The obvious questions are: why and how?
Answer: because it’s an important thing to consider when writing narrative and it can make your story better by determining its voice.
There are three types of POV: first person, second person and third person. And then there are two types of third person POV: subjective and omniscient. Today, we’re going to learn what they are and which one you should use for your novel.
First person POV
First person POV is narrated by your character himself/herself. It uses the pronouns “I”, “me”, “we”, “our”, etc. In this your character is telling your story in his/her own words. He/she can only narrate the scenes in which he/she has actually been. Long expository narrative is a problem in first person POV. On the other hand, you can show the character’s personality very well through this. How?
Because you’re narrating each thought, each action, each feeling directly from your character. The reader can come to know the character because of this, and it can help your story. However to do this without a mistake you must really know your character. Yes, by ‘know’ I mean know everything about him/her. Details, appearance, personality and the whole nine yards.
First person POV is suitable for some novels and not for others. Autobiographies are of course written in the first person and some of them can be a huge hit (while of course, some may flop). Do your research and decide whether first person is suitable for your novel or not.
Second person POV
Second person POV is rarely suitable for novels because it sounds stilted and stodgy. You may want to use the second person in other works such as articles. (For e.g. I’m using first and second person in this article).
Second person simply means using the pronoun “you” and narrating the story from the reader’s point of view. The Choose Your Own Adventure books are one notable example of books which are hugely popular because they use second person POV. But for your normal novel, I don’t recommend second person POV, and it’s usually best avoided.
Third person POV
Most novels are set in the third person, and third person POV is the most common and most popular when it comes to POV for novels. It means that you, the author, narrate the story as an invisible man who was present in the story using the pronouns “he” or “she”. For e.g. “He worked hard” and not “I worked hard”. But even in this there are two different kinds. They are:
- Subjective or limited third person POV
- Omniscient third person POV
Which is better? Of course, you already know the answer to this question: there’s no such thing as “better” in fiction writing. You have to choose what works best for you, the author.
Subjective third person POV
Subjective third person POV is when you use third person, but narrate the story only through a single character. That is, only the scenes which he is present. Only the things which he sees. You get up close to him, and don’t let him go. It doesn’t have to sound like first person, but the things you narrate must seem as if he is narrating (his feelings, his emotions, his thoughts etc).
Subjective third person has worked well for many novels, and is usually the safest option you can make if you want to choose a POV for your novel because readers like it. They like having close access to your character… unless your character doesn’t hold their attention.
Example: The famous Harry Potter novels are written in subjective third person, and it’s a POV that’s worked for J.K. Rowling.
Omniscient third person POV
This one’s a bit like a movie camera. You’re spying on all characters. There’s no main character here when it comes to sticking to him and only narrating what happened with him. Instead, you’re looking at all characters and narrating through them all.
It offers the most freedom, but it isn’t really ideal for your novel when you consider that readers won’t have the opportunity to get close to your character and feel his personality. Of course this has adverse effects, so use omniscient third person POV with caution.
And there are hybrids. What do I mean by hybrids? I mean novels when one chapter is narrated by one character, the second a different character, the third a different character and the fourth the first character and so on. This can work for some novels if you do it right and proper, but otherwise, once again, use with caution. (Note: this is also called alternating person view).
Example: The Inkworld Trilogy is written in alternative person POV.
Now you know all the point of views. You have the knowledge, and that’s great. But remember once again, just don’t choose one or the other because others use it. Every writing voice is different. What works for some person and may not work for you (this happens more than you think). So as always, experiment and test your results.
Have Your Say
Do you have any tips or experiences to share when it comes to using POV for novels? Any fiction writing techniques to add? Got some praise or criticism? Then please share them all in the comments.