“No decision you make will impact the shape and texture of your story more than your choice of Point of View.” – Dave Lambert
Understanding POV is a common problem amongst aspiring writers, yet it’s one of the most important decisions a writer makes. In this article, we’ll look at the different POV choices, the crucial rules and techniques of each.
WHAT IS POINT OF VIEW?
Point of View is:
The voice in which you choose to tell your story, i.e., first, second, or third person
Your perspective character (who’s telling the story?)
Before we get started, though, here are a few rules to keep in mind:
While you can switch perspective characters from scene to scene, you cannot switch the voice with which you choose to tell your story, i.e., you can’t write one scene in first person and another scene in third. It will only result in confusing and frustrating your reader.
Use only one perspective character per scene. Whether you’re writing in first, second, or third, be careful to use only one perspective character per scene. When switching perspective character, make sure you make it clear to the reader by inserting a symbol such as ### or starting a new chapter.
POINT OF VIEW IN DETAIL
FIRST PERSON POINT OF VIEW: This POV uses the pronouns I and me for the perspective character. In other words, the perspective character tells the story. Thoughts, emotions, observations, and perceptions that are shared with the reader are limited only to what the character knows and observes.
It’s this detail, the untucked blouse forming a ducktail, that brings me back to myself.
“Prim!” The strangled cry comes out of my throat, and my muscles begin to move again. “Prim!”
I don’t need to shove through the crowd. The other kids make way immediately allowing me a straight path to the stage. I reach her just as she is about to mount the steps. With one sweep of my arm, I push her behind me.
“I volunteer!” I gasp. “I volunteer as tribute!”
– Suzanne Collins, Hunger Games
SECOND PERSON POINT OF VIEW: This POV uses you for the POV character. In other words, the narrator essentially makes you, the reader, the protagonist.
You are in a nightclub talking to a girl with a shaved head. The club is either Heartbreak or Lizard Lounge. All might come clear if you could just slip into the bathroom and do a little more Bolivian Marching Powder.
- Jay McInerney, Bright Lights, Big City
This POV is very uncommon in fiction but can be found often in nonfiction.
THIRD PERSON POINT OF VIEW: This is the most commonly used POV. This POV uses he/she for the POV character.
Let’s take a look at the different styles of third person POV:
Deep Third Person/Third Person Limited: Deep POV is the pairing of third person with close narrative distance. It cultivates a close relationship with the characters. Deep POV fosters the intimacy of first-person narration but is written in the third person. In other words, it uses the pronouns he/she instead of I/me as in first person but still tells the story from the character’s perspective, sharing only the perspective character’s perceptions, observations, and feelings.
Something very painful was going on in Harry's mind. As Hagrid's story came to a close, he saw again the blinding flash of green light, more clearly than he had ever remembered it before -- and he remembered something else, for the first time in his life: a high, cold, cruel laugh.
Hagrid was watching him sadly.
– JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
In deep third person, filter words such as saw, heard, thought, knew, and wondered are rarely used as they add distance between the reader and the story, which defeats the purpose of this POV. Thought tags like he thought or she wondered are also avoided for the same reason.
Third Person Omniscient: This POV was popular with a lot of classics but is not used widely today. The pronouns he/she are still used, but the story is told from the perspective of a narrator. The narrator, therefore, is not limited to one character’s perspective, and insights into characters are strictly objective. Think of this POV as a camera recording action from a distance, overlooking the scene from a bird’s eye view. The downfall of this POV is that it creates distance between the story and the reader.
Elizabeth, having rather expected to affront him, was amazed at his gallantry; but there was a mixture of sweetness and archness in her manner which made it difficult for her to affront anybody; and Darcy had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her. He really believed, that were it not for the inferiority of her connections, he should be in some danger.
– Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Keep in mind that while this POV might sound appealing to write, it rarely succeeds in the markets today.
Remember, your job as a writer is to immerse your readers in the story. You want them to feel what your characters are feeling, experience what your characters are experiencing, to the point that they forget they’re reading a book. Your POV choice can make all the difference.
If you’re still undecided as to which POV to use in your story, try this:
Write the first couple of pages in all three points of view (or at least first and third).
Which one feels the most natural to write?
Which one tells the story the best?
There are definitely pros and cons to each of the choices, and while more than one choice can work, some stories are just better experienced by the reader in one POV over another.