Characters & Point Of View: It's All In The Mind

Posted at 17:40pm on 7th January 2011

My husband, who is a keen cook, has a copy of one of Nigel Slater's books, Simple Suppers.  The recipes produce good, nutritious meals.  I have to confess, however, to a slightly queasiness when it comes to watching the celebrity chef on TV.  Something, I think, to do with what I perceive to be an erotic fixation on food.

Consequently, when it came to the dramatisation of his autobiography, Toast, my viewing pleasure was tainted with guilt (about my judgement of a man I have never met) and the hope that my perception might be changed.  It wasn't!

Like Charles Moore, who writes in the Daily Telegraph, "as often happens when well-known people produce misery memoirs about their obscure parents, one finds oneself siding with those who cannot answer back," I, too, found myself wondering what the book would have had to say had the father, or the wicked stepmother, been its author.  Would it have portrayed a small boy who, whilst undeniably hungry for love (the book is brilliantly subtitled: The Story of a Boy's Hunger) was nevertheless a little monster, determined to thwart his widowed father's need for companionship and affection?


This business of point of view (often referred to as POV) is crucial to any story, fiction or non-fiction.  A book of memoirs, or autobiography, will, necessarily, be written in the first person: "I did this," "I thought that," "I responded badly when she said that to me".

It comes naturally to anyone writing about their own experiences to write in this way.  That's because the author is retrieving the events that form the content of the book from their own memory.  In other words, it's all in the mind!

For many aspiring authors, however, the crunch comes when they turn to fiction.


They key to writing from a particular point of view is to think of your book as if it were a play and you the producer.  First decide which of your characters is going to be the main story-teller.  Having done that, choose the supporting cast: the other characters who will help to tell the story.

Now imagine that first character on stage.  Everything that's happening around him will be conveyed by his own actions, dialogue and soliloquy (thought processes spoken aloud).  Nothing that happens when he is off stage can be relayed by him to the audience - because he has not seen it, heard it, or been part of it!

If you find that difficult to comprehend, think of the fall-guy in pantomime who is about to be nobbled by the baddie, whom he fails to see behind him.  No matter how loudly the audience may shout "he's behind you!" the character can't see the baddie, who hides, every time he turns around.

Now if he can't see him, then he certainly can't describe him!  He won't know what the baddie is wearing, nor the expression on his face.  Nor can he tell the audience what the baddie is doing, let alone what he's thinking.

Yet it's amazing how often aspiring authors write "outside" their characters' experiences and knowledge.


In the TV adaptation of Nigel Slater's book - in which, faithfully adhering to its era, Nigel is in the dark about his father's intention of marrying Mrs Potter - her attempt at being conciliatory is alluded to.  But it is no more than a glancing scene.

If you were an author writing a scene like that from the child's point of view, you might include a stream of consciousness (thoughts) that would go something like this:

I hate her!  She's just trying to suck up to me; making out like she's all nice and kind when really all she wants is to take my dad away from me.  And if she thinks she's going to be my mum . . .  I'll show her!

If, on the other hand, you were writing from Mrs Potter's point of view, you might show her thinking thus:

Little brat!  'Ere I am trying to smooth things down for 'him.  Trouble with 'im is he's bin spoiled rotten by 'is dad.  Wouldn't know a good thing if it bit 'im in the arse.  Well, I'll show 'im.  And 'is dad.  You know wot they say about the way to a man's 'eart . . .

From her point of view, Mrs Potter is doing her best!  From Nigel's immature stance it's quite the reverse.

Using point of view in this way, the author is able to convey the hidden feelings of both characters, and thus manipulate the sympathy or antipathy of the reader.  And that, dear author, is what creative writing in fiction is all about!

RELATED ARTICLES & CATEGORIES: For further reading, click links below

Creative Writing & A God-like Or Omniscient Point Of View

OTHER CATEGORIES: Click links below


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