(POV) you select for your narrator is one of the more important choices you make as a writer because it has a significant impact on how you
reveal events, and how readers perceive the people populating your novel.
In literature the term POV refers to the perspective, the lens, through which the story is told and dictates the pronoun. (A point to note is that while you, the author, are doing the writing, the narrator doesn't have to be you, it could be one of your characters.)
There are three
POVs: first, second and third person. Let’s have a look at the benefits and complications of these different viewpoints.
is when the narrator uses the ‘I’ voice.
“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father
gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.” The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
“I cast no shadow. Smoke rests behind me and
daylight is stifled. I count sleepers and the numbers rush. I count rivets and
bolts. I walk north.” Elmet by Fiona Mozley.
“We were going out to dinner. I won’t say which
restaurant because next time it might be full of people who’ve come to see whether
we’re there.” The Dinner by Herman Koch.
The advantage of the first-person POV is that it gives an immediacy to what the narrator is telling
us because we have intimate access to the character’s emotions and thoughts. If it is done skilfully, we
feel everything they feel as they feel it. For a novelist it offers freedom to experiment with
characterization and language; the latter is normally restricted to dialogue. In other words, you become the single-minded detective tracking the serial killer, the
smart-mouthed witch with extra-potent spells, the fierce computer-hacker who struggles
with social skills. Alternatively, you can use a fictional version of
One drawback of the
first-person POV is the overwhelming focus on ‘I’ repeated on every page.
One way to reduce this predominance is by alternating with descriptions of actions,
other characters and the setting.
limitation is the partial vision, the one-sided view of whatever is happening
which may turn out to be tedious. Including subtle actions and dialogue which
contradict the narrator’s version, which they are is unaware of, offer a
counter-narrative that readers pick up on, creating conflict and interest.
NB The first-person POV does not have to be that
of the protagonist. They can be someone close to the principal character who is
relating the events that took place, and how they were affected.
second-person is the least common POV. In a second-person narration, the main
character is referred to as ‘you’, a technique which confers the role of passive actor in the tale upon the
“You want to be somebody else. You don’t know who
this person might be; all you know is that she should be confident, beautiful,
beloved.” The Sweetheart by Angelina
“You are amongst them, of course. Your curiosity
got the better of you, as curiosity is wont to do. You stand in the fading
light, the scarf around your neck pulled up against the chilly evening breeze,
waiting to see for yourself exactly what kind of circus only opens once the sun
sets.” The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.
“It’s all yours. Your hands rise, fingers spread,
ready to feel the firm scrape of the football, ready to pull it to you, ready
to tuck it safely in.” Damage by
One benefit of
the second-person POV is its ability to draw readers in, quickly engaging them
in the character and their story. This POV often works for solitary, compulsive personalities
who appear to be confiding their accounts to themselves, and for expressing the
reality of a condition or circumstance shared by many.
A downside is that
some people find the second-person POV challenging. You’re sad, tears
fall, wetting your cheeks. “Nope. It’s a gorgeous day and I’m fine.”
This viewpoint can
be demanding to maintain for the duration of the novel and shares the same
issue regarding monotony as the ‘I’ in the first-person POV. Many authors who
use the second-person POV offer points of view from other characters to provide variation.
The advice I’ve
come across about using the second-person POV is to become accustomed to writing
in the first and third POVs before attempting this more distinctive approach.
Yet…nothing ventured, nothing gained.
The final, and
most utilized, option is the third person POV which uses he, she or they.
Within this category are three approaches you can employ:
Third Person Omniscient: the narrator knows
everything about all the characters, events and places, including knowledge
unavailable to those within the story.
“‘Good,’ said the boy, for he had no wish to tell
the secret to his playmates, liking to know and do what they knew not and could
not.” Further on in the same chapter, the following
sentence is about another character. “She had tried not only to gain control of his speech and silence, but
to bind him at the same time to her service in the craft of sorcery.” A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K Le Guin.
The advantage is
that we learn the ins and outs of all the relevant characters;
appearances, likes, dislikes, history, etc., and the narrator can make
observations and asides. This comprehensive point of view enables a writer to
bring the reader into every aspect of the story.
Shifting Third-Person aka Third-Person Subjective Viewpoint
This strategy is
adopted when a novelist decides to bring multiple viewpoints into play. With a
reduced use of the omniscient narrator, this gives us access to the minds of
two or more characters, showing their challenges and hopes.
“Later, in bed, he said, ‘Fran, there’s no need to
worry. I’ll marry you. I said I would and I will.’
‘You needn’t,’ she said, pressing her hand over the
place where the baby was. And he didn’t. Gone before the hair grew back.
‘Gareth, what do you want?’
Gareth’s thinking how ugly she looks, with her
great big bulge sticking out. He wonders what the baby will look like.” Another World by Pat Barker.
confusing the reader, each speaker has to have a distinct voice, because changing viewpoint isn’t enough if the characters sound
Third-Person Limited Omniscience: the narrator has
full knowledge about the inner workings of the protagonist’s mind, but only reveals information about other people that the principal
This is a popular
POV used by many novelists because it enhances investment in the main character by revealing their thoughts and emotions, making it easy to identify with their struggles. All other
characters and actions are filtered through the protagonist's perception of them.
“The islands just visible through the mist also looked like teeth, Faith
decided. Not fine, clean Dover Teeth, but jaded, broken teeth, jutting
crookedly amid the waves of the choppy grey sea.” The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge.
limited omniscience permits the writer to zoom in and expand someone’s internal
monologue and to pan out and describe the world around them.
Third Person Objective point of view: the narrator
knows only what is seen externally and recounts it in a neutral, factual manner
without bias and has no way of communicating what is
going on inside anyone’s head. Every single thing is revealed through action
“It’s a Friday in early March and nothing has happened
yet. Everyone is waiting. Tomorrow the Beartown Ice Hockey Club’s junior team
is playing in the semifinal of the biggest youth tournament in the country.” Beartown by Frederik Backman.
This point of
view works for those who enjoy a concise, less descriptive style of writing, although the impersonal point of view might result in writing that is spare
to the point of clinical. On the other
hand, this is an excellent challenge for a writer's ‘show don’t tell’ skills.
I have great
admiration for those who adopt first or second person. My favorite is the
third-person limited omniscient POV as I prefer to identify with and reveal one individual’s inner self, yet be able to pull back and describe the
surroundings and other people.
One essential point to
remember, if you don't want to confuse and lose your reader, is be consistent.
As you write you
may develop a favorite viewpoint which you then refine. Or you may decide
to do something different next time and try out another POV. In writing, there is no
right or wrong. There is only the story you are telling.
Take a section
of your WIP with at least two characters and rewrite it utilizing a different
viewpoint from the current one.
Using the same
section of your WIP, rewrite it a second time, using multiple viewpoints.
When you finish, take the three
different versions and compare them, consider the benefits of each POV and which works best
for the character and the story.
My tip of the day: analyze the books you read and study how other authors tackle this subject—learn from the experts!
Stay well and stay safe.
Sending lots of positive thoughts and prayers your way.
Until next month, best wishes