Before starting the first draft writers are facing a very difficult decision of choosing the right POV character.
Whether the story is told in a third or a first person, writers usually use a point of view of only one character. The writer uses the POV character as a camera lens which captures a story in a unique way but that character can’t be purely a tool. He or she must give an impression of a living being with feelings, desires, goals, conflicts which are explored, first by the writer and finally by the reader.
How does one choose a POV character?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a unique way of picking the right character. It all boils down to trial and error; a writer picks one character and if that POV doesn’t work, the writer needs to choose another one.
However, I will give you some of the techniques which I use when it comes to picking the right POV.
First, you need to ask yourself, what does the character bring to the story?
Each character comes with a different personality; they could be introverts, extroverts, cynics, comics, friendly, unfriendly, lazy, hardworking, conscious, unconscious…
Your character’s personality will give a certain tone to the story which might attract or distract your reader. For example, if your ideal reader is someone who likes cynical people, you might consider writing your story through a cynical character.
Your character will also have a sphere of interest and profession. A doctor, fitness trainer and a baker will look at peace of bread in three unique ways.
A doctor will hate the white bread, but she will approve whole grain bread if consumed in moderation; a fitness trainer will most likely hate the bread because it makes you fat; the baker will tell you enchanting the stories about the bread, provide you some insights into the baking process, she would speak about different colors of the crust, different smell of the bread…
Your job is to think about what POV about bread is the most interesting to your reader and which POV contributes the most to your story.
What does the POV character see?
A certain character will only be able to witness certain events. Usually, you will write from a POV of the main character, and you will write about all the events the character witnessed.
Your decision is going to revolve around – my character will see everything or my character will miss out something.
Sometimes, a POV character won’t be able to witness each event. That’s most often case with detective and mystery stories when we discover a story through the eyes of a character. That’s why most of the crime mysteries are told from a POV of a detective or family member or a friend of the victim.
Telling a crime mystery story from a POV of the villain will be difficult because you need to tell your reader who the killer is right from the beginning unless you use amnesia or a blackout as an excuse.
On the other hand, telling the same story from a POV of the detective is more interesting because readers discover clues together with the investigator.
The other question you need to ask is whether the character can be sustainable during the entire story?
Let’s say that you tell a story from a POV of character who is destined to die in the story; that’s unsustainable POV. At some point, someone else will have to take over the camera lens.
The POV character must be emotionally involved in all crucial events of the story and she must be three dimensional. She mustn’t be purely a tool for telling.
Therefore, if you’re writing a mystery, make your detective or any other person is about to solve the puzzle alive. Make the story personal for her.
Look at the Great Gatsby. The story is not told from the POV of Jay Gatsby, who is the main character, but from the POV of Nick Carraway, but Nick has his own goals and desires, and we’re on the journey with him. He brings the tone and innocence to the story and step by step he reveals the mystery of Jay Gatsby. If the story was told from POV of Jay Gatsby, there won’t be any mystery about him; we would simply know all about his past unless he lost his memory for some reason.
Some writers choose two or more POVs. That is a very powerful technique to show the entire story while each of the characters who are telling the story is missing a piece of the puzzle; which makes the reader the only person who actually knows what’s going on.
As, I already said, choosing a POV character isn’t easy, but my advice is to ask all these questions before even starting to write; especially if you’re an outliner. That way, you will be able to trash early and start all over again if needed.
There are many other concerns about the POV character which I didn’t cover in this article but this is something good to begin with.