When you write, do you have a favorite point of view?
Perhaps you love the intimacy of first person, or the flexibility of third person. Maybe you’re the rebel who dabbles in second person.
Whichever point of view you choose, make sure it supports the story you want to tell. Point of view (POV) is one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal. Use it wisely to create the perfect relationship between reader and story.
What is point of view?
POV controls the distance between your reader and your main character or narrator. Writers have three POV choices: first person, second person, and third person. The pronouns used to describe the main character tell you which POV you’re in.
- First-person POV uses I, me, we, etc. Example: I’ll never forget that night.
- Second-person POV uses you. Example: You’ll never forget that night. Most readers, agents, and editors dislike second person. It’s extremely hard to pull off well.
- Third-person POV uses he, she, they, etc. to describe the POV character’s actions. Within third person, you have a few additional options:
- Limited/close: very similar to first person. The reader is inside the mind of one character at a time, and the story is written in that character’s voice. Sometimes this is called deep POV. Example: Kelly would never forget that night.
- Omniscient: the reader can enter the mind of any character at any time. Example: Kelly would never forget that night. Adam, on the other hand, could not have cared less.
- Distant: the narrator feels separate from the main character. The narrative voice isn’t the main character’s voice. Example: Kelly would still remember that night, even years later. The events that transpired in the lemon grove would, in fact, give her a lasting and entirely irrational fear of mimes.
Point of view controls intimacy and flow of information
Choose your POV carefully. It controls what information is available to your reader, and when. For example, in a first- or close-third-person story, the reader can only know and experience what the POV character knows and experiences. If you need your readers to know something your main character does not, you need a distant or omniscient third-person POV.
A few tips to remember when choosing POV:
- First person and close third are your deep POVs. They let your POV character’s voice shine through.
- First person lets you get creative with language. You can write the way your character would talk or think. It also feels more natural to let your narrator’s thoughts wander between tangents.
- A distant third-person narrator can become almost like another character on the page. This gives you room to insert observations the main character might lack the self-awareness or vocabulary to make themselves. A distant third-person POV can also lighten the mood if your characters’ feelings are heavier than you want your story to read.
- If you have an unlikable main character, consider first person to keep the reader connected.
Tell the right story with carefully chosen point of view
Well-chosen, well-executed POV separates the great novels from all the rest. Your choice of narrator and POV shape your readers’ entire experience of your story world. Think of it like taking a photograph of a scene: you can use a zoom lens to get a close-up of a single detail or a wide-angle to capture the big picture. You can choose to keep the entire scene in focus or feature a single object against a blurry background. These choices determine which details the viewer can see and what part of the picture draws their eye. And so it is with POV in writing.
Think carefully about what details the reader needs to know and what you want to conceal. Which character should the reader connect to most deeply? Will you need to offer observations or commentary the POV character wouldn’t make?
Once you settle into your POV, refine it obsessively during revisions. A slip in POV will trip your readers up and get them thinking about your writing, not your story. Not sure where to start? Stay tuned for next week’s post, where we’ll talk about how to avoid common POV mistakes.