How to Format and Submit Graphic Novels

Are you an agent or publisher accepting graphic novel submissions? Get the best work in your slush by giving clear submission guidelines like these

Pop Quiz

Question 1: What do you need to get your graphic novel published? (Choose all that apply)

  • A writer
  • An artist
  • A colorist
  • A penciller
  • An inker
  • A letterer
  • Thousands of fans
  • A pitch or proposal
  • An artist portfolio
  • A dummy (sketched mock-up of finished work)
  • A complete manuscript
  • A complete script in comics format
  • A completely finished, inked/colored work

Question 2: Once you’ve got everything ready, how do you get your graphic novel published?

A: Self-publish online or digitally.

B: Crowdfund and then publish using a print-on-demand company.

C: Send a query letter to an agent, who will represent you in finding a publisher.

D: Send a proposal to a comics publisher.

E: Send a proposal to a literary publisher.

Answers: Any of the above have worked in the past. It all depends. But don’t worry, I’ll do my best to demystify the best solution for your goals.



How are graphic novels published?

Graphic novels, I tell you. They’re published by comics publishers and literary publishers. They’re self-published, they’re crowdfunded, they’re submitted through agents, they’re submitted without agents. Though the medium of graphic novels has been in the literary world for decades now, writers, agents, and acquisitions editors still have no universally standard format or submission policy.

As a freelance editor for comics and graphic novels, I wanted to be able to provide these clients with a resource like the Formatting a Novel Manuscript post I made for my fiction clients. Through my research and correspondence with agents, editors, and comic creators, I’ve found a variety of submission possibilities to share with you.

Illustrated and hybrid novels

Illustrated novels are prose novels with occasional (or multiple) illustrations, like Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and dozens of chapter books. Their pages will look more like prose manuscripts. It’s more precise to call these “illustrated novels” in your query letter. Link to images you’re providing, or include brief illustration notes in brackets.

[Illustration: Like this]

Hybrid or multimedia novels include sections of concrete poetry, imagery or ephemera which are not supplemental, but integral. The visual aspects are meant to be read or analyzed along with the text, like IlluminaeHouse of Leaves, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Closeor Ship of Theseus. A hybrid novel might be part comic panels, part sketches, part handwritten notes, part typed prose, part photographs. If you are creating the graphic aspects of your novel, then also consider yourself the “illustrator” below.

What’s your destination?

To figure out which route you should take to get a graphic novel published, you need to understand your goal.

  • Do you want to work for a well-known comics publisher (like Marvel, DC, Image, or Dark Horse)?
  • Do you want to assemble your own team of artists, writers, colorists, and letterers?
  • Do you want to write and illustrate a graphic novel to be published with traditional literary publishers?
  • Do you just want to make the art for graphic novels?
  • Do you just want to write graphic novels?

Recommended routes for each:

If you want to work for a well-known comics publisher, you can try to get an internship, but the best way to become part of the comics world is to create an amazing portfolio of either illustration or writing samples, network with creators, and self-publish a short comic or zine by yourself or with a team of creators (see next paragraph). You can pitch your work at comic cons, recruiters can find your comics online and hire you that way, or you can join a comics community like Comics Experience, which includes a workshop and has options for publishing with IDW. Skip to the Comic Format section below to see how to format your comic scripts.

If you want to assemble your own team of creators, your first step is likely to be self-publishing. If you don’t care about being paid and just need the experience or exposure or portfolio, create a webcomic. Tapastic and Tumblr are both popular venues for webcomics, but if you have a big enough fan base, you can publish on your own website, like The Dreamer or XKCD. Some successful webcomics get book deals. Nimona, my favorite graphic novel of 2015, started as a webcomic and was published by Harper (a literary publisher—Stevenson has a literary agent). The Dreamer turned into three graphic novel volumes of comics, published by IDW (a comics publisher—Innes entered the agreement with IDW as an independent creator). Hark, a Vagrant! has gotten Kate Beaton an agent and several book deals. You might also find good success crowdfunding your graphic novel on Kickstarter. Of course, you could also become your own publisher and use a print-on-demand service to sell at cons or turn them into eBooks or PDFs to sell online.

