Shutting Out the Voices With a Single Point of View

When we talk about the events of our lives, we often switch tenses without thinking about it. We easily transition from the present to talking about the past. But we rarely shift point of view, because our lives are from our own point of view and no one else’s.

View Point

Sometimes a single point of view offers more clarity.

But art, unlike real life, affords us the opportunity to write from different points of view. As writer gods, we can peek into the minds of multiple characters and see what everyone is thinking at a given time. It’s an omniscient power that some writers embrace.

Writing from multiple points of view allows the author the freedom to do almost anything in a narrative.  For one thing, a story can have multiple stories in multiple places. Think, Game of Thrones, for instance.

I used to be a writer god, creating worlds filled with characters — each with a story to tell. The result was the most boring, bloated crap anyone would never want to read. My first manuscript was like Stephen King’s The Stand, but with multiple characters and storylines that all converged — in Kansas. And it had a religious message. And it was bad. Really bad.

I blame it on my obsession with television. The narrative structure of film and television often necessitates the ability to skip from one point of view to the next. In a story with multiple points of view, a writer can show the reader all the cards and conceal nothing. A writer can offer up the villain’s point of view as well as the hero’s. But in doing so, what is lost?

Keeping the action with a single hero or heroine gives the reader someone to root for and care about (or fear if the focus of the story is an unsavory type like a serial killer).

It also builds suspense. If readers are tethered to your detective when he is sneaking through the killer’s home, they can’t possibly know what’s around the corner, or whether police backup is on the way. It heightens the stakes that would be lessened by jumping to different points of view.

On the downside, using a single point of view gives away the fact that this particular character will survive. It’s impossible to make readers believe the hero’s life is at stake if the hero is narrating the story.

In the end, there are valid arguments for writing from an omniscient narrator point of view, as long as you practice consistency and avoid “head hopping” during a scene.

For me, writing from a single point of view is more intimate and more challenging. It keeps me focused on one character and his or her story. And it should keep me from trying to re-write The Stand again.

Kevin Wohler is a copywriter and novelist living in Lawrence, Kansas. During the day, he works at a digital marketing agency in the Kansas City area. When time remains, he likes to tell stories of the weird and bizarre. And sometimes, he writes them down for others to read.


  • Muriel Green says:

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time. I am currently working on a story from seven years ago. One particular chapter is frustrating the heck out of me. I took a break from working on it to read the new articles at the cafe and your essay turned out to be the exact advice I needed.

    That one problem chapter of mine is too much inside the main character’s head. It is muddying up everything. I don’t know whether the chapter in question will get a re-write or just get scrapped, but it is such a relief to be able to finally pinpoint what is wrong with it.

    • Kevin Wohler says:

      I’ve run into the same problem, Muriel. Sometimes the only thing you can do is start fresh from a different point of view. This doesn’t mean scrapping the story. It just means re-imagining it. Good luck!

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