POV Rules:

Point of View is usually abbreviated as P-O-V. What is POV?  It is through whose eyes are you seeing the scene unfold.  In other words, the mechanism by which you let the reader learn the details on setting, character, dialogue.  These details are what you use to drive the plot forward.  The person through whose eyes we see the unfolding action is the viewpoint character (VPC). 

So the reader doesn’t become confused - one POV per scene.

The technique with using multiple viewpoints is to use one at a time--one per scene, or one per segment, or one per chapter. This way the reader can settle into the VPC’s head, and get on with the story.  With one POV, the reader can get comfortable and understand the VPC. In many cases--such as when the reader gets to peek inside the head of the arch-villain--this comes as a welcome shift, revealing information, thus setting a ‘hook’ into the story. Timing, here as in various other pursuits, is everything.

At its most basic, a reader is entitled to the courtesy of having a single head at a time to occupy--a single, well, Point Of View. It does create some technical difficulties when you, the author, wish to give me, the reader, more information than I'm entitled to have--such as what the other guy is thinking in response to what the scene VPC has said or done--but that's why there are amateur writers and professionals.

First on Stage has the POV.

The convention is that the first character in a given scene is the one the reader can expect to be the VPC for that scene; the reader gets testy, often without realizing it, if he or she gets fooled on that. It is a way to make the reader uncomfortable, and, to a lesser degree, not trust the author.

Do not shift POVs in the same scene.

Once the reader get comfortable inside one skull, then, bamm! He or she is knocked into another brain. Whoa, goes the reader, why can't this writer stick to giving me one person's viewpoint at a time?  Just think of a sparrow who got caught in a badminton game.  This kind of intellectual jerking around is enough to make a reader set your novel aside.

POV shifting within a scene is, therefore, against the law because it confuses the reader and leaves him or her not knowing with whom he or she is supposed to identify at any given moment. It is also poor writing, for the author hasn’t bothered with the boring technical details such as structured plotting and blabs whatever is needed by simply tapping in on whomever it is convenient to do so, any time the author so needs.  This technique is called authorial omniscient. All knowing and all telling, all too often.

Another character may look, but only the VPC can see, as others may listen but only the VPC can hear. Only the VPC can note anything--not another character in the scene. The VPC may hazard a guess at somebody's odd behavior. It's expectable that he would ask what's wrong, even. But we as readers are not allowed to peek into another character's mind and be told specifically that he's noting anything.

Tip:  If you are having trouble keeping things straight as you use your chosen POV, try ‘labeling’ each scene--which character it is who is ‘center stage.’  In other words, who is the main character of that scene.  Then look at the other characters, just as your VPC is doing, then you should more clearly see the scene as your write it. Sort of taking on the character in the scene, where you don't have know what is going on in anybody else's head but your own.

Sometimes you'll run across a scene where the author has cleverly shifted POV on you, only you don't even notice until later. The most usual example that comes to mind is when the VPC leaves the room but the scene inside the room goes on without him. Timing, again, dictates a bridge section of non-VPC specific text until the author gently insinuates the reader into one of the other character's heads.

Be careful if you do this, because you must keep the reader comfortable – and lulled into a sense of security.  This means the ‘hand-off’ from one POV to another must be done smoothly, which keeps the reader in the story.  The danger is that the author might surprise, or drop the reader on his or her head by an awkward writer’s "trick." If done properly, the reader can relax and go on with the story, knowing what’s happening.

Remember, you, the writer, must then spin the best yarn he or she can. If you do, and it works the way it should, your readers will rise up and bless you.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why some writers are excellent actors, and vice-versa. They've had lots of practice.

Point of View - more...

How many different types of POV?  Umm, I think there are six POVs used by writers.  There are more, but...  Here are the six, listed in order of use or popularity:

Third person limited (intimate)

First person limited (intimate)

Authorial omniscient

Third person omniscient

Third person objective

Essayist omniscient

Okay, some of the others – kind of a sub-set of POVs

Internal, composite

Internal, Detached Narrator (omniscient)

External, full omniscience (oh, God!)

If this sounds complicated, be patient – it isn’t as bad as it seems.

Realize that the vast majority of fiction writers use either Third Person Limited or First Person Limited.  The rest of the different POVs are usable to a greater or lesser degree, however, have shortcomings.

In third-person limited POV means viewing the landscape through one set of eyes per scene. "Limited" means just that--both author and reader are constrained to one set of perceptions for that scene (no matter how good Jane is at it, she can't know or say what Joe is seeing or thinking; she can report only what she sees or hears. Next scene, Joe can see and/or think for himself--and his perceptions may be altogether different from hers).

