One of the first decisions a writer must make when starting a story is whose point-of-view (pov) to use? Will the author tell the story? A narrator? One of the characters? Several of the characters?
At the end of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century it was common for an all seeing/all knowing narrator to either tell the story or interrupt the story at times to inject a bit of knowledge. By the end of the twentieth century interruptions of that nature were considered “author intrusion.”
Over the years writers have strived to immerse the reader into the action of the story. This is especially true of genre fiction. The goal is to make the reader feel as if he or she is there, possibly in the mind of the character. This has led to the use of close pov. (And lately, to achieve this feeling, writers are even using the present tense to tell the story.)
Writers who use first person pov automatically use close pov. The character only knows what she sees, hears, or experiences. Rarely, nowadays would a story be written in first person with a narrator popping in to explain things the character wouldn’t know. (I say rarely because the moment I say never, someone will do it.)
Not all writers like to use first person pov, they find it too limiting. That is why, I believe, close pov has developed. The story is written in third person, but the reader is allowed to know the thoughts of the character. These thoughts can be written in two ways. For example:
Mary stared at the door that led to the basement. She wasn’t sure she could talk herself into going down there.
Mary stared at the door that led to the basement. I can’t do it, she thought.
Notice the change of pronoun from third person to first. Either way, we know what she’s thinking, but by using the “I” and italics the reader knows we’re in her thoughts.
Multiple third person pov allows the reader insight to what other characters see, know, and feel. This is especially helpful when writing suspense. The reader knows something terrible is about to occur or has happened, but the main character(s) may not.
Some writers in the last few decades have experimented with using both third person pov and first in the same story. The main character(s) may be written using the third person pov while the villain is written using first person. Or the other way around.
Switching pov from one character to another can be tricky. A few writers can make the switch from paragraph to paragraph without confusing the reader. The more “literary” a novel, the more apt you are to see this. The main problem is when a writer doesn’t realize there’s been a switch in pov. Therefore remember, when you’re in a character’s pov, you only indicate what that character is seeing, thinking, or knows.
If I write, Sexy Sue had never seen anyone as tall as Handsome Harry. Her sapphire blue eyes sparkled when she smile up at him, and his stomach tighened, I’ve made a pov error. We start out in Sue’s pov. So how would she know her eyes were sparkling? How often do you think of your eye color when looking at someone? Another character might think this, but not Sue if I’m in her pov. And how would she know Harry’s stomach tightened. Only if we were in Harry’s pov would we know that.
I had one editor tell me by switching pov back and forth on a page, the writer lessens the reader’s ability to feel close to either character. And if more than two povs are used on the page, it can become quite confusing for the reader. Her feeling was it’s better to stay in one pov for at least several paragraphs, or switch at the end of a scene, or from chapter to chapter.
Which brings up the question: Which character is affected the most by what happens in this scene?
The answer to that question tells the writer whose pov to use.