Hello, writer, and welcome back to The Novel Series, a multi-part blog post series about writing novels and other forms of fiction. I’ll be posting at least one, if not two, blogs from this series every month until it’s complete.
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Today we’re talking all about point of view, including the different points of view you can write from and how to choose one for your novel.
As an editor, I see many writers struggling with point of view, whether it’s staying consistent, avoiding head hopping, or choosing the right point of view for their story. It’s tricky to get point of view just right, so let’s take a look at how to nail down your story’s. 😁
// What is Point of View?
Point of view (POV) is who is telling the story. There are four points of view you can use to write your novel:
- Third limited
- Third omniscient
First person POV is when you tell the story directly from the character’s perspective, featuring pronouns like I and we. Below are some examples:
- I went to the store to buy coffee.
- We traveled across the world in search of our favorite books.
Second person POV is when you tell the story as if the narrator is speaking to the reader, featuring pronouns like you and yours. Below are some examples:
- You can accomplish your goal if you follow these steps.
Third person POV is when you tell the story as an external narrator, featuring pronouns like he, she, they, etc.
- She took a sip of her tea and sighed.
- They looked at each other and smiled.
Taking it a step further, third person POV can be split into either limited or omniscient.
As limited implies, third person limited POV is when the narrator only has access to one character’s perspective.
On the other hand, third person omniscient POV is when the narrator has access to multiple characters’ perspectives. Nowadays, this is largely done by separating each POV into its own scene or chapter so that authors (and readers) can avoid confusion caused by head-hopping. As far as popular examples go, Sarah J Maas, Susan Dennard, and V.E. Schwab use this technique in some of their novels, offering different character’s POVs in each chapter or scene. We’ll talk about this more later. 🙂
Most fiction is written in third person POV, though first person narratives are becoming more popular. Second person is common in nonfiction.
// Why is POV so important for writing a compelling story?
Point of view is how readers experience the story. They have to experience it through someone’s eyes, and that’s where your chosen POV comes in.
POV is actually an important tool for creating indirect tension and conflict.
If you narrate in first person, the reader is limited to just one character’s perspective. Readers know there are two sides to every interaction, though, and because your character is a flawed being (hey, we all are!), they’re only showing us what they want us to know about. First person narrators are notoriously unreliable, but that’s the fun of them–we know their stories are full of bias, but the mystery of that bias adds tension, and we want to unravel the story to figure everything out.
If you narrate in third person limited, with just one character’s POV, it’s basically the same as first person above.
But if you narrate in third person omniscient (without head hopping), you can really ramp up the tension.
That’s because we do get the major POVs that matter for the story, but the characters are often still ignorant of their friends’ (and maybe foes’) perspectives. We see everything, but the fact that the characters remain blind to some things leaves us wondering, “How will this resolve? Are they going to realize XYZ is happening?”
If you’ve ever watched a horror movie, you probably know what I’m talking about. You know that moment when we see the villain is waiting in that creepy house, but the character is headed for it, totally unaware, and you’re thinking, “No, don’t go in there!” Your stomach tightens, your muscles flex, and you’re thinking, “RUN!” But… you’re also thinking, “Holy crap, what’s going to happen when they meet?”
That’s how third person omniscient can build more tension.
Pretty nifty, right?
// How do you choose the ‘right’ POV for your novel?
All of the above POVs that I’ve listed out have their pros and cons, and I don’t think one is necessarily better than the other.
(Although, as your friendly neighborhood editor, I do advise against head hopping, which is when you have every character’s perspective and opinions in a scene… it’s confusing.)
So how do you figure out which one is the ‘right’ POV to use in your novel?
It depends on a few things:
- Your intent
- Your experience
- Your preference
I’d argue that 95% of the time, you can make any of the above POVs work for your novel, so it’s less about what’s ‘right’ and more about your intent, your level of writing experience, and your preference.
Let’s say you’re writing an adult fantasy novel featuring your protagonist and three main supporting characters. You’re a fairly new writer, but you know you want to give the reader an unreliable narration.
If that’s the case, you would probably choose first person or third person limited. Not because third person omniscient can’t be unreliable, but because your experience level will make third person omniscient even more complicated.
Third person omniscient, while fun and a great tool, can be very complex and overwhelming to write if you’re a truly newbie author. That’s not to say you can’t do it or discourage you, but be aware!
Of course, you may be a fairly new writer and want to provide an unreliable narrator, but maybe you hate writing in first person. If that’s the case, you could choose either third limited or omniscient.
And don’t forget… you can always revise!
Just because you pick a POV for your first draft doesn’t mean you can’t decide to rewrite the next draft from a different POV. I’ve done that several times.
And if you really don’t know what POV to pick, I would suggest picking three chapters you have planned, then writing them from each POV you’re considering. I suggest three chapters because that’s not so long that you’re wasting a ton of time, but it still gives you a feeling for how things will flow.
// Your Next Steps
If you’ve already started writing, chances are you know which one of these POVs you’re using. If that’s the case, you’re probably on the right track already! However, you can still take a step back, look at the POV you’ve chosen, and decide if it’s what you want for your story.
If you haven’t already started writing, weigh the pros and cons of the above POVs and see which one feels right in your gut. Try writing a few scenes in that POV, and if it doesn’t seem like it’s working, try another one.
If you have any questions about character point of view or if you’re looking to work with an editor on your project, send me an email at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow me @btleditorial on social media for more writing tips!
Questions? Leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!