Point of View
Everyone sees the world from a unique perspective, or point of view (POV). If you’re vertically challenged as I am, you’ll likely experience life a bit differently than, say, an NBA player would.
In writing this is also true. Now, a reader’s height doesn’t matter so much when stepping into a book, but how a reader views a story does matter.
How do you know which POV to choose?The best advice I can give is this: choose whichever POV will serve your story and your voice best. Play around with different options. Try them on until you find the perfect fit.
Types of POVs
- First Person
- Second Person**
- Third Person Limited
**A tip on Second Person: the overwhelming advice in the publishing industry these days is: don’t write in Second Person (You step out your front door. A dog charges you from across the lawn.). For simplicity, I won’t go into detail on this POV here. It’s very difficult to write from this POV well, though it does make for an interesting writing challenge.
First Person is very popular in a lot of current YA books. It puts the reader directly inside the main character’s head, and the only thing the reader can experience is what that character experiences.
You can write this way with any verb tense, but the most common are past and present.
A present-tense first person POV gives you the most immediacy, placing the reader directly in the action, as it happens.
Pronouns: I, me, we, us, our, etc.
Example: “When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.” —The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Third Person Limited
Third Person Limited is the next most popular choice these days. It’s very similar to First Person, as you are still experiencing the story through one character’s perspective at a time. However, there is a thin layer of separation between the character and the reader.
The separation allows for a bit more narrative to be woven in, which means you can provide necessary information that might not be a direct thought from a character. Use this carefully! The idea is to keep the reader IN the story. You don’t want to draw attention to yourself as the writer.
This can also be done in various tenses, but it is more common to write in past tense.
Pronouns: he, she, they, them, their, etc.
Example: “The screw through Cinder’s ankle had rusted, the engraved cross marks worn to a mangled circle.” —Cinder by Marissa Meyer
While what is referred to as the Omniscient POV is also technically in third person, it’s important to note some key differences from Third Person Limited.
Omniscience, by its very nature and definition (“all-knowing”) is not limited.
This POV opens up the author to all sorts of options–after all, if you know everything, why shouldn’t you share it? The omniscient narrator has a significant layer of separation from the characters, and can move between them at will. This allows the reader to learn about what’s happening in many different places throughout the story world, without restricting them to one or two character’s heads for the duration.
A word of warning: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Spiderman’s Uncle Ben was onto something there. Omniscience can get tricky–and confusing–fast if you’re not a careful writer. It’s best to stay with one character’s thoughts per scene or chapter, otherwise you might get caught up in what’s known as “head hopping,” which can give your readers whiplash. Make sure it’s really clear who’s thoughts we’re reading at a particular time.
When done right, Omniscient POV stories can be quite charming, and very engaging.
Pronouns: he, she, they, them, their, etc.
Example: “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” —Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Now that we have a basic list to work with, I’m curious: which POV style you have come across most often. Is there one that you prefer when reading or writing? Tell us in the comments!
Dana, signing off to go choose a POV for her newest story.
3 thoughts on “Fantastic Perspectives: How to Choose the Right POV”
I definitely prefer first person when reading because it does the best job of putting me in the character’s head. I read a second person pov book not too long ago (Julie Eshbaugh’s Ivory and Bone), and it took some getting used to. I don’t think it’s a pov I’d want to read all the time, but in this case it worked.
Oh, that’s really interesting about Ivory and Bone, Kim! Do you prefer writing in first person, too, then?
Definitely, and for the same reason as I like reading first person. You get deeper into the character’s head.
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