once, or repeatedly. As the author, you may also include your own observations or opinions on the action, even to the point of addressing the reader directly.

Some books written in omniscient POV include The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles and Howards End by E. M. Forster.

Cynthia scowled. “You don’t know anything about it,” she said, trying to hide her true feelings on the subject.

“Says you,” her cousin retorted hotly, hoping to read between the lines. He scanned her face for clues, then plopped on the grass next to her in defeat. “Tell me, then.”

In the example, we’re sent to both Cynthia’s mind, who’s trying to control her true feelings, and her cousin’s, who is hoping to read between the lines, then plops next to her in defeat.

Some readers don’t like omniscient and will accuse the reader of head hopping. Others say it creates distance. Beginning writers may write like this unintentionally because they want to include descriptions of how everyone is feeling in a scene, not realizing they’re actually popping into everyone’s heads to do that. So it must be easy, right? Nope. Writing omniscient well is far from easy. While it’s true that one of the strengths of this POV is that it allows these things to be revealed, there are some problems with this POV as well, such as:

  • Omniscient POV loses the willing suspension of disbelief that we cultivate in a work of fiction.
  • It destroys the sense of reality we try to create in our new world because the author can insert their own opinions.
  • It creates more distance between the reader and the characters.

So, if the drawbacks are so bad, what are the strengths of omniscient POV?

  • Reminding the reader that this is a work of fiction can be a terrific device by highlighting the artificial nature of the story.
  • By increasing the distance between reader and character, the reader gets an entire panorama of reality itself.
  • The author has more control in steering the story and its meaning where s/he wants it to go.


Third Person

third person point of viewThird person point of view. In this point of view, you’re telling the story from a distance, as if you’re watching the people in it.

Katie faced the black wall with determination, scanning the endless rows of names. There it was. Dennis McDermott. Her fingers traced the letters. She hadn’t been sure how she’d feel, seeing his name there. The father she’d never known. The father who’d never known her. Her heart swelled against an ever-tightening band. It was just a name, after all. It wasn’t him. It wasn’t a real person who could wrap his arms around her. Tears welled in her eyes as she realized maybe that tight band around her heart was him. Holding her close in the only way he could. 

Third person allows us to go into the head of the the third person point of view character, but we also get to see what’s going on outside of this character. If we only see inside one character’s head, that’s called limited third person viewpoint. If we get to see inside more than one character’s head, it’s called multiple third person viewpoint.

Like first person, third person point of view has strengths and weaknesses. Some of its strengths include:

  • POV characters can be described from the outside (what they look like, what they’re doing).
  • You’re not limited to your character’s world view. In third person, you can present objective facts without coloring them with a character’s opinion. Third person opens up the story, so it feels less claustrophobic.
  • It’s easy to include more than one point of view in third person. As the author, you can move through the plot as needed to expose the information necessary through all the major characters instead of just one or two.
  • In third person, you can withhold information until you need to reveal it by having it known only to characters who are not point of view characters.
  • It’s easier to remain objective with your characters when you aren’t writing “I,” so you can easier evaluate and imagine them.

With all these strengths, it’s not hard to imagine why third person point of view is such a popular choice among authors. However, for every positive, there is a negative. Third person also has its drawbacks.

  • Third person creates more distance between the character and the reader. This can be controlled, but this takes practice and is a topic for another post.
  • You lose the effect of language patterns that you can get with first person.
  • Flashbacks, memories, opinions, and other devices are more awkward to put in. They can be done, but it takes greater skill to manage them smoothly.

So, how do you choose between first and third person? No one can answer that for you. If your story is epic and has a multitude of characters, perhaps multiple third person may be right for you. Likewise, if you want to be able to pull back and provide objective facts or descriptions, third person may be what you’re looking for. Third person may also be your cup of tea if you want rich descriptions of your characters from the outside. This is used a lot in romance novels so the reader can enjoy those silky curls or that buff, muscular chest.

However, if you want your reader to strongly identify with your POV character, to see the world with their eyes, you may want to choose limited third person or first person. Try a chapter or two in each and see what works best for you.

Investing in Your Book

invest in your bookI urge you to invest in your book.

What does that mean? It means a lot of things.

First, you need to invest the time to do it right. Take your time writing and researching your book. Revise it. Get feedback. Are there holes in your plotline? If so, fix them! Are your characters flat? Fill them out! A rough draft isn’t enough.

Get it edited. Allow enough time for a good edit, don’t expect 150,000 words to be done overnight. Give your editor the time to go through it carefully. Rush jobs usually result in something being missed because they were rushed. Can you do your best work when you’re in a rush? Schedule enough time in your production timetable to allow for a proper edit. Then add a little bit more for bumps in the road, like an unplanned for revision, or a family emergency. It’s better to be ready ahead of time than to be squeezed for time at the end.