If you want to write and illustrate a graphic novel to be published traditionally, you can do what Innes or Stevenson or Beaton did above and get your work out there first, or you can create a graphic novel proposal to send to agents. If you don’t have a complete, finished graphic novel to pitch, you’ll need a link to your portfolio (see resources in next paragraph) and a complete script.

If you want to do pencils or inks or colors, you’ll need to create an outstanding portfolio. Then you’ll do portfolio reviews to meet editors and art directors, or you’ll get an agent, who will share your work with acquisitions editors and art directors. I have heard nothing but good things about Chris Oatley’s online Painting Drama class. Oatley did character design for Disney, and his students learn how to instill deep emotional impact into their drawings and paintings–exactly what art directors are looking for. If you’d like to illustrate graphic novels and picture books for children in particular, I highly recommend KidLit411 as a resource.

If you just want to write graphic novels, you’ll need to read a lot and write a lot in your genre. Then you’ll need to write an entire script and a) query an agent to represent your script, or b) send your script to a comics publisher open to script submissions.

Graphic Novel Script and Manuscript Formats

Comic Script Formats

You may have heard of the Marvel Method, and you might have seen Alan Moore’s micromanaging scripts, but unless you are Stan Lee or Alan Moore, I recommend using Dark Horse’s suggested format. See and download a host of comic script examples at the Comic Book Script Archive and at Comics Experience’s Script Archive.

If you are really serious about writing comics, I cannot recommend Superscript enough. (This is not a paid nor requested endorsement.) Superscript is built for comics writers and has comics-specific short codes and automatic smart formatting. You can also export to PDF or Word in a number of formatting styles. It has saved me SO MANY HOURS of formatting time. See pricing and get a one week free trial.

Formats for writer/illustrators

As both writer and illustrator, you can write your script however you’d like, as long as you have a complete graphic novel to show for it or it’s legible enough for an agent to read. See how Innes and Oatley, both writer/illustrators, wrote and formatted their own scripts here. Innes uses a modified comic script, and Oatley writes his more like a screenplay. At the link, you can download their script pages and see how the script changed from draft to pencils to final colored pages.

Formats for writers seeking literary agents (and literary publishers)

If you’re looking for a literary agent and are not illustrating, read what agents are looking for below. Whether you write a more classic comics-like script or write more of a screenplay style, include golden details to guide and ground the illustrator. If you are writing real-life or historical settings or characters, add links to photos or videos for references. Tell the story through action and dialogue and, if necessary, captions. Shannon Hale, a NYT best-selling novelist, shares her style for graphic novels here (Update: this link has sadly now been removed. Check out Chris Oatley’s scripts in the previous section and read Brent’s preferences below).

What agents are looking for

If you’re wondering what comics publishers are looking for, see this Definitive List of submission guidelines.

Bree Ogden wants a query letter with a link to the script and/or artwork. She wants scripts in the comic style.

1. I look for proper formatting. Little mistakes here and there are fine. But screenplay formatting and/or prose are unacceptable. It shows me so many things, namely that you’re not familiar with the genre you want to write in.

2. Outside of formatting, I look for things like: are the captions too long? Does the dialogue in the panel give enough information without being verbose? I usually storyboard the first few pages (if it’s just a script without sample panels) and see how it pans out as an actual graphic novel. You’d be surprised how easy it is to make a mess of captions!

3. I look to see that the writer has a grasp on description and an eye for detail. This makes working with an artist so much easier.


It should look like this:

Dear Agent,

Blah blah *query letter* blah blah.

I’d love for you to take a look at the first five pages of my graphic novel script and some sample art. You can view both on my website The password to view the script is __________.

[Closing remarks]

(Read the full article on LitReactor)


Brent Taylor wants a query with scripts written in a less formal style:

I typically prefer a query along with sample script pages pasted into the body of the message, with a link to art or samples attached as a PDF. The one thing that I will say that is more craft related is that I really like GN scripts to be written in a more “Hollywood” way. When GN writers get too caught up in art direction and minute details [like Moore’s style!] it detracts from the character and story, and I find it’s much easier to sell a GN when the script is written in a really readable manner for those who aren’t as familiar with formal comic formats.

