Today’s post is something I’ve actually been looking forward to a very long time, because it’s honestly something I still struggle with on a daily basis, to be honest. It’ll be the first of a two-part series about selecting a Point of View (POV) and tense for your novel! It seems like it should be a simple decision, but it can really change (for better or for worse) how your book is told and how it’s received by your audience, whomever they might be.
So today, I’ll be starting with the different kinds of POV you can use and how they can help or hurt your intention with the readers! POV concerns which person your book is narrated through: the first person, the second person, or the third person.
FIRST PERSON POV
First person means that the book is told through the eyes of one character in particular. With this one, you’ll be using “I”, “me”, “my”, etc. Think of it like a diary: your character is going to be experiencing things with their own personal spin on it. This means that if you have a book in which you want the narrator to be a little manipulated by the events around them (this works well in thriller/mystery novels like The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer the first person POV might be the right choice for you. However, the narrator doesn’t always have to be the main protagonist of the book. One of the most famous novels that uses this technique (called “first person peripheral”) is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Obviously, as we can see from the title, Nick Carraway is not the real focus of the novel. Yet, he is the one that narrates it, and so we are given a look at Gatsby’s wild lifestyle from the perspective of a newcomer, and it works incredibly well.
SECOND PERSON POV
I’m not going to go too much into second person POV, mainly because it’s not really used much in fiction and when it is used, it’s very difficult to execute well. This is because instead of using “I”, like in first person, it uses “you”. Unless you’re writing informational text, I would try and steer clear. Some of the only books I can think of that are able to do it are the Goosebumps Choose Your Adventure Novels, and this works because it’s really trying to put you, the reader, directly into the story. However, for the most part, distancing your readers from the story might be a little easier to manage. But if you think you can do it, by all means have at it!
THIRD PERSON POV
Now, third person, here’s where things can get a little nutty. It’s kind of an umbrella, and there are a few different kinds within the technique. As an overview, third person refers to all of the characters in your story as “he/she”, “it”, “them”, you get the point. It’s the most common of POVs for good reason — it’s highly flexible.
Within the third person narrative, you’ve got a few different options. One, you’ve got limited third person POV. This means that even though all the characters are being referred to from a seemingly-outside perspective, the narrator is really one of the characters in your story. An example of this would be Harry Potter. Rowling uses third person limited throughout the series, as we know what Harry is thinking and doing without the aid of dialogue, even though we never hear it directly from his point of view.
Then, you have third person omniscient, which isn’t nearly as frightening as the word would have you think. If you have this POV, it means that your story is being told by a total outsider, only they know the thoughts and feelings of every character up the book. Louisa May Alcott does this in Little Women, because we can hear the thoughts and motivations of all the girls throughout the novel as they appear.
As a sort of combination of all of these POVs is multiple, or switching POV. This is when during one chapter (or scene, even), one character is narrating, then it switches to someone else, and back and forth it goes, depending on what the writer is trying to accomplish. This works well when you want the pluses of first person or third limited, where you want to hide certain things from the reader, but still allow you the versatility of omniscient and knowing the thoughts of people other than your protagonist(s). That being said, when it comes to this one, I can be a bit of a stickler against it, but that’s really a personal preference of mine. I find it a little frustrating, mainly because it can be really hard for me to emotionally connect with the characters when I’m not allowed to stick with them for long periods of time. Though, it can certainly be received well by readers of all kinds, as shown in Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park, which switches between Eleanor and Park throughout the entire book.
Once you figure out what POV you want to use, you might have to really pay attention so that you don’t slip in and out of it — it’s kind of easy to do. Believe me, this is coming from someone who has changed their book POV close to a hundred times, going through all the cycles, really. And it seems like a small decision, but if you make a clear point of picking one near the beginning, you’ll have a much easier time writing to the end.
So guys, stay tuned for next week, where I’ll be giving the second part of this series, on how to pick the perfect tense for your novel!