What is the point of view of your story? First? Third?
And does it matter?
My answer – of course it matters. At least to me.
I think a stories point of view should be a deliberate choice of the author – something that helps to tell the story in a specific way. But before we discuss that, let’s define the various POVs a little more.
I have the benefit of a Language Arts teacher for a husband. So, I grabbed his seventh grade textbook and turned to the section on Point of View for definitions. Here is what I found:
First person– Written from the point of view of the main character. Only things that can be seen by the MC can be reported, including what the MC feels or thinks. You can’t say what some other character thinks/feels from this POV.
Many times past tense is used with first person, stating things that have already happened. But there is a recent trend with present tense writing from this POV. This can be very advantageous if you do not want the reader to know what is going to happen (like if the MC is going to die) until that exact moment.
My first books were written in first person, past tense. It was a style I was comfortable with. As I revised the story, however, I began to realize that it needed a layer of meaning I couldn’t achieve without a separate characters POV – so I added an occasional chapter in third person limited from the other characters POV (see below for more on third person limited).
Many of my short stories are written from first person, present tense – because I want the ending fate of the main character to be revealed at the last possible moment.
Third Person Limited– The narrator is not a character in the story. Instead, the narrative tells the story from the POV of one of the characters – saying what they think/see/feel. Again, it is a limited POV, so only one characters feelings and thoughts are disclosed.
Sometimes third person limited is used with several characters, telling the storyline from different POV throughout. One thing I have really learned recently is that changing a POV can be really, really jarring – so if you choose to do this, you need to keep it as clean as possible. The easiest way to achieve this is to switch the POV at a scene or chapter break.
I am using third person limited in my current WiP, Lacrimosa. I struggle with this because I slip into third person omniscient all the time. Thank goodness for my critique buddies that tirelessly set me straight (sorry guys!). I like this POV and I do incorporate two different characters, switching POVs at chapter breaks.
I specifically chose this POV because I knew there would be anywhere from 2 to 3 different points of view needed to tell the story. I toyed with third person omniscient for it…but my crit buddies challenged me to do it this way – – – and as usual, they were right. I am thrilled with the results.
Third Person Omniscient– Again, the narrator is not part of the story. But in this POV, the narrator knows everything going on and can talk about anyone’s feels and thoughts. This particular POV isn’t used as much as it once was. It is, however, the easiest since you do not need to worry about sticking to a particular perspective.
I have written a couple of short stories this way, though I wound up switching them during rewrites.
The Chronicles of Narniais a wonderful example of this particular POV.
Nailing done POV can be a hard thing for writers. But it is key to the telling of the story. Pacing, tension, and character development can all relate to the POV of the story.
A great exercise in POV can be accomplished by taking a well-known fairy tale and retelling it from the POVs listed above. Try it – it’ll really help solidify the concept of perspective and point of view for you.
A couple of my favorite resources on this subject are The Power of Point Of View by Rasley, and Elements of Writing Fiction: Characters and Viewpoint. Both books highlight the importance of choosing a POV based on the needs of the story, not the author’s preferences.
And now I want to hear from you? How do you pick which POV to use for your stories? Do you have a preference?