(Source: Personal communication)

What? Bree and Brent want completely opposite things in their scripts? Bree describes a comic-like graphic novel with panel breakdowns. She probably has connections with comics publishers. Brent is looking for more prose-like graphic novel scripts, which means he’s probably not going to submit your script to comics publishers; he’s going to submit it to book publishers.

Generally agents want different things depending on whether you’re also illustrating the graphic novel.

If you are writing only, send a query letter once your script is complete and polished. Check submission guidelines to see if you can paste the first five pages below your query letter or include a link to your first five pages in your bio paragraph.

If you are illustrating and your script is complete, send a query letter with a link to your portfolio and sample pages (unless the agency requests proposals in their submission guidelines).

If you are illustrating and your script is not complete, send a cover letter and proposal (unless the agency requests something else in their submission guidelines).

Some more agent responses:

Please research agents and publishers before you submit or sign any contract. Inclusion in this post is not endorsement. I also do not update this post if/when agent wishlists change.

Editor responses:

  • Rachel Stark is accepting MG graphic novel submissions at Sky Pony Press. Email cover letter and attach complete script. If illustrating, attach first three chapters as a PDF. If your work is complete, you can include a link to your finished work.
  • McKelle George is looking for hybrid novels like Illuminae or A Monster Calls for Jolly Fish Press. She’d prefer a proposal or a link to complete work.
  • See editorial preferences for comics publishers here

Difference between a query and a proposal

Query letters are like cover letters.

A query letter is a one-page pitch addressed to an individual agent which gives the details of the story’s characters, goals, and obstacles. Don’t tell the ending, but make the reader need to know what comes next. Include a short paragraph with details about the graphic novel: title, genre, and word count (page count only if you have an idea of how your graphic novel will be laid out, and it’s within standards). Give a 1- to 2-sentence bio, and then sign the letter/email. You can send query letters to any number of agents, but address them to each personally, and before you submit, be sure to check each agency’s submission guidelines and whether they even accept graphic novels.

See an example of a successful query for a graphic novel.

If you are writing but not illustrating, only send query letters when your script is complete.

If an agent asks for samples of pages or artwork, never include attachments unless expressly asked to do so. Instead, paste text at the bottom of the email or include a link to your portfolio or pages in your bio paragraph.

Proposals are like interviews.

A proposal is a multi-page pitch which proves that you are capable of entering into a contract to complete a graphic novel. In other words, you may not have a complete graphic novel finished, but you do have a complete grasp of what you need to finish it. Check with the agency or publisher’s guidelines to see what they require. Some things you might be required to include:

  • A cover letter (generally required)—one page, addressed to appropriate person by name—who are you, what do you write or make, and why are you a good fit for this agency’s or publisher’s line-up?
  • A CV—usually optional unless you have prior publications to include
  • Synopsis (usually required)—full synopsis of what happens in the story, from beginning to end
  • Sample chapters (generally required for writers or teams)—usually 3 chapters or 10,000 words
  • Sample artwork (generally required for artists or teams)—the best pieces in your portfolio. Try to pick images which tell a story and set a scene; posed pin-ups or portraits are not the best choice for a storytelling proposal

Formatting, Submitting, and Publishing Graphic Novels |

Did you find this information useful?

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  • Consider subscribing to, my online portal for writing workshops. I offer courses in drafting, revision, and pitching/querying. By subscribing, you’ll be notified when courses will be offered.
  • If you’d like to book me for editing services, I have a page just for visual narratives (graphic novels, comics, picture books) on my editing site.

POV Part 3—e.g. (examples)

POV part 3—examples of omniscient, limited omniscient, and first-person narratives #POV #writing | writelarawrite

Today is my third (and final?) post in a short series on Point of View. First was an introduction to terms. Second, a comparison of the different choices of narration. Now, examples of each type. As always, feel free to ask any questions in the comments!


