You’ve got a story to tell, but before you even write the first line, you must decide who you are. Are you the main character, who only knows what she can see outside her window? Maybe you’re the all-knowing god of your world. Or perhaps, like most stories, your point of view lies somewhere in between.
Your point of view (POV) dictates not only how you tell your story, but also how much information you provide to the reader.
Many books are written from the third person omniscient viewpoint. You are a narrator, able to reveal the thoughts and emotions of all characters as well as provide complete background information and future predictions. If you want the reader to know more about what is going on than your characters do, this is the best point of view to work from. Since there are less limitations, it is also an easier viewpoint to write from.
First person point of view lies on the other end of the spectrum. Since the story is usually told from the main character’s point of view, you can only tell what that character can reasonably know from experience, so detailing background information and understanding other ongoing events is limited. Additionally, you must be able to stay in your character’s head and not lose their personality while you write. Maintaining a distinct personality separate from their own makes this a challenging POV for new authors.
Second person point of view is not seen as often but can be very effective when you want to keep the reader somewhat distanced. By addressing the reader as I do here, you provide information as an active narrator, but your information is limited to what the narrator can reasonably know. The narrator is a character who knows he is telling a story and directly addresses the reader, so accessing other characters thoughts is still limited. Many people refer to this POV as breaking the 4th wall.
To provide a more rounded reading experience, most authors use a combination of viewpoints, such as first person perspectives from two or three main characters or a mix of first and third. Just remember to clearly differentiate perspectives by section or chapter and maintain separation of information from your first person characters. Since it’s a great way to show internal turmoil and inter-character misunderstandings, many Young Adult novels are written in first person, usually from several character’s perspectives. Just be aware that relying on misunderstandings to maintain tension can become tiring and cliché for the reader.
A tricky viewpoint that can increase the intensity of your scenes is deep POV. While it is written in the third person, the reader is actually in the character’s head. It’s a way to enhance the scene without switching to first person and it avoids traditional phrases that might pull the reader out of the story such as said, thought, yelled, etc. Many suspense and horror authors use deep POV for the major antagonist’s sections because it can feel extremely up close and personal.
A common error I find in early manuscripts is a quick switch from either third to first or first to second person. Depending on the situation and the nuance you are going for, these minute shifts can work, but most of the time, it will pull the reader from the story.
There is no right or wrong perspective for any story, but some stories or genres tend to work better in one POV than others. Pick the POV combination that feels most natural for your story, and stick with it.
Next time: All about Time