Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What's Your Point Of View?

The 4 Points of View:
1) First Person: The narrative is related by one of the characters, not necessarily the main one.
2) Second Person: The writer is speaking directly to his audience as if having a conversation. Not really popular or recommended for fiction.
3) Third Person, close: The narrative is in third person, but follows one character's point of view. If using multiple POV characters, only one person at a time.
4) Third Person, omniscient: The narrative in third person, switching from one character to the next, the writer has a god-like perspective over the whole story.

My most comfortable and natural point of view to write in is #4. My favorite books are written in this point of view, and I love having the big perspective when I write. It's easy for me to transition between character heads and locations.

I can also easily write in first person, but I don't enjoy the limited perspective much. I also feel that books written in first person perspective tend to be on the anorexic side, leaving out the bigger picture and thus some reader satisfaction. I'm not saying I won't read a book done in first person because I do read them. They are usually my light, fluff reads, no matter how high-concept they might be.

So what is the point of my opinion? That I decided to convert my natural flow in third person omniscient to the more challenging third person close in one of my books. It sounds fairly simple to execute, but it hasn't been. The way things are worded, diving deeper into each character's psyche, sectioning things off to keep different character pov's straight, and the added bulk such changes make, have proved more daunting for me than I initially thought.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say third person close has been the most difficult point of view to write well. I do like getting to know the characters more intimately. I like the challenge of keeping straight who knows what, and weaving threads. I do not like the inflated word count for the sake of a decent plot. I have multiple character points of view, necessary to tell the story, and getting that close to each one of them requires more space on the page to do it right, compared to head jumping. It's been very tempting to switch back, trimming the word count by half, and going against the current trend to avoid the omniscient pov. However, I'm too invested in what I've developed and what that has caused to emerge in the story to begin all over again.

So what have I learned from this writing trench? I recommend first person pov for shorter projects and smaller timetables. I recommend third person close for bigger books, only if you can keep it to one or two point of view characters. And I highly recommend third person omniscient for the largest plots, especially if they come with multiple point of view characters. It takes out a lot of the bloat. Even if it's not the point of view du jour, it can be done well. I'm still breaking my own recommendations with this one book, and none of you have to take these as rules, but if you want less heartache and headache from revision, this is what I've learned after many years of trial and error.

How about you? What is your most natural point of view to write in? If you've tried more than one point of view, what have you learned from the experience?

Edit: Here's a really good blogpost I found on the same subject. Head hopping vs. multiple povs vs. single pov. Go with what you feel most comfortable with and do it well.


  1. I write third person; close. Always have. I've tried first person and it felt awkward. Ended up changing the whole thing to tight third. :D

  2. I always thought 2nd Person was the main character IS the reader, a la Choose Your Own Adventure. lol Oh well.

    For short stories I like doing 1st person, but I write mainly in 3rd person. I've done both close and omniscient.

  3. I've done all of the above. The problems inherent with 3rd O-POV is lack of transitions from one character to the next. I love knowing a light view of all the character's POV, but unless done correctly, it is like a movie camera jumping around the entire scene and a mess. Which, sadly, is my weakness - hence why I don't write in 3rd O-POV LOL

    Personally, I like 1st POV and sticking to the main MC, surprising readers with how the other characters do things because you just can't see it coming.

  4. Third person close is my method of choice. It's where I am comfortable. I enjoy developing more than one character's mindset and this method requires more show to enlarge the non-POV characters. I don't to read most 1st person books and you would have to twist my arm severely to get me to write it.

    As for 3rd person O, it seems to be very out of fashion in the publishing world. I only see this method in much older books, not in recent releases. It might be a hard sell.

  5. Gotta love diversity. =)

    And yes, Michelle makes a great point, 3rd person omniscient is a hard sell these days. And like T.J. said, it's really easy to blow it.

  6. Personally, I feel like each has its place. Third person omniscient is superior for the purpose of my current story, so for now it is the one I prefer. I think that a careful examination of the purpose of the book and the anticipated audience are the most important factors to consider when determining your audience. For instance, I have ideas about children's books I would like to write, and first person makes sense for many of them.

    As for second person perspective, I've never heard a crystal clear definition. I am convinced that it includes choose-your-own adventure stories, but that by definition it only needs to include the reader in the action, as if the reader is a part of the story itself. For this reason, it is quite challenging (and I imagine awkward) to write 2nd person in any other context than a choose-your-own-adventure story. In other words, my understanding of 2nd Person is inclusive of both definitions offered here.

    What do you think?