  1. First-Person Narrator
  2. Third-Person Omniscient Narrator
  3. Third-Person Limited Narrator, Light
  4. Third-Person Limited Narrator, Deep
  5. Third-Person Cinematic/Objective Narrator

First-Person Narrator

Next morning I awoke, looked out the window and nearly died of fright. My screams brought Atticus from his bathroom half-shaven.
“The world’s endin’, Atticus! Please do something!” I dragged him to the window and pointed.
“No it’s not,” he said. “It’s snowing.”

To Kill a Mockingbird

In first-person narration, the narrator is a character in the story and uses the pronoun “I.” We never see into anyone else’s head, unless there is more than one narrator.  The narrator  is aware of an audience and needs to have a reason to tell the story. As in omniscient narration, the voice of the first-person narrator must be distinct, interesting, and well-crafted.

In first-person movies, we usually hear the thoughts of the narrator but see the character. In fiction, however, the narrator should not be remembering scenes as an out-of-body experience. In other words, there shouldn’t be any filtering.

In this clip from A Christmas Story, we can see Ralphie most of the time, but we can also hear his thoughts and sometimes see from his visual point-of-view.

First person novels: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Frankenstein, Dracula

Third-Person Omniscient Narrator

There have been five great kisses since 1642 B.C…(before then couples hooked thumbs.) And the precise rating of kisses is a terribly difficult thing, often leading to great controversy…. Well, this one left them all behind.

The Princess Bride

The omniscient narrator knows what is going on in any person’s head at any time, in any place. The narrator is its own voice and can make its own judgments about the characters. It’s the least intimate of the POVs, but the distance can be comic distance, used effectively for humor. This style of narration calls attention to itself (remember, it’s presentational), and it carries the story.  Omniscient narration must be interesting and exceptionally well written. It can have a distinct voice that makes comments, like in the narration at the beginning of 500 Days of Summer, or throughout Amelie.

A fair warning, though. Many people consider omniscient narration to be sloppy or lazy, and “head hopping” is a common mistake made by writers. Unless you are writing comedy or are briefly creating an establishing shot, you might want to consider using Third Person Limited Omniscience.

Third person Omniscient novels: The Princess Bride, parts of The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, books by Terry Pratchett and Kurt Vonnegut and Jane Austen

Third-Person Limited Narrator, Light

It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high. Some people, perhaps, would say that there was little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew—and so do I, thought Harry, with a rush of fierce pride, and so did my parents—that there was all the difference in the world.
― Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Third person limited omniscience, light penetration consists of a neutral narration which sometimes dives into the head of a character (or two or more, but only one per scene—it is limited). This POV is usually replaced by deep penetration during emotionally tense scenes that need to be more fully experienced. In movies, soliloquies are the closest thing to hearing the characters’ thoughts, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is full of them.

Third-Person Limited Narrator, Deep

It was stupid, pointless, irritating beyond belief that he still had four days left of being unable to perform magic…
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Marvolo Gaunt’s ring lay on the desk before Dumbledore. It was cracked; the sword of Gryffindor lay beside it.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I’ve given the two examples above to illustrate different examples of deep penetration in a novel that is primarily light penetration. In the first, the narration is what Harry is feeling, though it doesn’t say, “he thought,” and it stays in third person rather than switching suddenly to first. In the second, we have come from seeing Harry seeing through the pensieve—using filtering words like “Harry saw,” “Harry noticed,” etc.—to seeing the objects for ourselves, without filtering.

Like first person, in third-person deep, we see into someone else’s head and everything is told from his or her point of view, but the narration uses third person pronouns instead of first. This can actually be more intimate than first person, because the reader sort of becomes the POV character. Think of it like having a dream. In a dream, you can be someone else. You know it isn’t you, hence the third-person pronouns, but you still see from someone else’s POV. No filtering is used—no “he thought” or “she thought,” and any separate narrator disappears so that the POV character becomes the narrator.

Imagine a movie like Cloverfield, in which we can also hear the filming character’s thoughts. This is what reading first person or third person deep penetration should look like.

Third-Person Cinematic/Objective Narrator

I can’t really give a short example of an objective point of view, because for all you know, the next line might have a description of someone’s thoughts, and objective narration is characterized by what it isn’t rather than what it is. If you’re reading a suspenseful tale that has a scene featuring the villain or suspect, chances are, that scene is told in objective narration. To see into the mind of the bad guy would give up his motive.