Proofread it. After you, your editor, and your trusted beta readers have all read it, get someone else to go over it for errors. If you can afford it, pay a professional. Trust me, even after all those others have gone over it, there will still be some errors. No one is perfect enough to catch everything. Could you? If you were given a 50,000 word manuscript, could you catch every single error? Especially if the author wanted it in a week or two? That’s why the more sets of eyes you have go over your book, the better. And spell check doesn’t catch everything, either. It doesn’t know the difference between there, their and they’re. Or to and too. Or rein and reign. Or wait and weight. Or right and write. All it knows is if they’re spelled correctly.

Get a good cover design. If you don’t know the first thing about designing a cover that looks good, find someone who does. It’s worth the money to have one that catches the eye. People do judge a book by its cover, whatever they may say.

Your book represents you. This is your product that you want people to buy. Putting a substandard book out there can create a reputation that will follow you no matter how much work you put into later publications. Today’s readers aren’t shy about complaining in a review about shoddy writing or editing (or lack thereof). If you fix your book later, those reviews are still there. Those readers have already told their friends and the damage has been done.

I know I harp about this repeatedly here, but I can’t emphasize this enough. As an author, your book is you. Do you want to go out in public with a big smudge on your face? Of course not! So why let your book do the same? Yes, editing and a good cover can cost a lot of money, depending on who you hire and the length of your book. But isn’t your book worth some scrimping? Isn’t your reputation as an author worth it? Many editors, like me, offer payment plans. Payment plans, however, don’t work well if you’re on a quick deadline (just another reason to plan well for your production time). We also offer a discount for payment in full, so there are multiple ways to save some money on editing services. So invest in your book, both with time and money if possible.

You want to put your best book forward.

First Person Point of View

first person point of view

Ah, first person point of view. Many of the books that cross my desk are written in first person. The reader gets to experience the story inside a character’s head. I find that many first-time authors choose first person as their chosen point of view, at least in the books I edit.

I peered into the bassinet. There was a tiny person, wrapped in a fluffy pink blanket. She squirmed, threatening to wake. I squirmed. What would I do if she cried? I was afraid to touch her. I heaved a sigh of relief when she seemed to settle. How could they send her home with me? I had no clue what to do with her. How could I take care of her? What if I dropped her? What if I failed? It wasn’t like I could just find another home for her, like a puppy. She was supposed to be mine. I swallowed hard. My daughter. It didn’t seem real. It couldn’t be real. 

One of the great things about first person point of view  is you really get into that person’s character. The narration is in that character’s speech pattern, we get the immediacy of their experience, and the reader feels as if they are feeling what the character feels. First person offers range that can be awkward in third person. You can wander through impressions, feelings, memory, opinion as they pass through the character’s head. This is one of the great strengths of this point of view. There are, however, equally strong weaknesses that you need to keep in mind if you choose to write in first person.

  • You can’t include a scene in which your character is not present. Likewise, you can’t include any information your character wouldn’t have access to. If you must include crucial information your character doesn’t have direct access to, you must be creative in finding ways to make it accessible, like letters, overheard conversations, and so on.
  • You must include any information you character does have. This is especially important if you’re writing a mystery. Suddenly springing a clue upon your readers that your character already knew about is bad form.
  • As the author, you’re limited to your character’s view of the world. If your character is a Pollyanna, then s/he must see the good in everyone, no matter how evil they are. Their evilness must be shown in other ways.
  • Don’t confuse yourself with your character. It is so easy to do. If you feel a certain way about something, make sure your character doesn’t feel that way just because you do. You need to remain objective. If your character has a strong political pull to the right or left, for example, and you’re the opposite, you can’t let your own leanings color your character in any way. You need to be able to become the reader enough to judge what you put on the page. This is why many authors consider first person to be extremely difficult. It is the also what many beginning authors forget when they choose to write in first person.

Point of View

point of view
Handcuffs and Key

When you write a story, you need to choose a point of view. Who will be telling the story? Will it be one of your characters? Will it be you, the author?

Who you choose can change the story. Let’s say you want to tell a story about a bank robbery. Major characters may include the robbers, the hostages inside the bank, and the police officers on the scene. If you choose one of the robbers, the story may consist of adventure, planning the heist, danger, a falling out between partners, and lack of trust.

If the story is told through the eyes of one of the hostages, it becomes one of bewilderment and fear. Do they hope to escape? Maybe several band together to stand up to the robbers or maybe they learn their lesson when one gets injured for doing something foolish and they await rescue.

If a detective on the case is the one who relates the story, it becomes a procedural… we get treated to the protocols of the case, talking down the robbers, negotiating for the release of the hostages, the stress when one is shot.

