Can you change your story’s point of view?

Choosing the right point of view for your story and then sticking to your choice is important in making your story enjoyable and readable. But what if you’ve already written your story and you want to change your point of view?

I originally wrote my book What Birds Are Made Of in third person intimate, but when I decided to pursue getting published in the UK two years after I had finished the original manuscript, I also decided to change the POV to first person. In this post, I’m giving you some tips for changing your point of view and I’ll share my own experiences.

Related reading: Choosing the right POVHow to edit a novelBeginner writer mistakes I made (so you don’t have to)


Why did I change my story’s point of view?

I never used to enjoy writing in first person because I didn’t want to feel like *I* was in the story. I wasn’t writing about myself but it still felt like I was putting a little too much me in my writing. It was at least 50% not liking myself very much and 50% not having enough experience in reading and writing in that POV.

However, eventually I stopped being such a self-hating little brat (I’m still a brat though) and I learned more about writing in different POVs. It felt like first person would be the better choice for that story, and since it hadn’t got a publisher here in Finland, I figured I had nothing to lose by making this change.

How do you change your story’s point of view?

Very slowly.

Unfortunately, you can’t just find and replace every “she” with “I” or the other way round. When you’ve got a sentence like “she could see they were going to be late because of her” there are at least three words there you need to change depending on the context: “I could see we were going to be late because of me“.

Yes, it’s a tedious process, but if you think it’s going to make your story better, it’s worth it. When you go through your manuscript like this, you’ll likely run into other things you’ll want to change, but keep your hands off them for now. Leave yourself a comment or other kind of note so you can address those changes later.

From my personal experience, I can stay that you’re not going to make all the necessary changes in just one round. You can certainly try but more than likely you’ll still find bizarre instances of “I closed her eyes” even a couple of drafts later. If changing the POV is the final round of editing you’re going to do, take it extra slowly and then read the whole thing again.

Do you need to change anything else besides pronouns?

That depends. When you change between first person POV and third person intimate POV, the only difference is the pronouns, at least in theory. We’ll talk more about that in a minute.

But when you’ve written in omniscient, or want to write in omniscient, you’ll have to take into consideration that omniscient point of view doesn’t need to stay inside only one character’s head. There’s going to have to be a lot of changes regarding the kind of information you’ll include in the narrative. If you’ve written in omniscient and you want to change it to two or more POV characters, it’ll be a little easier to reign it in, but you still need to remember to have only one POV character per scene.

Fix these point of view mistakes when changing from third person to first person

Since the pronouns are the same in third person intimate POV and omniscient POV, it’s all too easy to slip into omniscient every now and then when you should stay intimate. See, despite using “he” or “she” when talking about your POV character, you still need to stay inside that one character’s mind. You can’t be outside them or else you’re writing in omniscient.

When you change from third person to first person, these kinds of mistakes become extremely apparent. They practically stab you in the eye. In the next section, I’m going to talk about some of the mistakes I had made with my POV, including this exact issue.

The mistakes I made with third person intimate point of view

We all make mistakes in our writing, that’s what editing is for. I’m not sharing this just to show you what happens when you switch POVs but also to help you if you want to write in third person intimate POV the right way. These lines were very sneaky and shouldn’t have survived this long.

So here’s a collection of POV mistakes I found from my writing during the final three drafts:

– when I decided to join them –

Okay, this isn’t actually a POV mistake as much as it’s a very common writing mistake and I can’t believe it stuck around so long!

So what’s the problem? It’s the “I decided”. If you’ve written something like “When I decided to join them, they were eating cake and I took some of it too”, you’ve got a problem. If you only just decided to join then, how can you already be there to take some of the cake? Could it be that it happened after you decided to join them?

As well as a timing issue, there’s the issue of the readers not really needing to hear about the decision UNLESS things don’t go as planned. “I decided to join them but then I got kidnapped by the biggest hawk I’d ever seen” makes perfect sense. Saying your character decides something and then showing them do that thing is usually pointless.

Look, when you’re writing in first person or third person, your readers understand that everything is filtered through that character’s mind and perceptions. If your character does something, it’s safe to say they decided on it at some point, unless it was an accident.

The other rabbits had dispersed and then hopped back to observe at a safe distance, though I could not see them.

I copied this from my writing after I had already changed my pronouns so you can see how silly it sounds. How does my character know the rabbits were observing at a safe distance if she couldn’t see them? It’s hardly common sense that that’s what rabbits do.

Nathan turned to shoot a look at me but I was already pushing Andy out of the other door.

This line kind of implies that my POV character didn’t see Nathan shooting her the look, so how could she know about it?

As you can see, mentioning things that can’t possibly have been seen by the POV character is kind of a theme here. You want to be on the lookout for those.

She didn’t notice Nathan following her.

Here’s a sentence I removed before I even changed the “her” to “me”. Again, why would I mention it if she didn’t notice it? Who’s talking here?

– but it was something she wouldn’t have realised.

This isn’t an exact quote because there were two similar instances and I somehow failed to copy either of them here, but this is the gist of them anyway.

If your POV character isn’t realising something, how can it be mentioned here? We’re inside that character’s head. There’s no insight so profound that you should include it if it doesn’t fit into the POV you’ve chosen. You either have to leave it out or have it come up somehow from other sources.

What does all this matter anyway?

These point of view rules aren’t there just for the heck of it and they’re not outdated and impractical grammar rules like “never split the infinitive”. They’re crucial for having your reader understand your writing and it’s comparable to using German grammar rules when speaking German and not borrowing English grammar rules just because you feel like it.

When you choose a POV and your POV character, you agree to stay in that POV because it’s literally the vehicle you’ve chosen for telling your story. Jumping outside of it makes no sense – it’s like buying a bus ticket when you’re travelling by boat.

If it’s important, you’ll find a way to include the information that you want to include. If it’s not important, just cut it out from your manuscript. Jumping out of your POV is amateurish writing and something you should fix when editing your story.

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