Point of view can be a tricky subject for writers. Does it just refer to whether you’re writing in first person, or third?
It can do, but point of view can also be a brilliant way to get under the skin of your characters and find out what really makes them tick.
And if you know them that well, you’ve got heaps of cool stuff to thread through your story to entertain or surprise the reader.
Read on to find out how to use point of view to walk in your characters’ shoes!
Use your own point of view first!
This post was inspired by Claire Wingfield’s very awesome 52 Dates for Writers. Instalment 8 was all about mastering point of view through a variety of means. I’ve chosen Date 34 because it’s super easy for writers.
Visit your favourite café.
But it’s not that easy. Wingfield has an assignment for you. It can’t just be any café, it has to be one you’ve been to before. Maybe you’re a regular.
Before you leave the house, write down as much as you can remember about the place. Décor, background music, patrons, food – anything that pops into your head. Just write it down.
Then off you go.
While you’re there, add to your notes. Were you accurate in your original description? Had you mis-remembered anything? Was there anything new to add?
If you did mis-remember anything, don’t worry. It just demonstrates what your mind prioritises, and what it sees as less important. How it reaches those conclusions is a combination of your upbringing, personal biases, and other personal traits specific to you.
Those specific traits are vital to understanding your character
Now you’re going to switch hats. You’re no longer the author, but your protagonist. Write a description of the cafe from their point of view.
You might choose to do this as a letter, or a journal entry, if you want to make it more creative.
Think of everything you know about your protagonist. What would they notice? What would they ignore? Would they be kind in their descriptions of other customers?
Switch hats again. Now you’re the antagonist. Write another description, but this time from their point of view.
What would catch their eye? What would be ignored? How would they describe the customers, or the food, or the staff?
Their descriptions reveal their prejudices – and their character
Let’s take Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson as an example. Holmes would no doubt notice excruciating details, and anything deemed to be out of place. He’d be looking for the extraordinary, or a potential puzzle to be solved. His letter (or more likely records) would reflect that.
Watson, on the other hand, would notice the people. The food. Perhaps the level of service. How busy the place was. He’d turn the description into one of his stories, so his description would be more ‘literary’ than that of Holmes.
Pride and Prejudice provides an excellent example. Look at Mr Collins – everywhere he goes, he only notices things he can compare to the magnificent Rosings Park. Why? He likes to be able to remind people of his wealthy patron.
But he also does so as he’s socially awkward. He thinks paying compliments through these comparisons is the only way to ingratiate himself with new people.
So how do you actually use this new information?
It’s unlikely that you’re going to have a scene where your protagonist (and antagonist) both visit a café. But if they do, you’re sorted! You can tailor the descriptions you’ve written to suit the story.
Otherwise, think about how you can use the things you’ve learned about your character. Say your protagonist only describes what the other customers are wearing. Make clothing a central part of your story, as the way that your protagonist differentiates other people.
Or maybe your antagonist passes judgements on the other customers. You can drop some of his or her criticisms into dialogue elsewhere in the story to show the reader how judgemental your villain is. Even better – weave some kind of explanation for these judgements into your story.
Remember, interesting villains are rarely villains for the sake of it. There’s always a reason.
You can use this exercise for multiple locations
You don’t just have to stick to a café. Try a range of locations, and they don’t even need to be related to your story. The locations you do use in your writing will reveal a lot about your characters, and their descriptions will help you to decide which descriptions to use in your book.
But the locations that aren’t related to your book will also let you explore point of view, and putting yourself into your characters’ shoes.
The exercise is also super useful for helping you to improve your memory, as well as your observational skills. It’s a little like the difference between photographers and artists. If you pause long enough to really look at a location in order to draw it, you’ll remember more of the details.
And it’s the details that make the story come alive for your reader!
Over to you! What do you usually notice first when you’re out and about? How do you think that differs from your antagonist?
Keen to improve your writing?
Grab your list of my top 5 blogs, books, and podcasts for fiction writers below!