As you can see, each angle tells a different tale, although the main story remains the same. If you have a large cast of characters in your book, use as few points of view as possible to tell the story. Figure out the least amount you need to adequately cover the story and any internal dialogues you need in your story. Having too many can get confusing, not only for the reader, but for you. Now you must decide between first person, third person, omniscient, or those rarely used second person, plural first, plural third, and epistolary forms.

Over the next several posts, I’ll be covering some of these various forms of point of view, including the pros and cons of choosing them, as well as what pitfalls to watch out for when you use them.

Calling the Muse

scattered museHow many times have you started a story and gotten stuck partway through? You hit that wall and just don’t know where to go from there? Or maybe you write your way into a corner and don’t know how to get yourself out. Or you get all the way through to the revision process and find you have plot holes you don’t know how to fix?

You’re not alone.

I’m always exploring new ways to improve my own writing skills. Lately, I’ve been going through some courses created by author Patti Larsen on writing and outlining. (Yes, I just mentioned the dreaded outlining… which I happen to enjoy, thank you very much.) Patti is a prolific author and she’s come up with some pretty handy tips to avoid these pitfalls. Check out her site if you want and see for yourself.

But back to my topic. There are ways to court your muse. Being organized, as Patti suggests, is one of them. I find that is often one of my own problems when I write. I spend all day editing for clients (for whom I’m very grateful!), and by the time I get to work on my own writing, my brain feels rather scattered. I re-read what I’ve got so far, go over my notes, and basically have to start from scratch every time. By the time I do all the catch up, I’m tired and it’s time for bed, so I don’t get much writing done. That’s why I picked up her courses. I wanted to enhance my own organization skills so I could skip all the catch up and just get to writing. I figured there must be methods to keep my muse engaged to fit my limited writing time.

If you’re not into outlining, maybe you’re an imagery person. If images speak to you, perhaps keeping images handy (Scrivener lets you keep a file of images or other references in the same file you’re writing in) will help. When I was writing Titanic Deception with my husband John, I found it helpful to look up reference images. I had blueprints of the Titanic, photos of several of the state rooms, the dining rooms, the decks… photos of some of the key players who were on the ship, that sort of thing. I looked up information on clothing of the era, I looked up menus for the modern part of the story, chatspeak translation, bomb defusing, and all sorts of things. I could keep all this information handy for when I needed inspiration. That helped keep my muse at my side.

It helped me to have a sounding board. John provided that. Since he was the main idea guy on our team, we spent countless hours going over plot lines, ironing out wrinkles that caused me writing angst, and working out physical actions so I could describe them with words.

So, what do you do to keep your muse at hand? Please share your tips in the comments!

Apologies for being missing in action last week. A pesky spider bit me on a crucial finger and it got infected, greatly affecting my typing abilities due to pain and swelling. Went to the doctor and have been on antibiotics since. It’s finally beginning to look like it’s responding and I’m almost back to normal. Thank you for your kind patience! :)

Filling Up Those Boxes — Part One

Now that we’ve explained the four parts in your book, let’s fill them up. If you need a quick review, you can read through them again: The Setup, The Response, The Attack, and The Resolution.

Now, I said it would be easy to fill up those boxes once you understood them, so here’s what goes in box one. This should fill up about a quarter of your book and it has five things to accomplish. These things should be taken care of before your first plot point appears. If they appear after your plot point, chances are your story will be found wanting.

So, what are these mysterious things?

What’s the hook?

If you don’t capture your reader early, they may not stick around. Usually, the earlier you hook your reader, the better. The hook is not the plot point. It might be the inciting incident or it might not. As long as it captures the reader’s imagination and makes them want to find out more, you’re good. The hook should be emotional or intense. It promises a rewarding experience if the reader just keeps turning the page.

Who’s that interesting hero over there?

That’s right… introduce your hero. We want to get to know him or her. Within the first two or three scenes, ideally. We’re dropping in the middle of their lives … are they happy? Fulfilled? Working in a dead-end job? Stuck in a loveless marriage? What are they hiding? What are they afraid of? What? We want to know.

What’s at stake?

Once that plot point drops at the end of part one, everything we’ve come to know about our hero will be in jeopardy. Does he have a daughter he truly loves? Does she dream of a future with her one true love? Whatever it is, it might be gone once the plot point comes. Stakes are super important. The plot point will change everything, challenge our hero and all they hold dear. If the stakes aren’t worth it, there is no story.

Duh duh DUH… foreshadowing!

What’s coming up? Can we sense some kind of change in the wind? Foreshadowing does just that, whether you choose it to be sudden or subtle. Whether it’s something ill or good, foreshadowing can make the reader thunk themselves in the head and go, “Of course! I should have seen this coming when that thing happened on page 36.” Foreshadowing shouldn’t necessarily be understood at the moment, but it becomes clear as crystal later. All we know is we knew something was coming.

