When we sit down to write, one of the first decisions we have to make is which point of view (POV) to use for our story. In a nutshell, here are the choices and a few thoughts on each:
First person is the “I” point of view. The narrator and main character are one in the same. The reader experiences everything up close and personal from inside that character’s head. There are some compelling reasons to write in the first person. The reader will feel intimately connected with the character. As a writer, you’ll be able to deeply develop the character’s voice. And the character’s motivations and actions will be clearly understood. However, this also means that the voice is restricted, limited only to the style and vocabulary of that character. The perspective is also limited and biased, based on that one character’s experiences and opinions.
Second person is the “you” point of view. This is a hard one. It generally feels unnatural and is difficult to pull off. This POV addresses readers directly and can be quite powerful, but also needs to be used deliberately. You are essentially breaking the fourth wall and addressing your reader directly. Ask yourself when and why this would be appropriate for your story.
Third person is the “he/she/they” point of view. The third person voice can either be omniscient or limited. With the limited perspective, a reader can only know what that particular character knows. If something is happening off scene, with another character, readers will find out about it as our POV character does. While immediate and tight, the third person limited POV gives writers more flexibility than first person.The narrator’s voice is not the same as the character’s and can therefore have a slightly broader perspective.
The third person omniscient point of view is the bird’s-eye view. The narrator of the story knows the thoughts and feelings of all the characters involved. While third person omniscient may feel tempting, in that we can deliver more information in a short amount of time, it can also be confusing if not done well. Head-hopping from character to character, especially within the same scene can feel jarring to the reader.
The omniscient point of view also creates more distance from the reader. Modern readers prefer intimacy with characters. We want to feel a connection, get inside a character’s head, and understand their motivations. It’s difficult to achieve this with third person omniscient. But the omniscient POV allows the writer to explore multiple characters and perhaps tell a more epic story.
When deciding on point of view, choose the best fit for your story. Ask yourself what kind of story you want to tell. Is it one focused intimately on a single character? Do you want to write only from that character’s perspective? Then choose first person or very limited third. If you want more scope in your action or need multiple perspectives to tell the tale, maybe third person limited or omniscient is the way to go. You can also use multiple POV’s. The NYT’s bestseller One of Us is Lying tells the story from the perspective of four main characters. The Outlander series tells part of the story from Claire’s first-person voice, and the rest from third-person.
Read. Pay attention to the stories that grab you and ask yourself why they do. How does one author write with such distinctive personality in first person, while another creates an epic tale from multiple POV’s? Know the story you want to tell and then decide on the best POV.