Point of View in Fantasy Fiction
If you want readers to keep reading your book, point of view must be carefully considered. It is especially important in fantasy fiction writing. Why? The point of view from which you choose to tell your story sets the overall tone for the book. It gives the reader a vantage point from which to view the entire story as it unfolds.
Choose the wrong point of view and the reader may feel like they are missing out on something, or that they are not connecting with the book’s characters. Flop around between different points of views and the reader will become confused.
At this point, you’ve lost them in the first few pages.
There are simply too many fantasy fiction books out there. Self-published books now account for 75% of the overall market. According to Bowker.com-the world’s leading provider of bibliographic information and management solutions-self-published titles have grown 287% since 2006, resulting in a whopping 250,00 new print and e-titles in 2012. What was once a cottage industry is now the norm.
What does this mean to you? Well, it means you better make sure you have all your ducks in a row, and that your writing is the absolute best it can be to compete. There are a lot of things to consider, and I’ll be discussing this in future articles. For now, let’s begin by discussing the three most popular points of view: first person, third person omniscient, and third person limited.
First Person Point of View
Writing in the first person point of view is limiting. It does not allow the reader to truly “see” the world; it only allows them to be “told” what the world looks like through the recitation of the book’s main character. Does something seem fishy? It should. Remember what all your writing instructors and teachers have told you about show-don’t-tell?
It’s still effective, but after a while it starts to sound like a weather report.
I looked down the dark dungeon hall. The elf stood beside me. I was scared, but I didn’t want to let him now.
“What do you think that is?” I asked. I heard something breathing.
The elf looked at me and frowned. “I don’t know,” he said.
Don’t let this completely dissuade you. Sometimes, using the first person point of view can work, and work very well. But if you choose only to use this point of view, you will severely limit the reader experience.
When R. A. Salvatore first sat down to tell the tale of a dark elf known as Drizzt Do’Urden, he admittedly struggled with point of view selection. In the initial stories, Drizzt was alone, so using the first person point of view seemed to make sense. But Salvatore soon realized he would not be able to tell the important back story of the dark world of the elves, especially the historical moments that occurred before Drizzt was even born.
Salvatore decided to use both first person and third person limited point of view to tell the story. In this manner, he was able to explore the old heritage of the Underdark, and still show exactly what Drizzt was thinking. He did this by writing the novel in third person limited, but prefacing each chapter with first person journal entries from Drizzt.
Third Person Limited Point of View
Third person limited point of view is when the reader knows only the thoughts and feelings of a single character. The reader is limited to seeing and experiencing the world only through this character.
When I wrote Deomans of Faerel, this is the point of view I chose to use. The third person limited pointof view creates what is known as “distance” in the story. It pulls the reader away to a vantage point that allows them to ride along with the character as if they have become that character. It is arguably the best narrative form to choose when writing fantasy fiction. It also allows you create tension by using dialogue to more appropriately interact.
Gnoli peered down the dark dungeon hall. The elf moved up beside him, his bow outstretched, hands shaking.
“Ye hear that breathing?” the dwarf asked in a shaking voice. He glanced at his companion, struggling to keep fear from showing on his rugged face. “What do ye think that is?”
The elf frowned and slowly shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said.
Not a whole lot different than first person. But we start to feel what is happening rather than be told. This subtle act creates a powerful sensation for the reader. They are not only there, they are experiencing things as if they are watching a movie, instead of nightly news cast.
Switching Third Person Limited Points of View
The extra benefit to using third person limited point of view is that the writer gets to place the reader inside the heads of more than one character, if they so choose. This works very well to tell different plot lines, and can actually create empathy for villains, which is something you need. (Who wants a villain you can totally hate?)
Using third person limited also allows you to develop other characters, which is great if your fantasy book contains more than one hero. Many do. Using third person limited, the writer is able to flesh out more than one character, creating solid connections. Readers begin to care about the characters: they feel their pains, they experience their anguishes and desires, the root for them and wish them no harm.
When to Switch
If you want to use third person limited to explore storylines of other characters, just make sure you have a clear breaking point in the writing. This works best between chapters. Tell the story through the eyes of one character in the first chapter, then switch to another character in chapter two.
Carefully Switch Point of View
Just be aware of time. When you switch from one character to another, be aware of what the other characters are doing. Is Jack in a boat in the morning in the first chapter? Does he experience something that takes all day, and then it becomes night? If so, when you start the next chapter, you better make sure what happens occurs after the previous night’s events.
Third Person Omniscient
Lastly, let’s talk about third person omniscient. The third person omniscient point of view is a narrative form in which the reader knows all the thoughts, desires and wishes of every single character. In fantasy fiction, this takes away much of the surprise. Using this point of view, you can actually write an entire novel without ever using any dialogue.
Gnoli peered down the dark dungeon hall. The elf moved up beside him, his bow outstretched, hands shaking. The dwarf heard something breathing down the hall. He wondered what it was, but he tried to keep the fear from his face. The elf had no idea what was down there, and he said so. The dragon down the hall, however, waited patiently for them to approach. Once they came within range, he was going to gobble them up!
See how it’s just kind of… flat? And talk about a spoiler alert! In the previous two examples, we had no idea what the monster was, or what its intentions were. Now we know everything.
This is an extreme example, of course. But when the narrator is just telling you everything that is happening, and all the thoughts and feelings of every single character, including the monsters, the story becomes less interesting.
Beware of Head Jumping
Whichever point of view you choose to employ for your fantasy novel, just make sure you properly block your paragraphs, and what you reveal. If the first chapter is all told from the point of view of Jack, then you can’t include any thoughts from the other characters. Jack may suspect they are thinking certain things, but he can’t know this.