GtPGKogPYT4p61R1biicqBXsUzo" /> Google+ Ink Well--One writer’s process explained for the reader with Adrienne Wilder | I Smell Sheep

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Ink Well--One writer’s process explained for the reader with Adrienne Wilder

One of the first questions I face when starting a manuscript is deciding which point of view to tell the story from. It’s also one of the most important questions because the narration will be the delivery boy for all the magnificent words I will be putting on paper.

So the delivery boy I choose needs to be efficient and trust worthy, because the last thing I want is a damaged, wrinkled, or in the worst case, a lost package.

In other words, that boy better have his shit together.

There are several literary POVs but the main ones used in modern fiction come in four flavors. First, second, third limited, third omniscient.

I’ve seen a few sources lump third limited and third omniscient together. I prefer to keep them separate or else my little pea brain might burst into flames.

In order to decide POV I have a few questions I ask myself:

How many main characters are in the story?
How many characters have backstory that are critical to the plot?
How many characters carry the brunt of the action? 
How much of the story plays out around each character?


First person is pretty straight forward. The story is told through one character’s voice and you experience the story through that one characters interactions. First person is a good way to bring a reader close to a character so that they can experience very intimate emotions without interruption. 

And I like emotion in much the same way I like explosions; destructive and hot as hell.

There is a catch to first person. If one character is telling the story then that story can only come from them. In other words, I’m bound by that single character’s personal experiences, thoughts, reactions, and action, to deliver the message. Because of that I can’t convey the motives, thoughts, fears, or sensory experience of any of the other characters unless those characters tell the first person POV character or the first person POV character observes the reaction in the other characters.

There is no way for a first person character to realistically be in the right place at the right time, all the time, to experience the reactions of other characters that are critical to the plot. It’s also unrealistic for the first person character to constantly ask for information and analyze every reaction of the other characters around them when those details are important to move the story.

For me, unless the first person POV character is involved in at least 75% of the action, first person won’t work. No one--especially me--wants to read a story where things get exciting and the character responsible for getting the story out, either tucks tail and runs or gets knocked unconscious.

Remember those questions up there?

If the knowledge, reaction, and presence of the other characters in the story, drives the story then first person is out.

The hallmark identifiers for a first person story are the use of the pronouns, I, me, my, mine, we, us, and our being used by the narrator.

First person point of view samples.


I knew he didn’t belong the moment I saw him.

He was not cut by money or shaped by political interests and the rental he wore was a bad joke in the ocean of Versace suits and Chanel ball gowns.


An elderly man leaned on his cane. “Are you okay son?”

Was I? I wiped my cheeks. “Yeah.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.” I nodded. “Yes. Yes. I’m...” A shiver ran down my back and my teeth chattered.

“You might ought to go inside. You’ll catch your death out here.” He offered me a hand up.


Most of the time I use third person limited to tell a story because only a handful of manuscripts do well from a single point of view. First person, no matter how well written, will never be able bring the story together like third person limited which uses the thoughts, feelings, and physical experiences of different characters to create a multidimensional experience.

But even though the story is pieced together by different characters only one character at a time can occupy the stage. Any changes in who is delivering the story should be separated by chapters or scene breaks.

To involve the sensory and emotional input of multiple characters at the same time is referred to as head hopping. And it can get pretty annoying if not down right confusing.

Here’s an example of head hopping


The heat of the jungle pressed down on Amelia’s skin and choked Paul with every breath. Her feet ached from where the blisters on her heels had rubbed raw. There was a rock in Paul’s boot but getting it out meant sitting down and were leeches on the ground. Why was Paul limping? Had he hurt himself when they had to climb the rock face? The bugs, the dirt, the exhaustion had better be worth it. High gold walls, ruby crusted statues, Paul’s hands itched to get a hold of it all. Amelia had her doubts but she followed anyways.


“I’m tired.” Amelia stopped to rub the cramp forming in her calf. “My legs hurt, my feet hurt, I’m hungry.”

And all she did was whine about it. If there was one thing Paul couldn’t stand it was a whiner. “Yeah, well, you’re not the only one.”

“Then let’s rest a while.” Amelia’s entire body ached at the prospect of rest.

