I'm writing a sci-fi novel with more than one main character. Since I'm not an experienced writer, I still struggle with some basic "rules" within writing that may or may not exist.

This issue is regarding the way I describe the people around the main characters. The two main characters could be described as follows:

"David", Young Man - approximately 22 years old.
"Carly", Young Girl - approximately 8 years old.

Obviously, the dialogue plays a huge role in depicting an authentic person af a certain age and personalty, but I want the POV to influence the descriptions and so on, if that is "allowed".

I think what I want is a simplified descriptive language, to simulate the way a child sees the world.


These are examples to give an idea of one of the ways I wish to show the age (and world perception) differences between the two characters. The focus here is on the way I refer to the parents. If done successfully, the young POV will show "the feeling of there only being one Mom and one Dad" - that I believe almost all children feel up until a certain age.


"Thanks" said David and hugged his mom "I've missed this". As he walked down the hallway, he could hear his father singing to himself, the way he always did when he thought no-one was listening. His father had always been told he was a great singer, but had never truly believed it himself.


Carly laid in her bed wondering if the cat would be in the backyard again today. "Honey, is the magic ready yet?" mom said in the hallway. Carly knew that mom was talking about the morning coffee, and expected the usual "The wizard's a brewin'!" from dad. It took longer than usual for dad to answer.

So, the actual question could be phrased as followed:

Am I free to change my descriptive language when changing POVs?

In this case I fear that I'm letting my younger character's POW influence the descriptions in a way that is not allowed or frowned upon. I of course want to give my readers a fluent and immersive experience, and if this method makes them see the things and people around the characters the way the characters would, then perfect. If it breaks the immersion or in any other way makes the reader go "what?", I'd like to know that as soon as possible...


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    I think it's not that children think there are only one mom and dad, I think children see mom and dad as the names of their parents. Therefore, when the child is talking about her parents, I would capitalize the words mom and dad to show that.
    – Noralie
    Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 15:07

4 Answers 4


yes, and in fact I encourage this. If it's from a child's POV, try to use a child's language, understand and perspective.

Don't stress so much about what's "allowed." Do what seems to work for your story. Talk to your beta readers after it's done and polished. Get impressions from your readers before second-guessing yourself. The concept of what's "allowed" in fiction is so fungible as to be nearly useless in practice. What's allowed is what works, period. If you can make it work, the reader will allow it.

(Think I'm exaggerating? Someone on this board recommended a story told from the viewpoint of a sentient pregnancy test. And it worked.)

  • It did feel natural, and so far my readers have yet to comment it. I will definitely keep it and possibly do similar things in other situations. I'm aware that what is "allowed" is not conclusive, but still, there may be (un)spoken rules about this sort of thing. Thank you!
    – storbror
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 12:34

Am I free to change my descriptive language when changing POVs?

Absolutely (leaving aside the fact that you are free to do whatever you wish–it is your story), and I agree with Lauren Ipsum, that it might help you achieve the desired effect if emphasized properly (the text excerpts you have given are neither a miss nor a hit–at least for me–they could belong to any of the characters you describe, and saying mom instead if his mom could be attributed to a just a matter of personal style).

I also happen to agree with Mark Baker, who seems to think that it is not necessary. Using artificially impaired language (especially in a 3-rd person description) can have an exactly opposite effect and distract your readers instead of helping to engage them.

I would start with trying to make your narrative language coherent and neutral–you can always spice it up in revision.

The dialog is where you should watch the vocabulary, sentence structure, and such (once again to a certain degree, because people in fiction tend to communicate more eloquently than in real life). Fourteen years of age difference will have a very noticeable impact on how your two characters would talk.

  • I may not have made it clear enough that the dialogue would be more different than the descriptions and so on, which it will of course. Thank you for a good answer!
    – storbror
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 15:17

Mark Baker's response more-or-less says it all. Let me rephrase some of it:

A book always has just one POV, namely that of the author, who is not necessarily a character. Then, the author may pretend to have to POV of a character. But there is no rule saying that the author must pretend. The choice is yours.

