Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Getting Point of View Right When You Write

by Sarah Sally Hamer @SarahSallyHamer

There are two basic types of Point of View in fiction: 

The first is Global POV.

Who is telling the story? Who has the most to lose? Who is the story ABOUT?In Gone With the Wind, the entire book is told through Scarlett's eyes. The Hunger Games series, at least in book form, is told by Katniss, and if she doesn't experience something, the reader doesn't either. The HG movies are different, in that, the arena and President Snow and the gamekeepers, etc., are given a point of view, so that the story can be told on a larger scale. Nothing wrong with either way the stories are told – they are done that way on purpose. Another well-known series of books, Game of Thrones, is told through many various characters, but stays true to one character in each chapter. 

Bottom line, a writer picks a protagonist based on what that character has to say, and the story revolves around them. A good example of stories told from two different perspectives is The Wizard of Oz and Wicked. Both tell of Dorothy's time in Oz but one is in Dorothy's POV and the other is in the Wicked Witch of the West's. Same place, same characters, different viewpoints. Completely different stories.

The other type of POV is at the individual, line-by-line level.

Every character actually has a point of view just like all people do. But does the story need to know all of them, especially at the same time? For instance, one day Joe takes Susie to lunch in a restaurant. At this point we're in Joe's POV (because he has the most to lose), and he's trying to talk Susie into taking a weekend trip with him. Since we're in his POV, Joe can think about why he's asking her (get revenge on Katie, his ex-girlfriend) and what he plans to do (take lots of pictures to post to social media), even though he doesn't verbalize it to Susie at the time. 

Do we need to know what Susie is thinking at this point? If so, we switch to her POV. She could hate the ex-girlfriend too. Or, maybe Katie is her best friend and Susie would never willingly hurt her. Maybe she thinks Joe just needs help writing his book and that's all the weekend is about. 

Of course, there are dozens of possibilities, but the main point is that the server who takes their orders doesn't need a POV. Nor does the cook in the kitchen. Or the people at the next table. If the story is in Joe's POV, we can only see, smell, hear, taste, or touch what Joe can. 

A good way to understand this is to find an empty toilet paper roll and look through it. That very narrow field of vision is exactly what your character can see. No more, no less. So, Joe can't "see" Katie standing right behind him as he tells Susie how horrible Katie is. Susie may be able to see her and can react – which Joe CAN see—but Joe won't know Katie is behind him until she smacks him up the side of the head. The immediate reactions of the server catching the water glass and the cook yelling about her perfect omelet falling onto the floor and the next-table patrons jumping back from the fray will only be part of the story if Joe actually sees them. 

Head-hopping is another problem. Don't let your POV character give away "the toilet paper roll of perception" unless there's an absolute need for it. Changing POVs requires a reader to reorient themselves and doing it multiple times in a short period can be a big problem. 

So, be sure to stay in your POV character's POV. Yes, I know many writers aren't purists about it like I am, and many readers don't seem to care, but doing it right is a master-level technique which can make your writing amazing!

Which character is telling YOUR story? What does he or she have to lose


Sarah (Sally) Hamer is a lover of books, a teacher of writers, and a believer in a good story. Most of all, she is eternally fascinated by people and how they 'tick'. She’s passionate about helping people tell their own stories, whether through fiction or through memoir. Writing in many genres - mystery, science fiction, fantasy, romance, medieval history, non-fiction – she has won awards at both local and national levels, including two Golden Heart finals.

A teacher of memoir, beginning and advanced creative fiction writing, and screenwriting at Louisiana State University in Shreveport for almost twenty years, she also teaches online for Margie Lawson at Sally is a free-lance editor and book coach at Touch Not the Cat Books, with many of her students and clients becoming successful, award-winning authors. 

You can find her at or

From Sally: I wish to express gratitude to the giants whose shoulders I stand on and who taught me so much about the writing craft. I would list every one, if it were only possible.


  1. Excellent post, Sally. POV is something I still struggle with.

    1. Hi, Ingmar!

      We all struggle with POV. Keep working at it!

  2. Thank you for these reminders. POV can be difficult at times.

    1. It certainly can! But it's really worth the trouble.

  3. I am not a fiction writer but love learning about other genres. This is so insightful. You taught me something today! Thanks.