Preparing for Liftoff

All the scenes in part one need to unfold so they lead to the first plot point. This includes their pacing, their focus, and their context. If we need to understand how jet propulsion works, this may be a good place to lay the groundwork in some manner… but make it part of the story.

Keeping these things in mind will fill your part one and keep it on track toward your first plot point.


The Resolution

Welcome back to our discussion on story structure. If you’re joining in for the first time, you can read about the first three parts here, here, and here. Now that you’re all caught up, let’s get to it.

Here we are at the resolution. The second plot point has happened and we’re rushing toward the finish line. Our hero must now step up and be heroic. No new information should enter the story after the second plot point. Our hero should have all the clues s/he needs now to solve the mystery/rescue the person in distress/get the bad guys/win the heart of their true love/save the world.

This is the thing: make sure your hero/heroine is the primary catalyst in the story’s resolution. Sure, there are exceptions to every rule, but you’ll find that if you give the readers what they crave, they’ll tend to do their part and recommend your book. Put your hero right in the middle of it all, not off to the side as some namby pamby wuss who doesn’t step up and earn their keep.

Can heroes die? Sure they can. It’s up to you whether your hero dies as s/he solves the major dilemma of the story and saves the town from being swept away when the dam bursts, or whatever the crisis is in your story. If your hero dies, make sure its because they saved others and that it has maximum impact on your readers. You don’t want a dry eye in the house. Your hero becomes the martyr in the last act, whether they die or not. They’re willing to die to reach their goal. Most of the time, they don’t… who wants to read a romance that ends with the couple torn apart by death, right? That’s where the willingness comes in handy.

Let’s take one last look at Billie Jean. She faced her mysterious antagonist, put her life on the line, maybe even went to Egypt against his/her direct instructions to get to the bottom of things… and wins. How she does all that– well, I haven’t figured it all out yet. Billie Jean’s story may not really ever make it into a book, but as the protagonist, she can’t just sit on the sidelines and wait for some other person to save her. She has to step up and solve the riddles herself. After all, what would her inspiration, Indiana Jones, do?

The Attack

Okay… part three. If you’re catching up, you can read parts one and two first. Our hero has been stumbling around blindly, responding to the crisis dropped in her lap. Probably not looking much like a hero in any way, shape, or form. You know how you get in life when you finally decide you’ve had enough and it’s time to fix things? This is it. It’s time to fix things. Billie Jean is going to get proactive, get her courage on and get to work.

Is she afraid? Of course she is, but screw that. She’s going to not only conquer her fear, she’s going after this SOB who’s getting in her way. So what makes her change from cowering co-ed to roaring lioness? Some new information has to enter the story as a catalyst. This is the midpoint… the Great Wall of China, if you will, that marks the middle of the story. The plot thickens, the antagonist moves forward with their own devices, and the hero’s minuscule little pushes aren’t enough. She must become Billie Jean, Warrior Princess.

This works in an action thriller, a romance novel, or a mystery. Apply it to your genre and fill in the scenes.

The pursued now becomes the pursuer as she gathers her intel and goes after the antagonist. Suspense builds. Tension mounts. Stakes rise. The story continues as we hurtle headlong at breakneck speed toward the second plot point at the end of part three.

The Response

If you missed Part One, it’s here. Today, we’re talking about Part Two… the response, the second quarter of your story. How does your character respond to the first plot point? All Billie Jean’s dreams and goals were turned upside down when the first plot point occurred at the end of part one. Now… how does she respond? Part two is all about what she does. Does she run away? Hide? Plot? Research? Observe? Ask for help? A combination of these?

Part two is all about your character reacting to the situation that s/he has just been thrown into. S/he shouldn’t have all the answers yet, but now there is a purpose that must be pursued. How your character figures out addressing the issue is what part two is all about.

Let’s say Billie Jean has just started college. She wants to be an archeologist (she just loves Indiana Jones). Suddenly, at the end of part one, she receives a mysterious letter, begging her to change her major, and whatever else she may do, never to go to Egypt. Well, Billie Jean laughs it off at first. Must be a prank, right? But then her apartment is broken into and all her archeology books are stolen. A cryptic message is left in their place, warning her that she’d better take it seriously or she may come to personal harm. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem like such a prank. But who would do such a thing? Why?

So begins part two. How does Billie Jean react? Well, at first, she could be afraid. She could hide. She could rethink her major and consider following the advice of the mysterious letter. She could call the police. Would they shrug it off or take it seriously? She could talk about the situation with her BFF. She could get angry… how dare this unknown person take away her dream! She could get curious… What’s the big deal about going to Egypt? Why shouldn’t she go? Who is this person, anyway?

As you can see, there’s a lot of ground that can be covered in part two. This section lays the infrastructure for what is to come… the midpoint, and Billie Jean’s plan of action. Don’t jump the gun on this… let it play out.