Choosing the viewpoint character

When you plan a scene you must carefully consider your choice of the point-of-view (POV) character. Before you write the scene, determine its purpose in the story and what information you want to impart, then decide which character will best communicate that to the reader and help to advance the story.

The viewpoint character (VPC) should be someone who is important to the story, such as the protagonist or another one of the primary characters, not secondary or third-rank players, and that person should have a significant role to play—a part that fulfills at least one of the purposes of the scene. Maintain that character’s viewpoint for the whole scene.

When you employ just one character’s POV per scene, you’ll find that the scenes will be more compact because you won’t be reporting more than one person’s experiences, thoughts, and emotions through narration, which is a good way to tighten your writing. Professional novelists sometimes write a scene two or three times, using a different VPC in each one, and then decide which one works the best.

Remember: To follow the tenets of scene-framing and third-person limited narration, you must choose just one person in each scene to serve as the viewpoint character. If you know that a VPC is going to be knocked unconscious in a scene, for instance, but want the scene to play longer, then you’ll have to give another character the POV; otherwise, the scene has to end when the VPC conks out.

Maintaining consistency of point of view can be a subtle thing sometimes, but it really separates the pros from the new writers. It serves an excellent purpose by grounding the reader in one space, behind one person’s eyes, in each scene, thereby developing characterization and avoiding reader confusion.

Paul Thayer