Writing Tip of the Week: What POV is Best for Your Story?

The point-of-view, or POV your story is told from, can impact how you present the story and how readers experience it.  Through this chosen perspective, we decide how much information will be delivered to the audience throughout the story and how they’re meant to process and use that information as the story unfolds.  

Here are the four POVs generally used in fiction.

First-Person

Everything we are learning and experiencing during the story is told from the point of view of the main character.  They are literally our eyes and ears to the story, other characters, and their opinions influence how we as readers understand the world being presented.

EXAMPLE:  I walked down the long, dark hallway.  Cobwebs brushed across my face, which sent a chill up my spine and my heart rate to increase.  I moved toward two doors: a blue door to my left and a red door to my right.

Most novels that are written in first-person stay in first-person the entire time.  A few exceptions are in the case of novelist Nelson DeMille. His main characters tell the story in first-person, while the antagonist’s chapters are in third-person limited.

Second-Person

Most of us who grew up in the 80s and 90s recall the Choose Your Own Adventure book series.  These were books written in the second-person and used “You” throughout the story.

EXAMPLEYou walk down a long, dark hallway.  Cobwebs lightly brush across your face as you move toward two doors: a blue one on the left and a red one on the right.

This was followed by: If you open the red door, turn to the next page.  If you open the blue door, turn to page 38.

I don’t often see this POV outside of this particular genre. Still, it’s a unique way to literally get your reader into the main character’s shoes by making them the main character.

Third-Person Limited

With this point-of-view, you can be inside the head of one character at a time.  You can have them share their inner thoughts and feelings with the reader; you can give us private moments with them.  But once you’re in their head, you must stay in their head until there is a clear designation that we are now moving into another character’s POV.  This could be a break in the action using a symbol if the switch happens in a chapter, or at the start of a new chapter.  

Just make sure the switch is clear.

EXAMPLE:  David walked down the long, dark hallway.  He felt cobwebs brush across his face, which sent a chill up his spine and caused his heart rate to increase.  This was a bad idea, he thought, as he moved toward two doors: a blue one on his left and a red one on his right.

XXX

Seth knew David would pick the blue door.  After all, it was David’s favorite color, and Seth was certain that David would pick the right door and see the surprise party waiting behind it.

This POV is common in novels today. It’s less limiting than first-person or second-person. It allows you to explore the inner thoughts of multiple characters. Just make sure that it’s clear when you do the switch.

Third-Person Omniscient

 This POV allows us to explore internal and external aspects of different characters without the restraints of a first-person, second-person, or third-person limited point-of-view.  In this context, Omniscient means “having infinite awareness, understanding, and insight.” The narrator gives details and information about multiple characters’ pasts, their motivations, and their personalities since this narrator can be wherever they want to be.

For example, suppose there’s a chapter with a party. In the Omniscient POV, we can go from person to person and learn about them without abruptly changing points-of-view to a character who might know that person better or to the point-of-view of the character being focused on.  With Omniscient, we can give the reader any information about any character as it’s needed.

EXAMPLEDavid walked down the long, dark hallway.  He felt cobwebs brush across his face, which sent a chill up his spine and caused his heart rate to increase.  This was a bad idea, he thought, as he moved toward two doors: a blue one on his left and a red one on his right.

Seth awaited David’s choice behind the blue door, knowing he would pick the blue door since blue was David’s favorite color.  Seth couldn’t wait for David to open the door and see the surprise party waiting for him.

This POV also enables the narrator to tell the reader things that the characters may not even be aware of that could impact them in the future.  It also allows the narrator to give the reader insight into something they need to know to contextualize the story.

An excellent example of this is the opening chapter of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.  Steinbeck takes the time to introduce the reader to the world of The Great Depression in Oklahoma, giving us details that clue us in to what’s happening without introducing any of the main characters.  Now, we’re up to speed on what’s going on, so when we do meet the Joad family, we’re more acclimated to their dire circumstances.

Read the first chapter here:   https://genius.com/John-steinbeck-chapter-1-the-grapes-of-wrath-annotated

Definition Sourcehttps://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/omniscient

Which One Is Right for Your Story?

In the early stages of your writing, play around with the different POVs and see which one might work best for the story you want to tell.  Do you need to have the reader know the story from varied points of view?  Then Third-Person Limited or Omniscient might be good choices.  Does your main character’s worldview dominate the story?  Perhaps the First-Person POV is a good fit.

Taking the time to nail this down early will prevent rewrite headaches later on.  Write a draft of the same section of the story in the different POVs and see which one feels suitable for the story you want to tell.

Happy writing, and I’ll see you next week!

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