If you really want to see this in practice, compare Voldemort’s scenes in the first few Harry Potter books, in which we/Harry can see into his head, to the first chapter of Deathly Hallows, which is so cinematic, none of the characters are named until after they are physically described. The reader is forced to make guesses and assumptions about the characters, because the narrator is completely silent.

In a cinematic view, we can’t see into anyone’s thoughts, so we rely on our own observations of the characters and their dialogue.

Most movies never go into the brain of a character, which is why this style of narration is called cinematic. So to illustrate, I’ll pick a scene that is painfully, obviously cinematic, from The Hunger Games.

In the books, we see everything from Katniss’s brain. It’s written in first person, present tense, and the effect is immediacy. We hear her thoughts as she has them. In this scene of the movie, the director relies on clunky sports commentary to explain what Katniss may or may not be thinking. It’s insulting to the viewer. The director assumes you aren’t smart enough to figure out what’s going on. If we really couldn’t figure it out, all Katniss had to do would be to mutter, “It’s mined.” Or even, “It’s a minefield.” Or, hey, even, “Well, I declare! I do believe they have taken the mines from under the launch pads and moved them there, to create a booby trap!” It’s not like humans never say anything to themselves aloud. I assume they wanted a sort of pinch point, to remind the audience of the Capitol, and they probably wanted to get Stanley Tucci some more screen time, but UGH.

Here’s how it plays out in the book, and notice how, even though she doesn’t have to, she whispers OUT LOUD:

I realize I’m grinding my teeth in frustration. Foxface has confirmed what I’d already guessed. But what sort of trap have they laid that requires such dexterity? Has so many trigger points? Why did she squeal so as her hands made contact with the earth? You’d have thought … and slowly it begins to dawn on me … you’d have thought the very ground was going to explode.

“It’s mined,” I whisper. That explains everything. The Careers’ willingness to leave their supplies, Foxface’s reaction, the involvement of the boy from District 3, where they have the factories, where they make televisions and automobiles and explosives. But where did he get them? In the supplies? That’s not the sort of weapon the Gamemakers usually provide, given that they like to see the tributes draw blood personally. I slip out of the bushes and cross to one of the round metal plates that lifted the tributes into the arena. The ground around it has been dug up and patted back down. The land mines were disabled after the sixty seconds we stood on the plates, but the boy from District 3 must have managed to reactivate them. I’ve never seen anyone in the Games do that. I bet it came as a shock even to the Gamemakers.

If they really had to have Caesar Flickerman in that scene, he could have explained that second paragraph after Katniss figured it out, giving the backstory, and not insulting both the protagonist and the audience.

But I digress and rant.

That’s about all I have to say on Point of View for the time being. Let me know if you need something more clearly explained, or if you want to know more about another writing topic. I’m open to suggestions!

Write Lara Write | Comparing and Contrasting different Points of View #writing

POV Part 2—v.s. (compare and contrast)

Write Lara Write | Comparing and Contrasting different Points of View #writing

Today is my second in a short series on Point of View. First was an introduction to terms. Now, a comparison of the different choices of narration. Coming up next, examples of each type. As always, feel free to ask any questions in the comments!


  1. Introduction
  2. First Person
  3. Third Person Omniscient
  4. Third Person Limited Omniscient
  5. Third Person Objective/Cinematic


For each of the categories below, I’ll talk about pronouns used for the protagonist; the “number of heads,” that is, the number of POV characters; intimacy, or how connected the reader feels to the characters;  whether the narration style is presentational or representationalif the story or the writing style is more crucial; and in which circumstances you should use each (Should you use it?).

First Person

Pronouns: I, we, me, my, us, our

Number of heads: Just one, the “I” talking. Other chapters might feature a different “I,” though.

Intimacy: Pretty intimate. We feel like we are reading a diary or listening to a friend telling a story. But limited third can be even more intimate, as you’ll see below.

Presentational vs representational: A bit of both. A first-person narrator is aware of the audience and speaks to the audience, which can make it presentational. But if it’s presented in the form of a diary or an interview, it also represents real life, so it feels less fictional.

