Every character in a story has a perspective, a unique way of perceiving and interpreting the world around them, revealed to the audience through what a character says and does. Every story also relies on one or more characters to convey the story to the audience through their perspective. These are known as POV or point of view characters.
Choosing a POV Character
When choosing a POV character, consider who is most invested in the story? It may be someone actively working to control the outcome, or someone most affected by the outcome. Who grows or changes the most? Who knows all the information the audience needs to understand the story? Who most closely resembles the target audience? Who’s perspective is best suited to tell the story?
For example, the Sherlock Holmes anthology. The titular character, Sherlock, has a vested interest in the outcome, and has all the information the audience needs, but he can’t be the POV character. He’s too different from the target audience; he knows all the secrets that audiences can’t know until the end of the story. Thus the character of Watson is added, someone who stands in for the audience, asking all the questions and expressing the opinions that the audience will probably be thinking as they read.
It’s also important to consider the personality of the story; the ideas & emotions being expressed, as well as the tone, style, and genre. For example, most murder mysteries focus on the harsh realities of murder; but what if someone wanted to tell a murder mystery as a comical adventure? That would require a POV character capable of creating humor in the midst of such a serious topic. Castle and Bones are two examples.
When choosing a POV story, consider the length of the story as well. A short story only has room for one point of view character, while a book can accommodate more, though it’s best to start with 1-2 POV characters, and add others gradually; keeping it under 5 POV characters unless there’s a strong reason.
Once POV is established, it’s important not to break it. If Christy is the POV character, she can’t simply know that Mark is nervous. She needs a reason to think that; either physical signs through body language, or prior knowledge.
Another common mistake is to not address the elephant in the room. If Brian is the POV character, and John walks into the room and slaps Brian across the face, Brian has to respond. The response can be as subtle as a few thoughts that explain why he’s not reacting in a more common manner, such as anger or surprise, but whatever Brian’s reaction is, audiences need to understand it.
Last, recognize when a character will retract into their own thoughts, and when they will be very present in the moment. The more intense and active a scene, the more immediate and present the character. The more boring and relaxed, the more likely the character is to fade. By the same token, the more intense a character’s emotions are, the more likely they are to retract, which doesn’t mean they stop actively participating. A person can be actively fighting for their life while simultaneously focusing on their own inner reflections.
When a character becomes distant; focus on sensory information. A person who’s in the moment recognizes that “Matt walked into the room,” while a person who’s distant may “hear someone’s footsteps” or “feel the floor shake”.