Craft Chat Voice versus Point Of View

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Carol Rose

Sep 13, 2014
Indiana, USA
There are times when writers confuse these two, but they are very different. They are not interchangeable.

VOICE refers to that unique way in which we each write. It's our style. Our personality in the written word. The way we string sentences together, the phrasing we use, and the cadence of our written word encompasses voice. When editors and agents say they are looking for a "unique" or "distinctive" voice, this is what they mean. This can be confusing for writers because it's not a quality you can easily define. It's also not something you can copy. If you don't understand what it is to begin with, it's difficult to develop it.

I've often heard that simply writing from the heart brings out one's natural voice. Or, telling a story the way you would if you were sitting down in front of someone and simply relaying the story to them.

These articles might help further define VOICE:

Voice in Writing: Developing a Unique Writing Voice

Understanding Voice and Tone in Writing


POINT OF VIEW, on the other hand, refers to whose head we're in when reading a story. It refers to which character is telling the story. Or, in the case of an omniscient POV, it's an unseen, all-knowing narrator telling the story.

POV can be further categorized, and there are several ways of labeling these, depending on which article or site you reference. To further complicate the issue, some of these points of view can be written in past tense or present tense.

We've already touched on OMNISCIENT POV. This is when you tell a story from a narrator's POV, but the narrator is not a character in that story. Rather, they are an unseen, all-knowing story teller looking down on the action. They can usually see everything that each character is doing, and are able to tell the reader each character's thoughts. Sometimes writers will take the approach of limiting the omniscient POV to only a few characters, per chapter or per scene, for example.

The downside to using this POV is that it creates distance between the reader and the characters, because we are never squarely in one person's head during any part of the story. Using a limited omniscient POV can soften this a bit, but because the story teller is still a narrator as opposed to a character, readers can often have a difficult time getting a sense of being there with that character as the story unfolds..

SECOND PERSON POV is rarely seen. In this instance, YOU is the character. This solves the issue of distance, but can be awkward to read and difficult to write.

FIRST PERSON POV is popular in fiction. The character is one person in the story. Sometimes, a writer will switch POVs and tell the story in first person from more than one main character, but this can become confusing to readers if the writer is not careful. While this does solve the problem of distance, and provides immediacy and intimacy to the writing, it's limiting in certain genres - romance for example - where readers like the story told from both the hero's and heroine's POV.

THIRD PERSON POV is also popular in fiction. It's told from the POV of more than one character at a time. This is where you will find pronouns used - she, he, hers, his - in place of "I" statements of "you". When written correctly, sometimes called deep third or close third, it can achieve the same immediacy and intimacy as first person. This is usually told in past tense, as opposed to present tense. The advantage is that the writer can tell the story from more than two POVs if needed, and still achieve the same effects as if writing it in first person POV, but without the confusion that sometimes occurs using first person POV for more than one character in a story.

Just a quick word about head-hopping. This is when an author "hops" from one POV character to another without a scene or chapter break. VERY skilled writers are able to do this seamlessly, but when it's done incorrectly, it is confusing and frustrating to the reader to try to figure out what's going on, and whose head they are in.
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