Points of View: what are they?
Rebecca Mikkelson, CBD Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Last week we finished up our Genre series. This week we’re starting a new series on points of view (POV) to help readers and writers to find the POV they’re most comfortable with.
One of the biggest issues that a new writer will have is choosing which point of view to write in and how to stick to it. It’s an ongoing struggle even seasoned authors deal with in their rough drafts. Today we’re going to be going over the kinds of points of view, but we’re going to be limiting it to first, second, and third person points of view for the sake of ease in this overview.
First Person POV
First person point of view is the one most writers start with because it comes the most naturally. We speak in first person point of view almost exclusively—except perhaps those who enjoy referring to themselves in the third person. (I’m looking at you, Elmo.) The POV can be easily identifiable for the reader as a work that uses personal pronouns such as me, my, I, myself, we, and our in the prose rather than solely remaining in the dialogue.
While it might seem the easiest to write in, it comes with its own set of problems. When writing in first, it can become difficult to describe the narrator. Often we don’t talk about ourselves the way that we describe our characters—for example, “I have full, luscious pink lips that part slightly when I think,” sounds more like you work at a 900-number than the way a real person would describe themselves. Another difficulty that presents to both the reader and the writer is that you’re boxed into one point of view, which can limit the readers’ understanding of the broader story and the writer from being able to tell them.
Second Person POV
Second person point of view is the least used form for novels, in part due to its difficulty to master. Second person POV is identified by the use of the pronouns you, your, and yours in the prose and the reader being addressed directly. This point of view is in the same field of first person POV in that it can draw the reader closer to the story because you are told what you the character are doing. Pieces written in second can be compelling if they’re done right, and the reader will feel the emotions more intensely because they’re being told what to feel, but it is a very difficult point of view to master. More often than not, editors and publishers alike will tell you not to write a novel exclusively in second POV because it can ask more of your reader than they’re willing to give, and thus you alienate your reader.
Third Person POV
Third person point of view is the most commonly used point of view out there and is identified by the he, she, they, and it pronouns used within the prose. There are four ways to write in this point of view: close/limited, distant, multiple, and omniscient. Close/Limited third person point of view is reminiscent of first person, except it still uses he, she, and it rather than I and my. The narration is told as though inside the head of the main character. Distant third person is just that—it’s zoomed out of the head of the main character and narrated to you by some unseen figure. With multiple third person, you can combine it with close or distant, but that simply means that you’re telling the story from multiple points of view. Think A Song of Ice and Fire; it’s told in so many viewpoints I can’t remember them all! The last technique is omniscient, which is the hardest of them all to get right. Often omniscient third is compared to head hopping, and it’s a fair comparison. However, head hopping is parading as omniscient but doing it in the character’s voice (close/limited) rather than the narrator’s voice (distant).Omniscient exclusively speaks in the narrator’s voice while being able to tell the entire casts’ thoughts and feelings.
No matter the point of view that you choose to write in, you have to stick to it. Head-hopping is something authors easily fall victim to because we want the reader to know what every character is feeling in relation to each other and to their surroundings, but alas, we much rely on contextual clues we scatter about to lead the reader to the correct conclusion about our work.
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