Story vs. Style: The voice of the narrator is more important than what’s going on in the story. It’s crucial that the writing style is intriguing, interesting, or amusing. The plot of the story doesn’t matter as much as what’s going on in the narrator’s head. One of my guilty pleasures is the Georgia Nicolson diary series by Louise Rennison. There are ten books, and each book has exactly the same plot. But Georgia’s voice never ceases to make me howl with laughter, to the point of abdominal pain, so I own all the books, and have read the first book several times.

Should you use it? First person will work better for you if you have a history in acting. You need to become the character and find his or her voice, not just replicate your own. I could listen to Benedict Cumberbatch read the back of a cereal box and be hanging on his every word. Because he has a great voice. If you can 1) take a menial task and 2) make it interesting and not boring for 3) readers that aren’t on your Christmas list, then you could probably write first person successfully. Just don’t include the cereal boxes in your manuscript.

Another thing to remember about first person is that if the narrator wasn’t physically present for an event, it can only be depicted through after-the-fact dialogue, or seeing it on the news, or some other way of portraying the action. If it’s an important scene, the narrator HAS to be present for it, or the reader will feel cheated. If it’s not an important scene, consider summarizing. If it’s important but the narrator is unconscious or dead, then you’re going to have to switch narrators.

Third Person Omniscient

Pronouns: he, she, it, they, his, hers, her, their, theirs, him, them

Number of heads: limitless. Omniscient means “all-knowing,” so an omniscient narrator can see into everyone’s thoughts. Omniscient narrators are also omnipresent, so they can go to any time or place. If you’re trying to establish a setting by using people as texture, then you can consider starting with omniscient and segue into limited omniscient.

Intimacy: Omniscient is the least intimate. The more heads the narrator jumps into, the weaker the connection the reader has with anyone. However, in comedy, you might want that comic distance.

Presentational vs representational: Omniscient narration is the most presentational. In real life, there’s no way you can see into everyone’s thoughts. (You aren’t Bruce Almighty.) Since it’s presentational, your narrator needs to be just as well crafted as a first-person narrator. The narrator can have a neutral point of view, but the writing style still needs to be interesting.

Story vs. Style: The reason to write omniscient is to see into other’s heads. If you’re going into more than one head, then the story has to carry the reader through the transition, or else the narrator does. You’ve got to have a fantastic story or an incredible narrator to justify not focusing on one character.

Should you use it? If you’re hilarious, yes. If not, just pick one or two heads and go with limited omniscience. Epic fantasy can sometimes get away with omniscience, but the most successful bits of epic fantasy are told in limited third. Readers want to get attached to characters. Let them.

Third Person Limited Omniscient

Pronouns: he, she, it, they, his, hers, her, their, theirs, him, them

Number of heads: Just one per scene, but technically limitless.

Intimacy: The more time we spend in a character’s head, the more intimate it gets. Which means the fewer the POV characters, the better. Remember in part 1 when I talked about filtering and deep vs light penetration? Limited third person allows the reader to experience things not just as a friend of the protagonist, like in first person, but as the protagonist. I talk a bit more about it in part 3.

Presentational vs representational: A limited omniscient third person narrator is the least presentational apart from the cinematic narrator. It is generally neutral about the characters in the novel and will disappear during the deep penetration scenes.

Story vs. Style: Because the narrator is pretty neutral in tone, story is more important with limited third person. However, the voices of each of the POV characters still need to be distinct during deep penetration scenes.

Should you use it? Limited Third Person is the novel standard because it’s the best of all worlds. It allows you to pick more than one POV character if necessary. But please, don’t give every secondary and tertiary character their own few paragraphs in the spotlight. It’s annoying. Writers using limited omniscience third person effectively will limit the omniscience and the number of persons involved.

Third Person Objective/Cinematic

Pronouns: he, she, it, they, his, hers, her, their, theirs, him, them

Number of heads: Zero. Any thoughts and emotions have to be shown through speech or actions. The narrator is silent and objective.

