Writing With A POV Character

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On The Table Read, “The Best Book Reader Magazine in the UK“, author JJ Barnes explores how to write a POV Character, what it means, and what it does for your story.

Written by JJ Barnes


A POV Character lets you welcome your audience into your story. They give you first hand experience of events and and can set the scene quickly.

When you’re writing a story, usually you use with first or third person. First person refers to the Protagonist as I, and third person refers to the Protagonist as He or She. I’m going to be explaining the use of a POV (Point Of View) Character in third person.

Who Is The POV Character?

The POV Character is the person who’s eyes you see the story through. You witness events, experience interactions with other characters, with them. You’ll describe their interiority and perception.

When you’re in a scene, you should always remain in one character’s POV. For most scenes this will be your Protagonist, your main character. But sometimes you’ll write scenes that don’t have Protagonist in them, or you might want to hop to someone else’s POV. This can demonstrate how other people are interpreting your Protagonist’s behavior.

When you start a scene in one character’s POV, you should stay in that person’s POV. Switch to someone else at the end of the scene, or by inserting a scene break but staying in the same place.

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You don’t usually need to announce who’s POV you’re in. Even though you’re referring to the character’s by name rather than “I” because it’s apparent who’s POV it is by the information you give about the scene.

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Show Don’t Tell Via A POV Character

I’ve talked before about Show Don’t Tell in relation to the environment your characters are in. This is connected to that. Your POV character is how you paint the picture of the scene to your audience by filling in the spaces between the dialogue to create the scene in their head.

For instance, if your POV character walks into a room, they will have feelings about that room. It might be connected to their emotional response to the other people in that room. You can describe pertinent information about the other characters and where they are. Communicate backstory or any known history on them by the way your POV character feels. Their feelings might be connected to the room itself. Do any smells that trigger a response? Do they have any memories triggered by previous experiences in that space?

When another character speaks, you can describe their tone. When the move, describe their body language and their expressions. That will impact how your POV character feels about what they’re saying.

You don’t have to let the audience know if they’re lying, but you can let your audience know that your POV character is suspicious of the and why. You don’t tell your audience if the other character is sad, but you can have your POV character notice a tear in their eye or a crack in their voice.

The POV character is not God. They don’t have access to every single thought and feeling in the room. But you can still give your audience enough information that they can understand the other characters in the scene, but without overloading them.

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Setting The Scene

The impact of filling in the details of the scene in this way is grounding the details in humanity. Your audience come to your story for the characters; what they want, how they’re going about getting it, and what obstacles they have to face.

Setting the scene should enhance that story, rather than distracting from it. Don’t spend so long describing your setting that your actual plot gets forgotten.

Your audience will be infinitely more interested in your scene if the information they get about it relates directly to the POV Character. The colour of the chairs in the room isn’t interesting. How your character feels about the people sitting in the chairs is. The placement of the chairs in isolation isn’t interesting. What it means for where your character has to sit and how they feel about it is. Describing the paintings on the wall isn’t interesting, but if they remind your character of home or give them the creeps, it is.

When you write a film script, all these extra details are filled in by costume and set designers. Characters are developed by the way actors deliver lines. The atmosphere is affected by the composer setting the mood.

For a book it’s your job to do it all. Use enough details that your readers understand the scene they’re in, are interested in it, and feel emotionally connected to it. By rooting in one POV character, and only describing the things in the scene that directly effect them and they’re interested in, you don’t overload your writing with so much description that your audience is bored.

Focusing On Humanity With Your POV Character

Grounding your descriptions in the humanity of your POV character and keeping them relevant to their immediate feelings, makes your descriptions interesting, and keeps your audience invested. We go to stories for humanity, for characters and their story, so keep your whole story connected to that.

More From JJ Barnes:

I am an author, filmmaker, artist and youtuber, and I am the creator and editor of The Table Read.

You can find links to all my work and social media on my website: www.jjbarnes.co.uk

Buy my books: www.sirenstories.co.uk/books

Follow me on Twitter: @JudieannRose

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