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What Point of View Should You Use in Your Novel?
(First Person? Third Person?)

Categories: How to Improve Writing Skills.

There’s a universal question that most writers struggle to answer: How to choose a point of view for your novel. There are, obviously, several different points of view available to you—and, less obviously, several advantages and disadvantages to each.

First person
First person POV refers to the I, we, me, my, mine, us narrator, often the voice of the heroic character or a constant companion of the heroic character.
There I was, minding my own beeswax when she up and kissed me. I near passed out.

ADVANTAGES OF THIS POV:
•    It feels natural to most writers because we live in an I world.
•    You have to deal with only one mind: the narrator’s.
•    You can create a distinctive internal voice.
•    You can add an element of craft by creating a narrator who is not entirely reliable.

DISADVANTAGES OF THIS POV:
•    You are limited to writing about what the narrator can see or sense.
•    The narrator must constantly be on stage or observing the stage.
•    You can’t go into the minds of other characters.

Second person
The you narrator, this POV is rarely successful, and even then works best in shorter books. For an example of second person POV, check out Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City. But know that most publishing professionals advise against using this tricky approach.
You’re just standing there. She comes along and kisses you, and you nearly faint.

ADVANTAGES OF THIS POV:
•    It gives you the power to be different, even eccentric in the way you can speak to the reader so directly.

DISADVANTAGES OF THIS POV:
•    It begins to feel quirky, whether you’re reading it or writing it.
•    It can say to a publishing professional: “I’m a Jay McInerney knockoff. Reject me!”

Third person
The he, she, it, they, them narrator, third person is the most common POV in fiction. It offers a variety of possibilities for limiting omniscience: information that the narrator and reader are privy to in the telling of the story.

THIRD PERSON UNLIMITED OMNISCIENCE: In this POV, the author enters the mind of any character to transport readers to any setting or action.

He stood stiff as a fence post, watching her come his way. What did she want? he wondered.
She had decided to kiss him, no matter what. So she did. She could see the effect of her kiss at once. He nearly fell over.

ADVANTAGES OF THIS POV:
•    It can enrich your novel with contrasting viewpoints.
•    Both you and your reader can take a breath of fresh air as you shift from one character’s POV to another’s.
•    You can broaden the scope of your story as you move between settings and from conflicting points of view.

DISADVANTAGES OF THIS POV:
•    You can confuse yourself and the reader unless every voice is distinctive.
•    You can diffuse the flow of your story by switching the POV too often. (Notice how the last passage about the kiss jolts you from one POV to the other.)
•    It’s easy to get lazy and begin narrating as the author instead of as one of your characters.

THIRD PERSON LIMITED OMNISCIENCE: The author enters the mind of just a few characters, usually one per chapter or scene.

He stood stiff as a fence post, watching her come his way. What did she want? he wondered, as she approached. Then he saw the determination in her face. Good crackers! She was going to kiss him, no matter what.
She did, too, and he nearly fell over.

ADVANTAGES OF THIS POV:
•    It has all the advantages of third person unlimited POV.
•    You can concentrate the story by keeping to major characters’ (and strategic minor characters’) thoughts.

DISADVANTAGES OF THIS POV:
•    There aren’t any, really; by imposing POV discipline, you minimize the downsides of unlimited omniscience.

If you want to get really complex, you can identify three or four times as many POV choices—but these are by far the most common, and will suit most any story.

Excerpted from The Writer’s Little Helper © 2006 by JAMES V. SMITH JR., with permission from Writer’s Digest Books.

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One Response to What Point of View Should You Use in Your Novel?
(First Person? Third Person?)

  1. anil says:

    Thanks James. Had not come across such a topic earlier.

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