Intimacy: While this doesn’t sound very intimate, because we never see anybody’s thoughts, it’s as intimate as you can get with people in real life. Readers feel connected to the characters because they get to know them by their words and actions, not by the perception of a narrator. We never get into Darcy’s head, but how many people have fallen in love with Mr. Darcy?

Presentational vs representational: Representational, for the above.

Story vs. Style: It’s difficult to do objective narration well, without boring your readers to death. It really is showing versus telling. Nobody tells the reader what to think of certain characters, the reader has to figure them all out, even the protagonist. Things have to happen to the characters in order for them react, so story is important. But figuring out how to flesh out all of the characters while not commenting on them might take some figuring.

Should you use it? If you’re the next Hemingway, go for it. He did it. Whether he was successful or not is up to the readers. But if it doesn’t work for you, try writing limited third person instead of blowing your brains out.

Actually I’m reading a book right now that is written in first person, but the love interest had been written in an objective way for the first part of the book. And it’s spectacular. The protagonist mentioned what she observed this guy doing, and what he said, but she never commented on him or his actions. I was able to get to know him apart from her opinions. And that meant that I, as reader, was able to “fall in love” at the same time as the protagonist. Of course, later on, she realizes that she loves him, and then starts describing him from a biased point of view, but until that point, any opinions were completely my own. What a refreshing change from the books that assume you have to like a character just because the narrator keeps telling you to! Bottom line: experiment with objective storytelling, showing who a character is rather than telling what he is.

Read Part Three: Examples of the Different POVs.

POV Part 1—intro (Person)

POV part 1—introduction to person | writelarawrite

From Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway:

“[Point of view] ultimately concerns the relationship among writer, characters, and reader. Who speaks? To whom? In what form? At what distance from the action?”

Today is my first in a short series on Point of View. First, an introduction to terms. Next, a comparison of the different choices of narration. Then, examples of each type. As always, feel free to ask any questions in the comments!


  1. Pronouns
  2. First Person
  3. Third Person
  4. Presentational and Representational
  5. Penetration and Filtering
  6. Combining POVs


Pronouns are words that we use in place of nouns so we don’t sound tediously repetitive and so we can tell the difference between ourselves and others. First person pronouns refer to ourselves—I, me, my, we, us, our. Second person pronouns are directed at someone or a group of people—you, your (singular and plural). Third person pronouns refer to someone else—he, she, it, him, her, they, them, their, his, its.

Most books are written in third person. The protagonist (main character) is he or she or it or they. Many are written in first person, with the narrator being the “I” talking. This is more common in YA novels. Very few are written in second person, but choose-your-own-ending books and some short fiction will be written in second person. Recipes and directions are written in second person, and so are advertisements, so writing with “you” as the protagonist comes off feeling commercial.

First- and third-person narratives can be divided further. Note, the following terms for categories have been borrowed from Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. I recommend picking up a copy of the book for a reference if you want to know more than what I’ll be posting in the next week. The following information is a summary of her sections of point of view, mixed with other knowledge I’ve picked up over time.

First Person

There are two types of first person:

  • Central narration
  • Peripheral narration

In central narration, the protagonist is the narrator. The narrator is present for every action, and the action revolves around him or her. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is written with a first person, central narration.

Less common, but still prevalent, is peripheral narration, in which the narrator is not the protagonist, but is attached to the protagonist enough to tell a story about him or her. Examples of peripheral narrators are Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby and Dr. Watson in the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Third Person

There are three types of third person narration: omniscient, limited omniscient, and objective or cinematic narration.

An omniscient narrator is not limited by time, place, or person. It can jump into the minds of any person, can sum up the history of 500 years in a few lines, and can change from place to place. Because the omniscient narrator is attached to no single person in particular, it is detached from everyone. Think of a person with few friends but hundreds of acquaintances. Or a politician, because omniscient narrators also call attention to themselves.

A limited omniscient narrator can see into the mind of just one character at a time. It may switch to a different character in a new scene or chapter, but it sticks to one person. Think of a parrot sitting on the shoulder of a pirate. It sees what that pirate sees, and the pirate might speak his thoughts aloud to the parrot, for no one else to hear. The parrot can then land on somebody else’s shoulder and have a similar relationship. This parrot may or may not share the views of the pirate, and might speak differently. Likewise the narrator’s voice can be separate from the POV character. (I’ll get more into limited omniscient narration and its subcategories in the next post).

