How to POV? The Technicalities

There are many online articles about what POV (Point of View) is, but few on how to create one. What are the technicalities?

The simplest way to explain POV is by using the camera allegory. If the camera is in the head of a character, it is first-person narrative. If there is a cameraman, it is third-person narrative.

Traditionally, movies are third-person narrative, but recently, filmmakers experimented with first-person POV, e. g. Cloverfield. In Hardcore Henry they literally put the camera in the head of the protagonist.

Two possible POVs: Cameraman or camera in the head. Conclusion: If you decide on third-person narrative, you lose character POV.

But why do readers still feel they are in the head of a character despite third-person narrative? Because writers fake that. Example:

The bullet scrapes John’s cheek.
His heart skips a beat.
His breath hikes.
“Shit, that was close!”

That is John’s POV, isn’t it? Nope. It is the camera man’s POV. We are looking at John.

Showing what goes on under John’s skin doesn’t create character POV, it creates empathy.

Empathy fakes character POV in third person narrative. Click To Tweet

How to fake that?

A) Write in first person and replace all I and me with he/she and him/her. That compares to a cameraman filming over a character’s shoulder. While this is hard to pull off in a movie, it has worked in storytelling.

B) Equip the cameraman with additional tools, for example, a psychic camera that can capture visceral responses, feelings, and thoughts. Example: His heart skips a beat.

Those tools produce various third-person narrative sub-categories:

Third-Person Omniscient

  • A normal camera
  • A psychic camera for visceral responses, feelings, and thoughts*
  • Omniscience
  • A microphone for comments

* Free indirect style.

Multiple Selective Omniscient

  • A normal camera
  • A psychic camera for visceral responses, feelings, and thoughts
  • Omniscience
  • A microphone for comments
  • The cameraman follows multiple characters

Selective Omniscient

  • A normal camera
  • A psychic camera for visceral responses, feelings, and thoughts
  • Omniscience
  • A microphone for comments
  • The cameraman focusses on the focal character

Neutral Third Person Omniscient

  • A normal camera
  • A psychic camera for visceral responses, feelings, and thoughts
  • Omniscience
  • A microphone for comments. The cameraman can comment but not judge anything.

On a side note, narrative judgments tend to destroy the illusion of character POV. Example:
The bullet scrapes John’s cheek. His heart skips a beat.
His breath hikes. “Shit, that was close!”
He looks for the shooter. A stranger – a man with dark eyes and a dark heart.

Close Third Person Omniscient

  • A normal camera
  • A psychic camera for visceral responses, feelings, and thoughts
  • Omniscience
  • The cameraman stays with one character and films over his/her shoulder
  • A microphone for comments.

On a side note, First Person and Close Third Person are similar. The writer can switch between the two by switching pronouns.

Dramatic Mode

  • A normal camera
  • The camera is mobile
  • No omniscience
  • No psychic camera
  • No microphone for comments

Camera Mode

  • A normal camera
  • The camera is in one place
  • No omniscience
  • No psychic camera
  • No microphone for comments

Can writers switch between these camera modes? Absolutely.

In addition to that, the writer can resort to the following tricks to fake character POV in third person narrative:

  1. Point the camera at the focal character at the beginning of the scene
  2. Show only the outer responses of non-focal characters. Example:
    The bullet scrapes John’s cheek. His heart skips a beat.
    His breath hikes. “Shit, that was close!”
    He looks for the shooter. A stranger – a man with dark eyes and a dark heart.
    The stranger snickers.*
  3. Write backstory in the POV of the focal character
  4. Give the focal character a clear, strong Want
  5. Do the deepest characterization for the focal character

*Using the psychic camera on multiple characters is known as ‘head-hopping’.

Do you know any tricks that aren’t mentioned? Let us know in the comment section below.

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