An Editor’s Perspective: Choosing a Point of VIew


Lisa Jackson, SCN Editorial Service, #4

[Story Circle Network’s Editorial Service gives you easy access to a team of professional editors. These editors are attuned to the stories women write — both fiction and memoir. Your manuscript deserves respect…the best treatment…and an editor who understands you. That’s why SCN Editorial Service exists. When you’re ready for an editor, we’re ready for you.

Lisa Jackson is one of these professional editors and she’s sharing some of her thoughts and ideas about writing with you. Based on her editing experiences, she feels that point of view — choosing the one that works for you and for your story — is one of those important decisions that can be made too quickly without considering the alternatives. Then join Lisa on http://WomensMemoirs.com for her continuation where she provides examples of each point of view.

–Matilda Butler, Women’s Memoirs]

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Choosing a Point of View

By Lisa Jackson

We all know the first few pages of a story need to grab the reader. Point of view is a critical element in telling any story.

Most memoirs and autobiographies are told in first person (“I screamed.”) since these forms call for the limited viewpoint of the narrator, who is also the author. When sharing your story, you don’t know what anyone else is thinking. You’re unable to describe what is happening in a room or a town or a city that you are not physically in. You could be watching the activity in a room in another country through a video feed, of course, but my point is that first person only entails what the author (of a memoir) or main character (usually the protagonist in fiction) experiences for herself.

When reading a story told in the first person point of view, the reader can experience the story as if sitting on the narrator’s shoulders. It can also feel as though sitting in a comfortable kitchen or café as the author shares her story. It’s an intimate way to tell a story through one perspective.

Third person point of view (“Michael screamed.”) is common in creative non-fiction and fiction as a way to step back emotionally. It can be thought of as a type of reporter’s voice. Third person is not as intimate with any character as first person. This point of view describes what is happening while remaining outside a character’s mind. The reader learns about characters through their actions from the narrator or a character who watches the action unfold.

The omniscient point of view knows all. At any given time, the omniscient voice can describe Sarah’s thoughts, Michael’s feelings, and what the cat thought about his breakfast. Envision a person walking between kids on a merry-go-round. This person (the omniscient voice) knows what each child is thinking, feeling, and experiencing as he passes by. Although this voice is fun to play with in a manuscript, it does not allow the reader to connect or empathize with any character. It can be an overload of information to know everything about everyone.

More and more I see writers mixing multiple points of view within their manuscripts. It is critical to think of your audience when writing for publication and to focus the point of view in the best way that will connect with your audience.

You may start off writing your memoir and use first person, but discover there is more freedom in third person point of view — depending on the details of your life. Changing the point of view doesn’t make it any less your story; it offers a way to reach a broader audience and the ability to be creative with the facts.

Join me on Women’s Memoirs, where I’ve provided some examples of a scene written from different points of view.

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Lisa Jackson, SCN Editor

Want to see what Lisa Jackson at work? Here’s the way she describes the scene outside her window. “Trees surrounding a parking lot.” [Note from Matilda Butler: Lisa’s description is pure writer/editor. Others would say they look out on a parking lot. Not Lisa. She focuses on the trees and then states what they are surrounding.]

If you are interested in having Lisa work with you, here’s what she says: “My editing style encompasses the entire work, even if I’m only hired for line editing, I can’t help but consider the entire piece once I’ve read through it. I do not change an author’s voice, which means I fix only what is incorrect (typo, grammar, etc.). For any issues that fall into a gray area, awkward wording, incomplete sentences, etc., I highlight and comment with re-write suggestions that enable you to rewrite in your own words. I always meet or beat my deadlines and strive to give a little extra to each project. I’ll mark up a manuscript/document and also send a comprehensive summary that gives my overall impressions, suggestions, and comments that didn’t fit within the editing framework. You’ll have a full picture of your piece—the good, bad, and mediocre—when you receive my feedback on any type of work.”

3 responses to “An Editor’s Perspective: Choosing a Point of VIew

  1. Pingback: Editors on Editing: Selecting Point of View — Memoir Writing Blog

  2. Personally I think I would enjoy reading a cat’s POV. Your examples provide a great way to separate out first, third, and Omni. Mixed POVs sounds intriguing. Any suggestions on where to look for the mixed variety?

  3. Hi Judith: Thanks for your comment. Interestingly, one of my students frequently writes from her cat’s POV. This gives a priceless look at events. I am putting two links below. The first one is an example of an exercise done by this student where she writes about herself for a writing prompt I provided. Then at the end, she adds her cat’s POV.

    http://womensmemoirs.com/memoir-writing-prompts/a-visual-memoir-writing-prompt/

    This second link talks about how using POV (in this case a dragonfly) can make us better writers because we have to understand our characters more clearly.

    http://womensmemoirs.com/writing-alchemy/crafting-distinctive-characters-in-your-memoir/

    Now I realize that neither of these links answer your question about mixed POV. I don’t have a good example to give you…partly because it is often done poorly. As you well know, you don’t want to confuse your reader. If you find an example of merit, be sure to let us all know.

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