Point of view is one of the most interesting topics we cover at The Blood-Red Pencil. It can even be controversial because our preferences as writers, editors, and readers often get in the way. And those same preferences vary among agents and editors. The truth is, no point of view approach is totally wrong. Styles go in and out of fashion, although not quite as fast as hemlines and pointed-toe shoes, and the writer who doesn't pay attention to the current trend risks a flurry of rejections.
If I tell beginning writers what's best based on my own point of view, I suggest they never use an omniscient unknown narrator. Read a few chapters of National Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter (ignore The Custom House at the beginning) for a perfect example. An omniscient unknown narrator should only tell you what he sees happen or hears the characters say. He may repeat history or backstory that he's learned along the way. He cannot let you inside the character's mind or heart in a meaningful way.
Writing as an omniscient narrator, I could take the liberty of telling the reader my character's thoughts, but the reader wouldn't hear those thoughts through the character's voice, tone, and attitude, which leaves room to doubt the narrator's credibility.
There is another kind of omniscient point of view writers sometimes attempt, and that is one where the reader is privy to all characters' actions, behavior, dialogue, and thoughts, mixed together in a hodgepodge. There's no sense that an unknown narrator is present, so it becomes difficult for the reader to identify the important character in each scene. I recommend beginning writers avoid this option as well.
What do I prefer, whether reading or writing?
1. First person point of view limited to one character. If used for the whole book, every scene must be witnessed by that first person character.
2. Third person limited to one character. Again, that character must participate in every scene, even if only an observer.
3. Third person limited, multiple point of view. Each chapter or segregated scene must be in one character's POV, but the next scene or chapter may focus on a different character. No head-hopping is allowed within a scene.
4. Multiple point of view with one character in first person and the rest of the characters in third person limited.
As a fiction writer, which point of view option do you prefer? Is that also what you choose when you read fiction for fun?
For more information on point of view, check out these posts from other Blood-Red Pencil contributors:
Training Our Inner Editor - Point of View (3a) by Linda Lane
Training Our Inner Editor by Linda Lane (continuation)
Which is Better - Single POV or Multiple POVs? by Linda Lane
Point of View - Head Hopping by Morgan Mandel
Deep POV: Three Mistakes and How to Fix Them, Part I by Kathryn Craft
Deep POV: Three Mistakes and How to Fix Them, Part II by Kathryn Craft
Patricia Stoltey is a mystery author, blogger, and critique group facilitator. Active in promoting Colorado authors, she also helps local unpublished writers learn the critical skills of manuscript revision and self-editing. For information about Patricia’s Sylvia and Willie mystery series, visit her website and her blog. You can also find her on Facebook (Patricia Stoltey) and Twitter (@PStoltey).