Here is the first in our series of writing tips, by Fenella J Miller.
Authors often find managing point of view the most difficult thing when writing their debut novel. First of all they must decide if they're going to write in the first person, third person, deep third or as a narrator. I will explain what each of these terms mean.
First person is when you are writing solely from the main character's viewpoint and no other. "I ran my fingers through my hair in the vain hope that it would make me look more casual and less buttoned up." This is writing in the first person.
"John ran his fingers through his hair in the vain hope it would make him look more casual and less buttoned up." This is writing from John's view point and writing in the third person.
Nowadays writers tend to use what's called "deep third" which is taking the reader inside the character's head without actually being in the first person. Here is an example. "Gillian caught her foot against a chair leg sending an arc of hot coffee into her face. Not the ideal way to start an important meeting. What the hell was wrong with her today?"
Another way to describe writing as a narrator is to say writing as a 'fly on the wall'. Jane Austen used this method – it distances the reader from the characters as you are looking in at them and not participating in the action. "A pretty girl came into the conference room carrying a brimming mug off coffee. When she caught a foot against a chair leg the coffee shot into her face causing her much embarrassment."
I hope this has given you a reasonable understanding of what is available to a writer. Obviously if you're writing in the first person then you don't have to worry about multi-viewpoints and thus avoid the dreaded 'head hopping'. I prefer to write from both the hero and heroine's point of view, but I never change viewpoint in the middle of a paragraph but at the end of the scene, always indicating this with an asterisk.
In a long book, such as the historical saga, the author might well write from several points of view and, if handled correctly, this adds to the texture and depth of the story. However, the rule is always to indicate when you change viewpoint and never do it in mid sentence or mid paragraph. That said, there are several very well-known writers who joyously bound from head to head and break all the rules and their readers still buy their books in the thousands. I would advise a debut author to stick to the accepted rules until they are sufficiently experienced to start breaking them with impunity.
As to how many points of view you should have in your book that usually depends on the length and the genre. I've never had more than four viewpoints, but that doesn't mean a complex book of several hundred pages couldn't work really well with more.
Another way of handling different viewpoints is by writing the book in parts – one from each protagonist. I've also seen this done with each part being written in the first person or one in the first person and the other in third.
In the end it's down to you, the writer, to decide what suits your writing style best.
Fenella J Miller