Writer’s Tip: All About POV

 

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Point of View. It can change everything. In the most literal sense, POV is the decision of who is narrating your novel, and what they see. POV also refers to the individual viewpoint of your characters, and ultimately, your readers. So where do you start? Well, that’s why I’ve written this article. We will explore the three standard POV options available to every writer, their advantages, disadvantages, and how to choose which one is best for you.  Let’s get started.

 

First Person POV

I stepped into the room on hesitant feet. Leander, the great Lion King of the river valley lay half-in-shadow at the back corner of the room, his tawny paws illuminated by a shaft of light filtering in through the high windows. His sable tail thumped once, twice, in the haze of dust motes, and my breath caught in my chest. I shouldn’t be here.

First person POV is denoted by the use of “I”, “My”, “Me”, “Mine”, “We”, “Us” as the narrator. Usually the narrator is the main character/s, or a close companion to the main character/s. This POV can be used with more than one character, but it’s usually recommended that the cast narrating the story be limited as much as possible–usually only one or two characters. The more characters involved in narrating, the harder it becomes to create distinct voices—but it can be done.

The Pros:

  • The “I” POV feels natural to both the author and the reader. People tend to think in terms of “I” throughout their life. This makes the story easy to sink into.
  • You usually only have to deal with the POV of one or two characters, making it easier to define a very distinctive and personal narrative voice.
  • The character’s POV you are narrating from can be an unreliable narrator—because you can only show the POV of the character currently narrating—it becomes easy to lie to your audience and create tension and conflict through mystery. However, even when your narrator is unreliable, your audience won’t feel betrayed because it’s generally understood that they are limited to the view of the current narrator.
  • Stories told in 1st person POV feel  more personal and engaging, and pull your reader in almost immediately. The very personal narration spurs on a sense of kinship between the reader and the narrator.

The Cons:

  • You can only write about what the current character sees or experiences. This can lead to difficulty understanding the other characters in the story, as your audience can’t hop into their head to see their thoughts or opinions, nor see/experience what they see/experience.
  • The character you choose to narrate your story through must always be present in, or observing the scene. If they leave the room, the audience leave the room too. If the character falls asleep, the scene fades to darkness.
  • Your audience can assume that no matter what, your narrator is going to survive the story—because if they didn’t, they couldn’t tell the story. There are a few exceptions (If the character is a ghost etc), but this is generally true.
  • Describing your main character can be challenging. You can’t very well have your character outright tell the audience what they look like, so details like appearances have to be revealed naturally through little tidbits hidden in the action of the story—or through verbal observations of other characters.

Second Person POV

You step into the room on hesitant feet. Leander, the great Lion King of the river valley lay half-in-shadow at the back corner of the room, his tawny paws illuminated  by a shaft of light filtering in through the high windows. His sable tail thumps once, twice, in the haze of dust motes, and your breath catches in your chest.  You shouldn’t be here.

Second Person POV is denoted by the use of “You” and “Your” in the narrative. The narrator is the author, telling the reader what he is seeing and experiencing. This POV puts the reader into the story, but it is extremely limiting in that the reader actually becomes a character in the story, and therefore the narrative must always follow the reader throughout the story. It is not recommended that this POV be used. Though in the past there have been a small portion of authors who have been able to successfully use Second Person POV, the list is miniscule. The exception, is with Choose Your Own Adventures—in which this is the natural POV to use. Otherwise, I’d highly recommend against using this POV.

Side note: Second Person POV is always written in present tense.

The Pros:

  • It’s quirky and eccentric, and the author can address the reader directly.

The Cons:

  • Most readers find this POV to be bossy and obtrusive. It’s not fun to have someone tell you what you’re seeing and experiencing—even saying without your permission. It tends to rankle, and can be found to be distracting.
  • This POV is so quirky that it practically shouts “look at me, I think I’m clever by being out side the box!” It reeks of stubbornness, and after awhile will grate on the nerves of your reader.
  • Most professional publishers will not even consider a story written in second person POV.

Third Person POV

Third Person POV (Limited) – The Narrator is limited to ONE character at a time.

She stepped into the room on hesitant feet. Leander, the great Lion King of the river valley lay half-in-shadow at the back corner of the room, his tawny paws illuminated by a shaft of light filtering in through the high windows. His sable tail thumped once, twice, in the haze of dust motes, and Khet’s breath caught in her chest. She wasn’t supposed to be there.

Third Person POV (Omniscient) – The Narrator can be a multitude of characters all at once.

She stepped into the room on hesitant feet. Leander, the great Lion King of the river valley lay half-in-shadow at the back corner of the room, his tawny paws illuminated by a shaft of light filtering in through the high windows. He could hear Khet’s dainty steps on the stone floor, and his ear twitched in the darkness where she could not see. He waited for her to step closer. His sable tail thumped once, twice, in the haze of dust motes, and Khet’s breath caught in her chest. She wasn’t supposed to be there.

There are two types of Third Person POV: Limited, and Omniscient. Third Person POV is usually denoted by the use of “He”, “She”, “Her”, “His”, “Their”, “They”, “Them”, “It”. Like First Person POV, Third Person POV is a natural tone of narration used in story telling. It can be used with a multitude of characters, and is possibly one of the easiest forms of POV to write in.

The Pros:

  • (Both) : The narrator can be any one of a multitude of characters, offering up multiple views on any scene.
  • (Both) : Enables conflict/tension/secrets between the characters while allowing the reader to be privy to the story’s secrets
  • (Both) : The reader is less likely to get bored because they are not confined to just one character’s personality. This allows for the author to delve into even the villain of the story’s head for a short time without offending the reader.
  • (Both) : The scenery of the story can be more vast because the characters don’t have to stay together throughout the story. They can even be separated by a continent.
  • (Limited) : The story can concentrate on the major character much like the First Person POV if need be, allowing for an unreliable narrator when needed.

The Cons:

  • (Omniscient) : Your reader may become easily confused unless every voice is distinctive.
  • (Omniscient) : The flow/impact of your story may be softened by too many view points.
  • (Omniscient) : It’s easy to become too lazy and begin narrating as the author rather than as the characters.

Which POV Should I Use?

The short answer is: whichever POV best tells your story. It all depends on the type of story you’re trying to tell. For instance: For Choose-Your-Own-Adventures, you’d probably want to use a Second Person POV. For Biographies, Memoirs, Literary pieces, or very personal narratives, you may want to stick to First Person POV. For stories that contain a lot of characters, or a group of characters that are separated by a distance, Third Person POV may be better.

The point is: Choose what you’re most comfortable with, and what works best for your story—and then stick to it. Never, EVER, mix the different POV’s in a single story.

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8 thoughts on “Writer’s Tip: All About POV

  1. I have a major gripe with the way some authors use third person omniscient – head hopping. Take for example a paragraph that starts in Tom’s head. The first two or three lines are Tom’s point of view. It is very jarring if the next sentence in the paragraph slips into Joan’s head. Writing like this means the reader must stop, go back, reread, – confusion and irritation ensue and that is the best way to have readers pitch your book against a wall – just saying.

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