An objective or cinematic narrator is neutral and never sees into anyone’s mind. Think of a fly on a wall, observing what is going on. Or a Vulcan journalist, that has no emotional connection to any of the characters in order to have a bias. Feelings and motivations of the characters can only be gleaned from their actions and dialogue.

Presentational and Representational

(These terms are borrowed from Characters and Viewpoint, an insightful read by a now infamous author.) “Presentational” and “representational” are related to how visible the narrator is in fiction. Representation pretends to be real—it represents real life. The narrator is invisible. Presentation acknowledges it isn’t real—it presents the story to the reader. The narrator has a distinct voice and may interfere with or comment on the story as it happens. The narrator in Stranger than Fiction isn’t just presentational, she’s present in the story.

It’s difficult to use movies as examples for the presentational/representational dichotomy, because like theatre, nearly all movies are presentational, whether they have a narrator or not. They might have some similarities to real life, if they are a mockumentary or are first-person filmed (like Cloverfield or The Blair Witch Project). But movies are generally unrealistic in form, which is why adding in representational elements like shaky-cam or lens flares can sometimes seem awkward and out of place. It’s presentation masquerading as representation.

So when we are talking about presentational or representational fiction, we’re talking about what the narrator is doing. Is the narrator saying, “I present to you, THIS STORY”? Or is the narrator silent? Usually these terms are only applied to third-person narrators, because first-person narrators are both. Sort of.

Penetration and Filtering

I know.


But Card distinguishes between light penetration and deep penetration when talking about Third Person limited omniscience. If you’ve ever taken a writing class or read about strengthening your fiction, you’ve probably heard of filtering. (Actually, I thought I’d written a post about it, but not yet, apparently.) If you’re using filtering language, then the reader is experiencing the character experiencing something.

If you read, “Abraham Lincoln saw snowflakes out the window,” you’re probably picturing a window with snowflakes falling down, the view slightly obstructed by the president’s trademark stovepipe hat. But if you read, “Abraham Lincoln went to the window. Snowflakes were falling and sticking to the glass,” you see Mr. President going to the window, and then you see what he is seeing, for yourself. The first example was light penetration. The second was deep penetration.

But you can eliminate all filtering and still have light penetration. Light penetration just means you aren’t inside the brain of a character all the time. The narrator shows up and gives you a bit of a break. With deep penetration, every thought is that of the protagonist. It’s like you’ve switched to first person, but the pronouns are still third person. Save deep penetration for intense scenes—remove the narrator and replace it with the unfiltered thoughts of the protagonist. When the scene is over, then you can bring the narrator in again. (I’ll illustrate this more in Part 3. Feel free to ask questions if I’m being confusing or vague!)

Combining POVs

You can combine these POVs in a single work. You could tell a frame story, starting out in third person, and then have one of the characters tell most of the novel in first person, concluding again in third person once the story is finished (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner). Or you can switch back and forth between first and third, telling two different stories simultaneously (Tamar: A Novel of Espionage, Passion, and Betrayal).

However, if you do switch between different points of view, your section headings should alert the reader to a change, and you might consider using different tenses for each section, to further separate the two. In both examples given above, the more recent story was written in present tense (I am, he is) and the older story was written in past tense (he was, they went).

If you write the entire novel in first person but from different points of view of different characters, you might have some use past tense and some use present, like in The Poisonwood Bible.

Sound weird to write in present tense? People do it all the time when telling their own stories:

So I’m sitting in this bar, minding my own business, when this guy comes up to me and says, “Hey! You look just like Lisa Loeb!” And then he starts singing. “You say, I only hear what I want to. Youuuuu…saaaay…I only hear what I want to.” He doesn’t know the rest of the song, just that line.

Just remember, CONSISTENCY IS KEY. Tone, objectivity, and viewpoint need to remain consistent per scene. Unless you are extremely gifted and are writing spectacular omniscient narration, no head-hopping!

Read Part Two: Comparison of Different POVs.