This woman really was clueless. Middle of the jungle, getting close to dark, with at least five miles to go and she wanted to stop. Poor girl, she had no idea what she was asking.

“No,” Paul said. “We keep going.”

See what I mean? And if there was another character or two in that mess I’d practically have trail mix.

For me, the biggest challenge with third person limited is deciding who gets to talk and when they get to talk. If I have more than one protagonist, should they all get a view point? What about the antagonist and side characters?In order to keep things as simple as possible I usually limit myself to 3-4 different POVs. Any more than that and I’m apt to forget whose turn it is to be in charge and then I wind up with a cat fight.

And let me tell you, character fights are not pretty.

Any how, here’s an example of third person limited done with the same characters without head hopping.


The heat of the jungle pressed down on Amelia’s skin. All the bugs, the dirt, and exhaustion had better be worth it.


“Are you sure you know where you’re going? We’ve been walking for hours.” Amelia slapped away a mosquito trying to feed from her neck.

Paul stopped. “Are you going to whine the whole way?”

“I’m not whining. I’m just tired of being an all you can eat buffet.” She swore to herself that when she got back to the states she was never stepping outside the city again.

Now a POV from the second main character in a third person


With every step the rock in Paul’s shoe stabbed him in the foot. He could have sat down to get it out but there were leeches on the ground.


Paul crossed his arms. This was just too easy. “Any of those nature shows you watch have big pretty kitties on them?”

“You mean like lions?”

“More like jaguar.” With his luck she probably thought he meant the car.

“Those are the ones with spots.”

“Yeah, the ones with spots.”

“What about them?”

“Let’s put it this way. You can’t slap jaguar off the back of your neck like you can mosquitos.”

All the color drained from Amelia’s complexion. Good. Now maybe she’d get the lead out of her ass so they could get to the temple.

Two scenes, two different characters, two different points of view.

The other part of the third person POV is omniscient which is pretty much the literary version of god. Omniscient allows for the story to be told from an all seeing point of view. This isn’t the same as head hopping because omniscient conveys everything happening in a scene while keeping the characters at a distance. 

For me being kept at a distance is a problem. I like to get to know a character on a personal level. That can’t be done with omniscient. Or at least it can’t be done to the extent it can with limited.

Here’s an example of third person omniscient


Bill mucked the stalls while Alice collected the eggs from the hen house on the other side of the field. At the end of the gravel road, the post man left a package in the mail box addressed to both of them.


“A package came,” Alice said. She handed the paper wrapped box to her brother. He looked at the return address and Alice leaned closer. “Who’s it from?”

“There’s no name.” What could it possibly be?

“Are you going to open it?” If it was candy Alice hoped he would share.

Their father stepped up onto the porch and stomped the snow from his boots. He came through the door and both children looked up. “What do you have there?”

“A package,” Alice said.

Bill held it up. “But I don’t know who it’s from because there isn’t a name.”

I’ll admit it, I don’t care for third person omniscient. There are writers out there who can do a bang up job with it, but I’m not one of them so I steer clear of it.


Now, second person POV.

Second person addresses the audience with the use of you and is often reserved for information essays or instructions.

For example:

Make sure you check to see if the unit is unplugged.


Don’t let your dog operate this power tool without supervision.

Hey dumbass, if you attempt to use this hairdryer while you’re in the shower you could turn crispy.

You get the idea.

Another example of second person is this blog post which also happens to be first person.

While I am sure it’s out there, I haven’t seen second person as narration in modern fiction except when it’s being used to get the audience to identify with the character.

Here’s an example of third person limited addressing the audience.

With no street lamps between the two abandoned buildings the alley was not a place you’d want to be in the middle of the night. But there was no other way for Jon to go. It was into blackness or take his chances with three men armed with ball bats.

First Person POV: Addressing the audience.

Have you ever had one of those days where the shit hits the fan? Well, that day in August when I was on my way to work, it wasn’t just the shit, it was the whole goddamned cow.

Personally I have no problems with this if done sparingly because it’s like the narrator is sharing a personal tidbit with the audience, but a lot of publishing houses would never let it past.

But if the story benefits from the break in the rules, I say go for it.

So there you have it. The most common POVs in fiction today, how they are used and how to identify them.

About the Author:
City of Dragons Portfolio (this site has images of gay sex)

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