In a previous post for #authortoolboxbloghop, I spoke about narrative perspective and character interiority. I did so by distinguishing between the narrator and the focal character. The narrator speaks the narrative, but the point of view and opinions that drive the narrative belong to the focal character. Β They can be the same person, but not necessarily.

As a quick reminder, there are three patterns of focalization:

  1. Zero / Non-Focalization
  2. Internal Focalization
  3. External focalization

In this post, I’ll be focusing on internal focalization. If you’d like to learn about the others, click here.

When using internal focalization, the narrative perspective limits itself to a single point of view. We don’t know any more than the focal character whose POV drives the narrative. For example, in Six of Crows, the focal character changes each chapter. When Kaz is the focal character, we only have access to his thoughts/opinions/feelings, we don’t know what Inej, for example, is thinking. In other words, the narrator knows only as much as the focal character.

There are three categories within internal focalization:

  1. Fixed Internal
    • There’s only one focal character throughout the novel. Ex: The Hunger Games. The story is told entirely through Katniss’ perspective.
  2. Variable Internal
    • The POV switches between different characters. Ex: Six of Crows. Sometimes we’re in the POV of Kaz, other times Inej, Nina, etc.
  3. Multiple Internal
    • Where we have more than one POV on the same scene.

Understanding narrative perspective is crucial to good writing. More often than not, one of the notes I make in reader reports is that there is no access to character interiority. There’s a lot of ‘Emily did this…and Emily did that…’ but what about her thoughts? Feelings? If I don’t have access to the interiority of a character, I won’t be able to connect with them. This relates to Free Indirect Discourse – you can also learn more about that here.

Questions? Thoughts? What pattern do you prefer to write in? Comment below!

P.S I’ve got an open slot for a full MS critique in January. You can check out my services here.

29 Comments

    1. Hi! Yeah, I get a little confused with that one, too. So variable internal means that the POV would alternate, with each POV narrating a specific scene of the story (ex: Six of Crows. The Raven Cycle series, etc.). Multiple internal would mean more than one POV on any given scene. I keep thinking of this scene in Jane Austen’s Emma, usually we’re in Emma’s POV, but sometimes, it’ll switch to another character in the middle of a scene – like if something is happening that Emma isn’t picking up on, the POV will switch to Knightley for a bit so that readers can enter his thoughts and see what he’s picked up on that Emma is oblivious to – and then it’ll go back to Emma again. I’m not sure I explained that well, haha. Does that make sense?

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  1. At the moment I’m switching POV’s between my two main characters, since they spend time apart but these experiences are important. Whenever they’re together Arthur is always the POV character though!

    One of the things I have to watch out for is switching POV in the middle of a scene. I’ve realised I sometimes do this by accident, and it’s a habit I need to break!

    Great post, thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

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    1. No problem! I actually see that a lot in submissions (switching POVs in middle of a scene) – “head hopping”. It’s common so you’re definitely not the only one who does it :p

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  2. Great post! For me, I prefer writing fixed internal, though I do play around with other characters’ POV as practice so I can understand the other players in the story. For me, I prefer stories that follow a single character, even if many characters come in and out of their story. Thanks for sharing! I’ll be keeping this in mind when I write my stories.

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    1. It varies for me, too! I usually write in first person POV, but my latest WIP is multiple POV in third person. It’s definitely different! I guess it depends on what’s best for the story πŸ™‚

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  3. I use both fixed internal and variable internal, depending on the book. For me it depends on how much I want to reveal to the reader, and how much I want to hide and reveal at a later time. I consider what I want to accomplish with the story first, before I decide which to use.

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    1. Yes! Same here! I usually write in first person POV, but for my latest WIP I had to switch it up a bit. It really does depend on what the story needs πŸ™‚

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  4. What’s funny is that I don’t think about narrative when I write. It sort of comes naturally to me.

    I usually write in two character’s POVs, especially for romance, by giving one chapter to one character and the next chapter to the other character. But I also write in one POV for my urban fantasy.

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  5. “The narrator speaks the narrative, but the point of view and opinions that drive the narrative belong to the focal character.” Great clarity in that sentence. My writing partner and I were actually discussing this today. Specifically, the use of nicknames the focal character uses in narrative sentences. I am definitely going to refer these post to her. Thanks Hoda!

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  6. Good information. I’ve frequently had difficulties being consistent with POV. I’ve always tried to keep a single internal POV in a given scene and a primary character to carry POV throughout the story, but it sounds like multiple internal POVs in the same scene is acceptable. I assume as long as the POV is clear to the reader, multiple can be used. Is that correct?

    I have seen where authors have used italics to represent characters thoughts in mid-dialogue with two or more characters, and it gets very confusing as to who is thinking what.

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    1. Yes! Multiple can definitely be used, though I’m used to reading/writing with fixed or variable. If we’re having access to the thoughts of multiple characters, (like you said – when the thoughts of more than one character are italicized in a scene), there’s also the chance that we have an omniscient narrator – in which case it’s the narrator that is giving us access to all these different characters’ thoughts. That would mean we’re in a pattern of zero-focalization; so we wouldn’t be following the POV of any character; it’s the narrator that’s telling us everything. So I guess it would all depend! I hope that helps πŸ™‚

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