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Choosing the right viewpoint for your story

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Choosing the right viewpoint for your story is one of the most important decisions you can make.

There are many options available to you as a writer, each one with their own pros and cons. By taking some time to look at each approach, you'll find the right one that will make your story compelling.

Some of the ways to present your story to readers are:

  • Using a Single Viewpoint: telling the story from the viewpoint of the protagonist or possibly a narrator other than your main character
  • Using Multiple Viewpoints: Scene by Scene -- allowing viewpoints to shift when scenes change
  • Using Multiple Viewpoints: Chapter by Chapter -- waiting for chapter breaks to switch viewpoints
  • Using Multiple Viewpoints: Part by Part -- allowing different viewpoints to carry on for extended section of the story
  • Using Multiple Viewpoints With Many Characters -- a rotating view point that allows you to develop more characters
  • Problems With Multiple Viewpoints -- problems with having multiple viewpoints and solutions to make it work
Using a Single Viewpoint
Using a Single Viewpoint Michal Zacharzewski

Using a Single Viewpoint

Using a single viewpoint is one of the most common ways to write a story. It is used mostly in shorter fiction, although some writers are able to have their single viewpoint character successfully carry the entire story from beginning to end.

Using a single viewpoint is one of the best ways to communicate strong emotions such as excitement, dread, or love. It allows the reader to become immersed in the story, which makes it easy for them to identify with the main character.

Usually the story is told from the viewpoint of the protagonist, or the person that the story's events are centered around. Be sure to choose your protagonist wisely because that selection will determine what events are seen, what happens in your story, and how it is told.
 

Using Multiple Viewpoints: Scene by Scene
Using Multiple Viewpoints: Scene by Scene Ove Tøpfer

Using Multiple Viewpoints: Scene by Scene

If a single viewpoint is not enough to tell your story, you may decide to use multiple viewpoints. When you decide to use two characters, you may switch their viewpoints on a scene-by-scene basis.

If you decide to go with this method, you should do the first switch within the first few pages of your story when scenes change, so your readers can easily identify that the switch has happened.

Start each new scene with the new viewpoint to establish the pattern, then carry on with their viewpoint for a little while before you switch back to the old viewpoint in another new scene.

Establishing this pattern is important so that your readers do not get lost or confused.
 

Using Multiple Viewpoints: Chapter by Chapter
Using Multiple Viewpoints: Chapter by Chapter Yonius Saritoh

Using Multiple Viewpoints: Chapter by Chapter

Using multiple viewpoints can also be done on a chapter-by-chapter basis. The difference between this and scene-by-scene is that it allows your viewpoint characters to have the spotlight focused on them for a longer period of time.

To set up the pattern, you may want to have a few scene-by-scene shifts in the first chapter. Then you may switch to chapter-by-chapter thereafter.

Again, this makes it easy for readers to see you will have multiple viewpoints, and allows them to get to know the characters before you split off into longer sections.

Using Multiple Viewpoints: Part by Part
Using Multiple Viewpoints: Part by Part Marta Rostek

Using Multiple Viewpoints: Part by Part

This method allows you to have extended sections from each one of your characters in turn, with no internal switches within the sections themselves.

In short stories, individual scenes are sometimes paired together while in novels, chapters are sometimes paired together into larger units such as Part I, Part II, etc.

If the story does have different parts to it, each section should be told from one Point-of-View character and it shouldn't change until the next part.

When you have a substantial stretches spent within the point-of-view of one specific character, the danger of confusing your readers is minimal.

Using Multiple Viewpoints With Many Characters
Using Multiple Viewpoints With Many Characters Iwan Beijes

Using Multiple Viewpoints With Many Characters

Using a rotating viewpoint approach allows you to tell the story from multiple angles, however it can be a difficult way to tell a story when you have a number of different view points in one story.

The key to this method is to spend more time developing your various viewpoint characters in earlier chapters before they take over as the narrator. If you establish them early, your readers should shift over with no sense of discontinuity.

To keep things simple, you may want to keep the plot of the first few scenes easily understandable.

Strong scene shifts and connections are the key to making this method work.
 

Problems With Multiple Viewpoints
Problems With Multiple Viewpoints hvaldez1

Problems With Multiple Viewpoints

The problem with having multiple viewpoints is that your story may start to split into two or more unconnected narratives. By connecting your viewpoints and plot lines every now and then, it helps bring main characters together and will lessen the chance that your readers will become lost or confused.

Objects, moods, and continuing action are different ways that you can connect your multiple viewpoints. Subordinate characters are also a great way to connect your varying viewpoints by having them appear in sections told from each of the main narrators.

Through strategic planning and with great care, you can successfully tell your story through the eyes of more than one character. Consistency, connections, and well-established patterns are the keys to making multiple viewpoints work.

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