Carter Wilson | Thriller Author

Choosing which point-of-view to write from is one of the most fundamental decisions an author has to make, well before a single word is put to page. And like all rules a writer “has” to follow, the POV rules are made to be broken. The only thing that matters is the answer to this question: Does it work? For example, one steadfast “rule” we often hear is that you can never shift POVs in a single scene, yet I was revisiting a James Clavell novel the other day and he did just that. And you know what? It worked.

The POV choice can be an analytical one, a detailed consideration of how much the author wants both the character and reader to know, which bits of information best service the story, and what viewpoints create the most tension. Hitchcock’s bomb under the table device suggests an omniscient POV works best when you want the reader to see dangers the characters cannot, and it can be used to great effect. Others would argue that by staying only within the protagonist’s POV, the reader becomes much closer to the character, which, when done well, is a great way to up the stakes.

Yet I’ve learned over the course of thirteen novels (including the first three that didn’t sell) that POV should be less a practical decision than an empathetic one. I’d argue that finding the POV that works most naturally for you, the author, is synonymous with finding your voice. When I wrote my first book, I did it from a third-person, past-tense point-of-view, which just seemed like how authors wrote (I was exceptionally green at the time). And that worked fine, or at least well enough to get an agent. In fact, I wrote my first seven books from a third-person past, (mostly) singular-character POV.

But with my book Mister Tender’s Girl, I chose to write it from a first-person, present-tense singular POV. This wasn’t a long debate in my head; I had so much empathy for my character, Alice, that I couldn’t imagine writing it any other way. And when I completed the book–a novel that felt easier to write than all the others–I re-read it and thought, wow, I think that’s my voice. Eight books in, I’d finally found my fingerprints.

Since then, all my protagonists have been written from a first-person present POV, because that’s just what comes naturally to me. It’s what I’m good at, and for all the limitations inherent in that particular POV, my books are simply better because of that choice. How do I know? Because when I set out to write my 2024 release, The Father She Went To Find, I initially reverted to my old ways and told the entire story from a singular, third-person past POV. The problem was I overthought it. My protagonist, Penny Bly, was a 21-year-old female with acquired savant syndrome, and I reasoned that I couldn’t possibly get close enough to this character to write her from a first-person present perspective. Not only was I wrong in assuming that, but I actively chose a path that didn’t feel natural to me as a writer.

My editor, naturally, struggled with my initial draft of The Father She Went to Find, finding it difficult to connect with Penny. Therein I discovered the Catch-22 of my situation: I didn’t think I could get close enough to Penny to write her from an intimate POV, but by writing her from a distance I made her character that much more unrelatable to the reader. I suggested to my editor that I rewrite the first 25 pages from a first-person present POV, and on reading the revisions my editor said, “Ah, there’s Penny.” So I rewrote the 85,000-word manuscript, sentence by sentence, changing it from third-person past to first-person present. And in doing so not only did Penny fully come alive, but my voice showed up in that manuscript for the first time.

In my writing retreats and one-on-one coaching, my advice to novelists deciding on POV is to ask questions not of the story, but of themselves. Are you a person with deep wells of empathy? If so, consider choosing a POV that puts you directly inside your character at all times, because readers will gravitate to the emotion you can generate with that particular point-of-view. What POV comes most naturally to you? Perhaps take a chapter and write it a few different ways, then choose the one that feels like your voice. Most importantly, what POV do you enjoy writing? Writing is a novel is a Herculean task, so it’s critical to do it from a place of joy.

Yes, you must consider plot (to a certain extent) when choosing POV, because certain pieces of information might need to be conveyed to the reader that cannot be achieved through the preferred POV. But that might be an opportunity for a second, minor POV to be introduced, rather than bucking your natural POV choice and creating a manuscript that feels flat and disconnected. Though it may take years and many novels to do it, make no mistake: the moment you discover which POV comes most naturally to you, that’s the same moment you’ve found your voice.

New episodes of Making It Up are out! Over the past month I chatted with:

  • Tim Booth, lyricist and lead signer of James, debut novelist, and my personal hero
  • Novelist Danny Cherry, Jr.
  • New York Times bestselling author Christopher Reich 
  • Acclaimed British crime writer Louise Doughty

All episodes are available on my website, my YouTube channel, and wherever you get your favorite podcasts.

