Pen Tip #4: POV Isn’t a Virus

Gabe was in line for coffee at a street corner coffee vendor and heard a commotion behind him. He turned to see a woman run out of a bank and a man with a blue jacket chase her and take her to the ground. Gabe was incensed that some nasty wicked male individual was assaulting an innocent female. Why he just stood there and watched it go down is perhaps evidence to where he lives, or perhaps how badly he needed caffeine, but that’s a different topic entirely. Moments later, Gabe’s friend Julie came out of the bank and joined him in line.

“Did you see that lady who robbed the bank? That security guard was on her in an instant!”

I just disclosed what Gabe was seeing and thinking: Gabe’s point of view, or POV. Julie came up later and offered her POV, correcting the misconception, but she had to speak to offer her thoughts. I did not reveal them because the story is unfolding through the eyes of Gabe, not Julie.

Why is POV so important? Why can’t I just give out all the thoughts of all my characters?

Let’s pretend for a moment that you’re a waiter or waitress and you’ve forgotten your pen. You must remember the orders of every person in your section. How many orders will you be able to take before you’re stealing crayons out of the kids menu bin? When you’re revealing every thought of every character, you’re asking your reader to keep track of who is thinking what when. They’ll not only weary of looking back through past chapters to refresh their memories as to who the guy was that trained worms to hula, they probably won’t know with confidence who your main character is. Okay, they’d remember hula worm guy. Who wouldn’t? But hopefully you get my point.

Does that mean I can never use multiple POVs?

No, no, no. It can be used strategically and effectively in limited amounts. But you’re limiting yourself when you do it.

“Wait, what? Limiting myself?! But I’m giving extra information? How is that limiting myself?”

Ahhhh, good question. Let’s look at the first paragraph again. Gabe is standing in line for coffee and one of those cookies with the pink frosting, watching a woman be assaulted, or so he thinks. He has no idea what others are thinking and so I am able to mislead my reader on purpose in order to surprise or shock them later. If you’re divulging everyone’s thoughts (or even just a few) all along the way you’re removing the mystique of your story. It is much more intriguing to describe other’s actions through the eyes of your protagonist (main character) so the reader has to draw their own conclusions. It gives you the control over your reader that you need to keep them reading. Want more examples? You need my Literary Clay workshop, Building Strong Characters. I tackle it in The Trail of a Muse, also.

Multiple POVs is actually a fun way to write if you’re up for the challenge, but I wouldn’t advise it in a normal every day story. I know, I know. I’ve seen it done, too. In some classics, even. Who am I to criticize the greats? But it can be distracting and it is generally frowned upon in writing circles, and unless your last name is already among the greats, you’re going to have to start at the bottom like the rest of us. But, one great way to use multiple POV”s is… hmmm. I think I’ll save that little secret for another time, or for those who really want to know. You know where to find me.

Until next time, don’t just write, WRITE!



Thank you, NegativeSpace, for the lab photo.

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