First person limited (also called ‘intimate’) POV is a technical challenge.  When this works, it works well. When it bombs, it is a disaster.  It can be hard to market if an editor has had too many close encounters with first person bombs.

The marketability of a first person narrative depends on how you tell the story.  Properly used, 1st Person POV is very powerful for revealing inner feelings, opinions and ideas, i.e., an ‘intimate’ POV.  This technique gets the reader very close to the VPC, and lets the reader know that character extremely well.  If properly done, you will develop a sympathetic character, and your readers will love your character. 

However, there are problems of revealing physical details of the VPC.   For example, beginning writers using first person POV sometimes fall into the "manly chest and lush breast" trap, producing such memorable lines such as:  I crushed the maiden to my broad, manly chest--or, I gathered the warrior to my ripe, bounteous bosom--or, My softly curling blonde hair fell cascading to my tiny waist. 

OY VEY! These types of narrative descriptions border on techniques used in poorly written porn.

Third-person omniscient is a widely-accepted and used POV.  An unnamed narrator (a persona of the author) tells the story who can get into the mind and thoughts of any character, though he or her focuses primarily on no more than two or three. This gives the writer the greatest range and freedom. The narrator can speak in his or her own voice, filling in necessary background or offering objective observations; yet when the scene is intense and her presence would be intrusive, he or she can slip into third-person limited POV, thus vanishing from the reader's consciousness.

Third person omniscient POV is versatile, and by extension, easy on both reader and author. The reader doesn't have to work so hard at remembering through whose consciousness he or she receives the story.  Also, the author may switch scenes (and consciousnesses) to explore information from a previous viewpoint character (VPC) had no access to or any right to know. In other words, this way, the reader is in on the whole plot--frequently knows more about the situation than does the Hero--and thus is even more deeply involved when the Hero goes blundering into the morass the reader knows about and the Hero doesn't.

Authorial omniscient is all knowing and all telling, many times too often.  Authorial omniscient can be handled well, the trouble being it so seldom is. For a while authorial-omniscient viewpoint-­calm, wise, all-knowing, non-judging--was in great favor. But this one is tough to carry off; in addition, there's the problem of the reader having to cope with the author looking into any character's mind, more or less at will. Alas for those who would fall back on this technique anyway, knowing or unknowing, the reader nowadays expects to have to cope with only a single pair of eyes through which to see the fictional world, a single pair of ears with which to hear, a single set of thoughts in anyone given scene. That's all that any of us have anyway, which is why the authorial omniscient unlimited POV went out of favor long ago.

Less commonly used POVs:

Third person limited (or third person subjective) starts out in one head and stays there throughout the work. Its forced intimacy is as restricting in its own way as first person limited and, because of this, is not often used nowadays except for mystery novels. Here the constrictions work well for the type of story involved.

In third person objective POV the narrator stays coldly aloof, never penetrating below the surfaces of her characters. It is hard to think of a contemporary example of third person objective prose, as it is not only cold but also not attractive to a reader because of its lack of involvement on both sides of the page-­writer and reader alike.

Essayist-omniscient is the voice of a person--the disguise the author has adopted for the purpose of telling that particular story. "Tales told around the fire" are prime examples of the essayist-omniscient tone and voice.  The difficulty with this is the tendency for the story to sound like a lecture, or ‘telling’ what’s happening.  Reads like a newspaper article.

Here are some the other sub-set POVs, with examples:

Internal, Secondary Character: Jane called and said she was delighted to hear that I had suddenly come into great wealth, and asked if I could come over to help her celebrate.

Internal, Composite (or Multiple): Memo from Jane to Joe: I just heard that my lottery ticket won; will you come over and help me celebrate? Memo from Joe to Jane: My pleasure. What time?  Ugh!

Internal, Detached Narrator: I could see that Jane was simply delighted to learn that she had suddenly become wealthy, and I wasn't the least bit surprised when I heard her call Joe to come over to celebrate, and when Joe ran all the way, the impetuous love-sick fool.  Sort of authorial omniscience.

External, Full Omniscience: Jane was delighted at the news about the lottery win, and when Joe realized how rich she was, he galloped all the way over to help her celebrate, and didn't even use a horse.  Not recommended.  Too God-like.

External, Limited Omniscience: Because he thought Jane would be delighted at the news about her winning ticket, Joe hurried to help her celebrate.

External, Detached Omniscience: Joe approached Jane in the gazebo. "Why did you come over?" she asked. "Because I think you must feel like celebrating," he replied. "I do," said Jane. "I am truly elated at the news that I am now rich beyond the wildest dreams of avarice."  Not recommended.