My own sentiment is that if we are reading the character's mind, then use language suited to the character. But if the text is merely an external observation, then use neutral language. Thus:

Carly saw her mother, and said, "Hi, mom." (Neutral description, since it can been seen externally.)

Carly thought her mom looked kinda grody today. (In Carly's thoughts, so not neutral.)

  • That's an interesting way to put it. This 'issue' is not a major concern of mine, but merely an uncertainty I found interesting. I realize, when going through my actual text, that I have a setup more often similar to your examples, than the one in my initial question, though both exist. Thank you for your answer!
    – storbror
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 15:49
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    POV and narrator's voice are different things. Characters have POVs, authors have the narrator's voice. It's just the accepted terminology whether you agree with it or not.
    – Lew
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 17:39
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    @Lew That's correct, but the OP appeared to be mingling terms. So I mingled them some more, by way of (?) clarification.
    – user23046
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 18:09
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    I am not arguing your point of view, but "A book always has one POV" is simply against the accepted terminology. It is not a clarification. It's like saying that red and yellow are complimentary colors.
    – Lew
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 18:16

There are no rules. There is a lot of advice. Some of it is good. Some of it is bad. A lot of it is generalized inappropriately. There are also a lot of conventions which it is safer to follow unless it is necessary to break them, since breaking them always creates a difficulty for which other qualities in your story then have to compensate. So don't part with convention unless you gain more than you lose by doing so. But conventions are not rules and should not be mistaken for them.

Now, here is a piece of advice that may be right or wrong or over generalized: Don't focus on language. Yes, language is important, but is is not nearly as important as story. And most audiences are not nearly as sensitive to the subtleties of language or to language quality as most writers would like to believe. (Evidence: Dan Brown)

While a child's language is certainly immature, that is in a real sense incidental. What is really distinctive about a child is the way they see the world. Different things draw a child's attention. They interpret events differently. They value different things. It it these things that truly define a child's POV.

Creating a child character with adult concerns and an adult view of events described in childish language will sound false (and is a very common fault in books that use a child's POV). Using adult language to describe things through the lense of a child's concerns and viewpoint can work brilliantly. A perfect example of this is To Kill a Mockingbird. It is certainly not written in the diction of an eight year old. It uses elegant and delightful prose to describe a child's experience in a way that is absolutely authentic to the child's experience and concerns.

In the hands of a great writer, playing games with language can have great effects, but if you look carefully, you will see this is actually very rare. Great writers often use an elevated diction, but that diction is generally simple, lucid, and effective, not complex or gimmicky. What really sets a great writer apart, though, is the storytelling. Language is the vehicle by which the story is transmitted. It is not a special effect. You want your reader to be immersed in the story, and for that a clear and consistent transmission generally works best.

As Robert McKee remarks in Story, there are millions of people who can write beautiful sentences. There are very few who can tell great stories. Worry less about language and more about story.

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    did you ever read Charly/Flowers for Algernon? I'd be curious to know your opinion of that style and whether you think it worked. Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 15:09
  • Thank you for your answer @MarkBaker! You make some valid points. I in no way mean for the descriptions to be crippled or unclear because of the young POV. Also I expect to primarily rely on dialogue to be "limited" by her age.
    – storbror
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 15:15
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    @laurenipsum I think it worked well in that case and was integral to the story and the telling. But I think it is also a rare bird, perhaps even a genre of one.
    – user16226
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 15:15
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    @LaurenIpsum in Flowers for Algernon ever-changing language patterns were a powerful and brilliantly executed method of delivery of the story, the literary device, arguably paramount to the whole narrative. It was also written in first-person, if memory serves me correctly, thus giving it a more powerful impact. As I said, it only works if done well.
    – Lew
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 15:29

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