As far as I know, these are the places I’m supposed to be where you can meet me and stuff. Check my event calendar for the latest updates.

July 20, 2024
Writing Heights Conference
Fort Collins, CO

August 28-September 4, 2024
Attending Author/Panelist
Nashville, Tennessee

October 17-19, 2024
Unbound Writer Coaching Program & Retreat
Boulder, CO
Registration now open!

What’s Entertaining Me
On the Screen

Ripley (Netflix, 2024)

I keep a list of shows I want to watch, and it’s pretty unmanageable at this point. Ripley was on the list and I almost decided to take it off. After all, I’d already seen the fantastic movie adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel. The movie was great and I knew the plot, so why bother with the show?

Oh man, I’m so glad I decided to give Ripley a try, as it’s now one of my top titles in the past two years.  The reasons not to watch end up being the most compelling parts of it. Andrew Scott is way too old to play Tom Ripley, but after seeing the series I can’t imagine a more perfect actor for the role. It’s extremely slow paced…until it isn’t. This is a show that gently lures you in and then smashes you in the jaw with a crowbar. And finally, the show is filmed in black and white. That seems like a waste for the gorgeous Italian locations, but this is one of the most visually stunning shows I’ve seen in a very long time. Watch Ripley. Watch it now.

On the Page

When I Died For the First Time, Tim Booth (Constable & Robinson, 2024)

If you’ve read any of my past five or six books, you’ve likely seen song lyrics as my epigraphs. These are all from James, a British band who has been performing for over 40 years and has sold more than 25 million albums globally. I fucking love this band, and I’ve had the wonderful fortune to spend some time with Tim Booth, the lead singer and lyricist (one of my fanboy highlights with having dinner with Tim in Denver when he was on tour, and I’ve also just recently interviewed him on Making It Up.)

Tim recently released his debut novel When I Died For the First Time, an edgy, hysterical, and very emotional story of the leader of a famous alt-rock band who’s spiraling through addiction issues, volatile relationships (both romantic and within the band), the brutality of the music industry, and efforts to remain relevant. It feels like a very personal book, which are often the best kind. This is a fast, compelling, and highly satisfying read.

Tim is having a hell of a couple of months. The latest James album Yummy is their first in 40 years to hit the U.K. #1 spot, beating out Beyoncé. And Tim’s book just broke into the top 10 of The Times bestseller list. Well done, Tim!

Photo of the Month

I just came back from Thrillerfest in NYC where I played the role of both author and founder of the Unbound Writer company. What a blast the conference was! Saw loads of my writer friends, had dinner with college roommates, got to spend some quality time with my agent, taught a class on writers’ psychology, worked with debut authors, and moderated a panel on different publishing paths. Next up: Bouchercon Nashville!

Update from my Kids
Every Memorial Day my daughter and I do the Murphy Challenge, which is horrible. Here are the ingredients of this workout:

  • One-mile run
  • 100 assisted pull-ups
  • 200 pushups
  • 300 bodyweight squats
  • A second, one-mile run.

Oh, and all this time you’re supposed to be wearing a weighted vest (mine was 12 lbs). We both very nearly puked at the end.

Update from my Pets

Someone’s very happy with her new swimming pool.

Humor of the Month sent to me by a friend



Unbound Writer 2024 retreat – registration now open! There’s one in-person coaching program and writing retreat left this year. Come spend 2.5-days in Boulder, Colorado finding community, inspiration, motivation, and confidence in your writing.

October 17-19

All details and testimonials can be found here:

Early-bird discounts and scholarships available. No more excuses, no more idle dreaming. Time to make your writing dreams happen.

In addition to retreats, Unbound Writer also offers one-on-one writing coaching. I can work with you on projects of all sizes, from full-manuscript developmental editing down to weekly check-in and motivation calls. And coming very soon – online courses!

That’s it for now!

Just a reminder to subscribe to my newsletter for more content and access to contests and giveaways. Oh, and if you follow me on social media you’ll see a lot more pictures of my goddamn pets. Until next month…


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