Have you ever had the perfect story in your mind but could not get it on paper, no matter how hard you tried? Did you have that feeling of something dragging you down or holding you back? Almost like getting stuck in quicksand? Then you might have been writing the wrong perspective.
Writing the wrong perspective warps the experience of the reader. It refrains them from bonding with characters, gives them too much or too little information, and creates an overall feeling of inconsistency. It devalues the narrative, obstructing any emotion or experience the writer tries to convey.
Sticking to the wrong POV will do more harm than good. Luckily there are some tricks to help you figure out if that holds you back. And, of course, there are ways to fix that.
What leads to writing the wrong perspective?
Writing in the wrong perspective often happens when the author is ill-prepared. The most general mistake is not knowing where the plot is going and who the most important characters in the story are. This causes blind spots for the writer, who cannot zoom in where the focus should lay.
Most writers, especially those in the beginning stages, do not consciously think about what perspective to choose. They go with their gut or with whatever floats their boat. This makes sense because writing involves a lot of intuition.
When you want to write an impactful story, you cannot get away without seriously thinking about your options. This does not mean you can not be a pantser (a writer who lets the story guide them), but it does mean you need to have a general idea of what you want to tell.
Working out things like what your plot will be and which character(s) play the biggest part(s) can help you get a feel for what perspective to choose. Randomly starting something without having any general idea of your direction is often not a very good idea. And can lead to writing the wrong perspective.
Your readers cannot bond
As a general rule, readers cannot bond with a story or its characters when it is presented in the wrong POV. It creates friction that makes the story feel impersonal, distant, and choppy. The flow feels disrupted because the focus is in the wrong areas.
When you write from a third-person perspective while you focus on one character, it can feel as if the story is lagging. It almost is as if you spend too much time with one character. This mistake is often made when writers want to show more of the world, want to share a bit of information their protagonist cannot know, or simply because it is their preferred POV.
On the other side, is switching between characters too often because you do not know where the focus should lay. There is no overview. The story jumps, making it hard to follow and giving it an impersonal feeling.
When you are writing in the first perspective while you should be writing in the third, you will encounter several issues. You cannot convey all important information to the reader, the story can have severe plot holes, and the protagonist can work on the reader’s nerves because they are not interesting enough.
So, before you start writing your story, it will serve you well to think of which approach you want to take. Do you want to zoom in on one character, or will switching between perspectives work better?
The voice is off
Another problem with writing the wrong perspective is that it can ruin the voice of the story. When you switch between characters, you will have to give them all the right tone of voice. Their personality has to match the area they live in, as does their vocabulary.
Writing about the 18th-Century British queen, that meets a modern-day Hispanic boy from LA, can be quite the challenge. When writing from a third-person POV, there is a risk that you make both characters sound the same. When writing from the first person POV, there is a risk of you making them understand right away what the other person is saying. Neither is believable.
This is another moment where you want to consider the perspective. What matches the story? What does the reader need to know?
It is inconsistent
Some writers think that sticking to one narrator fixes everything. You can switch between characters, can be unreliable in your information, and do not have to change the tone of voice none stop. While in theory, this is true, it can also create great inconsistency.
Writing from a narrator’s POV can create inconsistency when the author tries to voice several characters. As a general rule, there is one narrator, while there can be several characters. Authors that want to write several narrators are advised to write multiple first-person POVs.
Another inconsistency is warping the timeframe to distinguish different voices. Hopping back and forth between present tense to past tense gives the reader whiplash. It makes for a very uncomfortable read and is guaranteed to ruin your story.
If you like to switch between different times and tenses, it serves you well to write from multiple first-person POVs. I also advise keeping each chapter in one tense.
How can you choose the right POV?
Writing the wrong perspective can have a huge impact on your work. It can create a distance between your characters and the reader, make for an uncomfortable read, and frankly, it can ruin the whole story. Fortunately, there are ways to help you choose the right POV before you start writing your story. Go through these steps, and you are a lot closer to picking the right perspective.
1. Determine the plot and theme of your story
Does it involve multiple characters, or just one? How does it affect them? When you can answer these questions, you can zoom in on the message you want to convey. The theme of your story. What is it about, and who needs to tell it?
Example: The Hunger Games. This story might seem to be about survival in the first place, but if that was the case it wouldn’t make sense to only read from Katniss’ perspective. Suzanne Collins chose the first perspective (Katniss’) so that she could convey the underlying theme: sacrifice, the deep-rooted love for family, and the feeling of responsibility attached to that.
2. Find out who the most important characters are
When you know what message and theme you want to tell with your story, you can determine which characters are the most important. Do you have a strong protagonist that you want to follow closely, or do you want to switch between characters?
Example: Harry Potter. Although the story is clearly about Harry, J.K. Rowling chose a close third perspective. Why? So that she could play with the information that the reader gets. This perspective allowed her to zoom out slightly more here and there so that she could show the situation Harry and his friends were in at that moment.
3. Determine how much distance you want between the reader and the character
A first-person POV puts you in the mind of the protagonist. When performed well, this can create a strong bond between the reader and the main character. Sometimes it might feel better to keep a bit more distance so that the reader can breathe.
Example: The NeverEnding Story. Writer Michael Ende chose to write from two close third-person perspectives. One following Bastian, the other following Atreyu. Why? Because the reader follows Bastian, who reads and follows Atreyu. By choosing a close third, he was able to make the reader bond with both characters, while keeping enough distance to also show the different worlds.
4. Decide how much and in what way you want your reader to get their information
Do you want them to experience exactly what the protagonist experiences, to create certain suspense? Then, first-person, POV will work well. If you want to show more of the world or have them know things that the main character does not, then you want to use third-person POV.
Example: Ready Player One. This book is written from a first perspective. It allows the reader to find out clues together with the main character. Author Ernest Cline was also able to purposely withhold information from the readers. This resulted in some pleasant surprises and plot twists, which created engagement with the reader.
5. Determine if you want the narrator to be trustworthy
No matter from what perspective you write your story, you can play with an unreliable narrator. A person can twist information in their mind, warping the truth. The narrator can be part of the story and mislead the reader. There are tons of ways to play with this. It is, however, important to know if the narrator is a part of the story, a this can influence your choice of POV.
Example: The War of the Worlds. H.G. Wells chose to write from a narrator’s POV, that tells his story. The book feels more like an observation than a personal story of survival. Almost reminiscing. And that’s exactly what makes the book so interesting. The narrator knows things, that the reader is yet unaware of. Playing with the information part makes the narrator extremely unreliable. But it also keeps you turning page after page.
Dust yourself off and try again
Finding the right POV is a matter of trial and error. If you find yourself struggling while you write, stop and go over this list again. Scrutinize your work. But also step up and try writing the same scene from another POV. Because the best way to learn is still by doing it.
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