“There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the cold, hard truth.” ~ Don Henley
Choosing your point of view (POV) is one of the most critical aspects of your novel writing. Yet it is also one of the most automatic. Most writers leap into a story, and start writing from their main character’s perspective, in either the first or third person. This early decision can cause issues later on, if the point of view isn’t the ideal one for your story.
POV is also one of the main tools that establishes the narrative mode of your story. It dictates how involved your readers become, by limiting how much information your characters are able to reveal. It brings a unique perspective to the story, which can drastically change if you rewrite a passage with a different point of view. Take a look at some of the most commonly used points of view in literature, and see if your writing could benefit from a perspective face lift.
First Person POV
Your main character speaks directly to your audience, using “I, me, mine”. When using the first person, you are restricted to revealing only one character’s inner thoughts. Your readers see the world through your protagonist’s eyes only, learning new facts only when they are discovered by your hero. Descriptions of your setting, other characters, and obstacles are all filtered through the POV character’s perspective.
This technique is particularly effective when you are writing a character driven story. Your theme will often depend on the character’s personal growth, inner transformation, and the struggles she faces. It is less effective when you need to be able to switch your perspective from character to character, as readers may struggle when presented with another first person point of view within a story. You may try switching characters at chapter breaks, but readers will greatly identify with the character whose head they’ve been in from the beginning, and may resist the unusual break in perspective.
Third Person Limited POV
Your narrator or narrative voice speaks about your characters, using “he, she, them” while focusing primarily on one or two characters. You still retain some of your authority as a writer, and can describe the rest of the story’s world without the need to take your protagonist’s perspective into consideration. Usually, the story will focus on only one character within a chapter, and perspective switches occur at chapter breaks.
Romances are a great example of when two characters share the protagonist role, and when third person limited is split between two characters. However, be on the lookout for when your point of view slides into another person’s perspective without you realizing it. This can cause confusion for your readers, who may not understand why your story is being seen through another person’s eyes all of a sudden. Also, make sure that you don’t unintentionally reveal facts and thoughts that your protagonist cannot know, or else your story’s continuity can be undermined.
Third Person Omniscient POV
Your narrator speaks in a similar way to third person limited, except that they can reveal anything and everything about your characters. The sky’s the limit here, as you can begin with a grand overview of your book’s world, and then zoom in to the perspective of a bumblebee. This perspective is excellent for plot driven stories, where you need to jump from scene to scene taking place in various areas of the world.
However, third person omniscient is also one of the most difficult perspectives to do well. If you jar your readers too much by jumping around, they may lose interest and set your story down. While you can do anything you want, you probably shouldn’t. Guide your readers through your story with grace and skill, and they will be blown away by the expansiveness and complexity of your tale.
Choose a passage from your latest story, and determine what POV you have used. Try rewriting it another point of view, and see how your story changes! What is your favorite point of view?
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