Among the many important choices that writers face is what point of view to write from. Point of view is absolutely key when it comes to storytelling. After all, it has an enormous impact on how the audience perceives everything from worldbuilding to characterization. As such, I thought today I'd talk a little bit about the different options we have when it comes to POV and about the choices I've made in the past with my books.
First, it's important to define the terminology for points of view as discussed in most English classes. Point of view can come in one of three basic forms: first, second, or third. First person point of view uses the pronoun "I" and originates within the consciousness of a single character. Second person POV is the least commonly done, using the pronoun "you" to guide the reader into the place of a character. This usually happens only for short, hypothetical-type passages and is generally not recommended for long passages. Third person point of view uses other pronouns like "she" or "he" in reference to all the characters. Third person POV further can be limited, omniscient, or limited-omniscient: focusing on a single character, aware of the feelings and thoughts of all characters, or a mix of the two.
An additional decision that must be made in terms of perspective is tense. Though multiple tenses are necessary in any writing, most authors work with a primary tense of either present or past, where the character either is performing the actions as they speak them (present) or is telling the story as though it has already occurred (past).
These basic POV elements will be mixed and matched throughout most stories. If an author chooses to use multiple points of view (usually alternating between chapters), even more mixing and matching may occur. However, it's important to know which base POV you are working with.
There are many factors to consider when choosing a POV. We'll ignore second person POV, since that's used primarily in experimental fiction. The choice between first or third person POV, then, is mostly one of distance. First person POV brings the reader in very close to the emotions and action of the story. For a story that requires immediacy and intimacy, this is the best choice. Often, YA fiction is written in first person POV, whereas middle grade is written more commonly in third person POV, due to the developing understandings of people in these two life stages.
The closer you get to the story, the more limited your perspective. In first person POV, the author is entirely limited to the thoughts, feelings, and prejudices of the POV character. Everything in the story must reflect the way that this character thinks. This often causes unreliability and inaccuracy when it comes to the facts of the story, which can be a great concept to play with if the author so chooses. In third person, the prejudices of the POV character are not as powerful. With limited third person POV, the storytelling must still reflect the POV character's worldview, but there is more room to reveal other truths, and the emotions that the character feels are not as immediate and overwhelming. Once you reach fully omniscient third person POV, there is no longer a POV character to focus on. Instead, all factual information can be presented, though in less detail and with less personal immediacy, which changes the kind of information that is being revealed.
Very few stories are presented through fully omniscient third person point of view. Movies and television are often described as being omniscient, but even this format tends to focus more on a single POV that influences the thoughts of the audience, rather than on telling the story of each character equally and impartially.
(Tense is less important to the audience's perspective than POV, in my opinion, but present tense creates stronger immediacy while past tense gives a little more distance and a greater sense of thoughtfulness. Past tense is more common.)
Obviously, a POV character will exist in most tenses you choose, which means that the choice of which character to make your POV character is a vital one. Most often, your POV character is the same as your main character. If there are multiple characters who are equally vital to the story, or, once again, with experimental fiction, multiple POVs may be utilized. Otherwise, it's best to establish the singular point of view as a base from which the reader can operate.
At times, the POV character will be different from your main character. This decision is made in order to alter the important factors of perspective: prejudices, unreliability, immediacy, closeness, etc. This is a more experimental decision and generally should be done by more experienced authors. One example of this is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which uses a third party, Nick Carraway, as the first person POV character, rather than the main character Jay Gatsby. The use of Nick creates a greater distance from the action and emotion of the story, in order to emphasize the metaphorical purpose of the narrative, while the first person POV adds an aspect of urgency that magnifies the reader's sense of helplessness in watching the tragedy unfold. *Spoiler: Another reason Fitzgerald has a lesser character tell the story is because Gatsby dies near the end. When the main character of the story dies, it's often necessary to have that third party POV so that the narrative can be wrapped up in the main character's absence.*
To wrap up, I'm going to share my POV choices for the five novels in my editing queue, to give you a better understanding of how to make this choice. Don't forget to comment with any thoughts you have about POV choices in stories!
THE ICE ENCHANTRESS'S PLOT: MG fantasy in past tense, third person limited POV focusing on Augusta,
the main character. Includes interlude chapters focusing on the villain. Past tense, third person limited
POV with the main character as the focus is probably the most standard MG POV choice. On the other
hand, including the villain's POV is often a helpful tactic for beginning writers, like I was when writing
this, but it's hard to pull off well and generally shouldn't be included in the final draft.
THE GHOST CATCHERS: YA fantasy in past tense, alternating POVs with two main characters: third person
limited POV focusing on Stephen and first person POV focusing on Arik. I used this method because the
book has two converging storylines, and because I wanted to do something different. I also originally
wrote this during my transition between writing MG and YA, and I seem to have naturally fallen into
using both of the standard POV forms for those categories.
IF YOU PRICK US: YA fantasy in past tense, first person POV focusing on Kaela, the main character. As I
mentioned, this is the most standard POV choice for YA lit.
THE PROPHECY KEEPER: YA fantasy in past tense, third person limited POV focusing on Josiah, the main
character. I originally intended to write this from the POV of an important side character, but when I
began writing, this is the perspective that came out. Because THE PROPHECY KEEPER is an epic fantasy,
the distance of third person POV was a logical choice, though I may change it to first person in the
future in order to gain greater closeness.
COCA: YA contemporary in present tense, first person POV focusing on Coca, who is not the main
character. This is probably the most experimental book I've written thus far, and the perspective is the
key to that. After all, the core concept of COCA is that it's written from the POV of a mental illness:
essentially, the villain of the story. It was an awesome challenge to take on. (I wrote in present tense
because, after challenging myself to try it in a previous manuscript, I discovered that I may actually
Thanks for reading! I'll see you again Wednesday, when I'll be writing from MayoClinic in Minnesota!
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