One of the great powers afforded narrative fiction writers is the ability to crawl inside a character’s head and take the reader on a journey through that person’s experiences. This power isn’t available to writers of film, television, and stage. Even the “inner monologue” is only a voice over, generally done while watching a character’s actions from the outside. Only in narrative fiction can you see the world through another person’s eyes. No other medium, save first-person shooter video games, can do this.
Here is an example of a point of view violation.
Tom paused after his joke, hoping to see some reaction from his wife. He caught her eyes and smirked. Margaret smiled, unsure of what to say. She decided to shake her head and leave the room.
The problem with this starts about halfway through and goes right up until the end. We start in Tom’s head and we get a sense of who he is and what he’s looking for. Margaret smiles, which is also fine, but the reader shouldn’t know that she is unsure of what to say nor should we know whether she decides to do something until she does it. Worse yet, when Margaret leaves the room, do we go with her? It becomes a conflict in the reader’s mind between which character we identify with more. Are you Team Tom or Team Margaret?
This is a revised version of the same scene.
Tom paused after his joke, hoping to see some reaction from his wife. He caught her eyes and smirked. Margaret smiled, shook her head, and left the room.
Not only do we start in Tom’s head from the beginning, but we stay there the whole time. He wanted a reaction and he got one. Now, he’s alone in the room and ready to move onto the next thing in his life.
Limited perspective allows the reader to safely experience the dangers and difficulties of a character’s life. This ability to identify with the character keeps us reading. It is fine to change perspectives within a book, but each scene needs one point of view from start to finish.
Readers pay for the experience of becoming someone else. I am more likely to continue reading if I am involved in the story. When a writer puts me out of a character’s head, I am simply a bystander who is free to excuse himself from an uncomfortable situation. I want to be made uncomfortable by what I read nearly as much as I want to be disturbed by what I write. Identification is the goal and a limited perspective point of view is one of the tools to get there.