In writing fiction, you’re telling a story from a particular perspective. That’s a point of view (POV). The point of view you use matters. It can be limiting in some ways but lends interest in other ways. Your genre can work better with one POV than with another. Choose carefully, and once you make your choice, follow its rules. It will have a substantial impact on your readers’ perception of your story.
The three types of POV are:
1. First Person
Your character, usually the protagonist, tells the story and uses “I”, “me”, “we”, “our”, etc. Great for stories that are deeply personal and emotional. Many stories using this POV are told as simply stories or as a narrator writing them down or talking to the reader. The narrator may not be the protagonist but instead an observer like in The Great Gatsby or Sherlock Holmes, in which case the narrator may not be heavily involved or may be relaying what he/she has heard of events.
Advantages: Your character’s personality can be fully shown in thought, feeling, and action. You can write in either present or past tense, and use straight English or an accent, if your character has one.
Limits: Your character can only narrate the scenes in which that character has actually been or pass along what other characters tell him/her. Also, long expository narrative is a bit of a problem. You have to completely know your character, not just appearance but childhood, past experiences shaping him/her now, and so on.
Autobiographies are obviously written in first person, but this POV can work for fictional writing, too. Think carefully before choosing it, though, and be sure that the advantages are worth the limitations.
2. Second Person
Using “you” and narrating the story from the reader’s point of view.
Advantage: Great for articles and other non-fiction work.
Limit: Rarely suitable for novels. Sounds instructional or like a tech manual.
3. Third Person (Subjective or Omniscient)
The most commonly used POV for modern day fiction. Usually written in past tense but can work with present tense, too. The author narrates the story and uses “he,” “she,” “we,” “they,” etc. Choose what works best for you.
SUBJECTIVE (LIMITED OR DEEP POV)
A safe and common option. A single character narrates the story, bringing the intimacy of the first person POV to third person. A lot of action happens out of narrator’s view. Dialogue tags and “tell” verbs are usually not used.
Rose sat at the kitchen table wondering about the future. Hopelessness overwhelmed her in the growing darkness as the sun set. Hearing the cuckoo clock on the kitchen wall sound the hour, she roused and felt renewed strength, knowing that she would persevere some way, somehow. (From Hammil Valley Rising.)
Advantage: Your character can convey his/her thoughts, feelings, emotions, and so on, and enables you to connect your readers to your main (narrating) character.
Limit: Can only narrate scenes which the character is present and only what he/she sees in those scenes. The character has to be interesting to hold the reader’s interest. Can get a bit wordy.
Narration is not limited to one character. You are showing the reader different scenes and narrating through the characters in each.
Advantages: Has the most freedom for you, the writer.
Limit: Readers can’t get as close to your characters and their personality. You can make up for this with careful writing. You can also tell the reader things that a single character narrating wouldn’t know first-hand.
So you picked a POV and now find yourself needing to tell something that doesn’t fit that POV. Usually, this happens when you choose first person or limited third person. No problem. If you do it right, you can mix POVs in the same manuscript, and the longer your manuscript, the more likely you are to do this.
The key to this mixing is to separate the different POV sections into chapters or sections of chapters. It can take some careful finessing but offers you more advantages and fewer limitations.
Switching POVs helps you accomplish several things. First, you can overcome your character’s bias and provide a more complete view of the story by having parts portrayed by several narrators. Second, you can portray parts of your story that happen in different locations (the old “meanwhile, back at the ranch” ploy). Third, you can reveal information that the narrator doesn’t know, creating a more tense situation (the man entering a building, not knowing that an ambush is waiting but you, the reader, knows).
Having multiple POVs can give you, the author, great flexibility and power over your story, but if you don’t implement them properly, the reader can get confused. One option is to balance out when one character narrates and then another. If you have more than two such narrators, some will need to narrate less than others. Think about which POV you will use for a particular scene, and keep that POV for that scene. Don’t switch POV until the next scene (chapter or section).
Hope you found this helpful and have been inspired to start writing!
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