I was reading a review of THE NOVELIST online–and don’t get me wrong, it was a nice review–but the reviewer said something about how she wished she could have had some scenes from Zack’s point of view.

My response? Yes, wouldn’t that be nice? Which leads me to explain a few things about point of view, and why a novelist chooses one or the other in a work.

You might remember the differences in POV from your English classes–first person is “I went to the store and looked at the guy behind the counter. That’s when it hit me–I’m not the sorriest lout in the world.” Technically, a first-person piece should allow the reader access to all a character’s feelings and thoughts. To suddenly stop such access–or to hide something that ought to be accessible–is cheating.

Second person is generally weird. (VBG): “You go to the store and look at the guy behind the counter. That’s when it hits you–you’re not the sorriest lout in the world.” Second person is not often used because it can be hard for a reader to identify with this “other self.”

Third person uses “he or she”: Tom went to the store and looked at the guy behind the counter. That’s when it hit him–he wasn’t the sorriest lout in the world.” Third person can provide a certain distance between reader and character when appropriate, but it can also be very intimate, if a writer chooses to give us access to a character’s thoughts through careful use of interior monologue. (Careful use is not writing out a lot of thoughts, putting them in italics, and ending with “he thought.” Shudder!)

When I wrote THE NOTE, Peyton, the protagonist, had some deep secrets buried in her past–events she didn’t want to think about and that I wanted to keep secret until the end of the story. So I wrote Peyton’s scenes in third person. For variety, I wrote the peripheral characters in first person–I envisioned them as talking directly to the camera: “You want to know what I think about Peyton? She’d be okay, if she’d lighten up.”

In THE PEARL, I had a logical, intelligent, rational Christian woman who decided to clone her son. Whoa! My challenge was to help the reader so identify with her thought processes and her grief that Diana’s decision seems logical and, more important, right at the time. So I wrote her scenes in first person.

In THE NOVELIST, I wrote Jordan’s story in first person, and I purposely didn’t write any scenes from Zack’s POV. Why not? Because it was Jordan’s story, not Zack’s. It’s about how a mother is confused by her child’s behavior. And if the reader didn’t understand Zack, well, that helps us identify with Jordan, who didn’t understand him, either.

So–POV choices are deliberately and carefully made. Everything depends upon the characters, the story, and the level of intimacy a writer is trying to create between reader and character. A wise writer limits the number of POV characters in a novel because that heightens the sense of reader identification–you want your reader to get into the skin of your characters, and the fewer the characters involved, the easier that is.

Magdalene is told in Miryam’s first person POV because she is actually relating a story . . . but someone is listening, a Roman soldier who intercuts his own memories into her story. His scenes are third person POV. They are the only two POV characters in the entire book.

The Elevator has four–the three women and charming Eddie, whom I like more every day. All are third person, because I want to reveal them gradually, like peeling onions.

When the writing works, readers don’t even notice these things. We just get caught up in the story and off we go.

Which is why we read novels in the first place . . .

My book club meets tonight–we’re discussing Jodi Picoult’s VANISHING ACTS. Should be interesting!



  1. Betsy

    Is Jodi Picoult good?

  2. Angie

    She’s excellent, but this wasn’t one of our favorite books. Try THE PACT or MY SISTER’S KEEPER. Both are wonderful.



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