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Characters and Point of View

by Laura Backes, Children's Book Insider

The point of view -- how you choose to tell your story -- determines the voice of your writing. Children's stories are told from the viewpoint of your main character. Who this character is -- his or her personality, temperament, strengths and weaknesses -- will affect how the story is told.

Whichever viewpoint technique you choose also impacts the way you develop your main character for the reader.

First person: The first person viewpoint uses the "I". Your main character is telling the story in his or her own words. This point of view allows the writer to easily show the character's personality because every thought, feeling and opinion expressed in the narrative comes from that character. The author must know the main character very well before starting the story; a flat, undeveloped character will not hold the reader's interest. The limitations to this viewpoint are that the character must remain actively involved in the story at all times, otherwise he ends up standing on the sidelines and describing the action in long, telling passages. Physical descriptions of the main character come through dialogue from other characters ("I've always loved your curly hair, "Sue told me) or by the main character comparing himself to another person (I have my dad's blue eyes). Rarely does a character stop and describe herself for no reason.

When working in first person, you can only show the thoughts of your main character, and you can only see the events your main character sees. The thoughts of other characters must be expressed through dialogue. First person, past tense is the most common, and effective, narration technique. Some young adult novels use first person, present tense, but avoid using this in picture books or novels for young children because it is sometimes difficult to read as it sounds like everything is happening simultaneously. (I am running down the walk I open the gate and step into the yard.)

Third person, subjective: With third person you use the pronouns "he" and "she," but you are still telling the story through one character's eyes. You get close to your main character by showing only his or her thoughts and feelings and following that character through the story, but you don't have to write the narration as if it's coming out of your main character's mouth. This is often the easiest point of view for beginning writers to master. Be careful not to comment or editorialize upon your character's actions (Billy should have known better), or speak directly to the reader (Can you guess what happened next?). You as the author must remain invisible so your readers can immerse themselves within the world of your story.

Omniscient: The omniscient point of view is like looking at the story through a movie camera. You can show the reader what's happening in several places at once, but you don't get close to any one character or see their thoughts. This can be useful at the beginning of a chapter to set the scene (as E.B. White does in Charlotte's Web), but after a paragraph or two switch to the viewpoint of your main character. An entire book written with the omniscient point of view does not allow the reader to identify with any one character or know whose story you are telling.

While most children's books encompass one main character and one point of view, some young adult novels alternate points of view between two or three main characters. This is best done when entire chapters focus on one character and one viewpoint. It's difficult to do this successfully in books for younger children unless each character has a very different role in the book, and you are a talented writer (as in Natalie Babbitt's Tuck Everlasting).

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by Laura Backes, Children's Book Insider