As you’re starting in your writing journey and learning the different techniques and styles, you may ask yourself what point-of-view (POV) to use for your story. Should you go with First Person? Third Person? If Third Person, should it be a narrative style or omniscient? This post discusses the most common types used in crafting today and some ideas on which genres you should use. Bear in mind, these are guidelines, there is no hard or fast rule you should follow other than this:
Don’t break POV. I’ll get into why at the end of the post.
First Person Narrative – from the mind of the main character(s). With First Person, the main character is telling the story. Everything the reader knows is from the MC’s perception and understanding. You will know the MC’s thoughts and every chapter will always feature the MC as the one driving the story along. This is good for a writer who loves to reveal their world through the MC’s eyes and through dialogue. Here is an example of First Person from my novel, The Ties That Bind.
I sat on my trusty couch in a silk charmeuse with matching pants and a white t-shirt, eating my dinner consisting of three bags of microwave popcorn, all different flavors, some cheese spread, a half can of whip cream, and a couple bottles of strawberry soda. For dessert, a bag of chocolate cookies with white cream filling laid next to me.
I ate the cookies first—the whole damn bag.
The TV blared an old black and white film noir movie called The Mark of the Spider, the rain outside making the movie more eerie than necessary. Occasionally, my windows lit up with a flash, no doubt the storm picking up the tempo.
My cell phone rang, but the number read, “Blocked.” I ignored it, tossed it back on the coffee table. More than likely some scam artist with a thick Nigerian accent pretending to be from the FBI ready to come and arrest me unless I paid a fine of five hundred dollars. That would be the third jerk this week. The phone turned silent then rang again. And again. Persistent bastard. After the third call, it fell dormant.
As you can read, our hero discusses everything as if we’re in his head. What he sees is what we see. You want to use this POV if you really desire the reader to become attached to your main character. The disadvantage of this perspective is that if you only have one MC, you’re “chained” to that character throughout the entire story, and it makes writing epic scenes more challenging.
Third Person Narrative – the invisible storyteller. Third Person is a narrator who is an invisible person standing alongside a particular character and telling the story from their perspective. However, if there is a scene change or new chapter, the POV can change to a different character. This is great if you have more than one main character or you wish to write the story from different perspectives such as writing an epic fantasy where you provide the perspectives of your heroes and your villains. With the narrative style though, you are telling the story through one character in any particular scene or chapter. Here is an example pulled from my novel, The Rise of Evil: The Lantern Bearer’s Quest:
As the companions descended the hill, Irshad’iz asked softly, “Sai Masadi, you could have let me go. What was that about?”
She nearly rolled her eyes, but instead met the young man’s curious stare. “A battle between me and that simpleton. I won.”
“You cannot be this sheep-headed. Why your god continues to spare your life perplexes me.” Masadi’s eyes emanated a glint of yellow marking her irritation. “No, I’m referring to that one, Jaktu.” She sighed as she observed no change in the lad’s blank stare. “Braelann has plans for you—intimate plans as she’s clearly in season. I can smell her passion aura. The other females are in season too, but not nearly as dire as Braelann.”
“What? In season? Gnolls fall in season? But…but I’m human.” Irshad’iz emphasized his statement by pointing at himself. He didn’t conceal his shock.
In this scene, the invisible storyteller is alongside Masadi, telling the story as she sees things from her perspective. We could be treated to what she is thinking, but we will not get in Irshad’iz’s head, or Braelann’s head, or Jaktu’s head (that would be Third Person Omniscient, but these days, not considered a good form of storytelling).
Why should you use Third Person Narrative? For one, it’s easy to look at the story from the perspective of other characters who may not be the main character. In the example above, Masadi is a supporting character in the Lantern Bearer’s Quest as the main character, Samdel Thatch, was indisposed during that part of the chapter. It was an important scene for me to introduce the reader to the gnolls and provide background on their people and society. Another advantage is you can do scene changes within the chapter, particularly if you’re running big climactic battles where you want to hop around to different characters.
So I will end this as to why it’s bad to break POV. It confuses your reader and is one of the most grievous sins in writing. Nothing will turn your reader off to your story for repeated instances of breaking POV. It also screams, “AMATEUR!!” to your reader as well.
2 thoughts on “A Different Perspective: Understanding Point-of-View (POV)”
Great explanation! There are two extra things I’ve learned to think about when I choose POV. (1) First person the reader always assumes that the narrator may be unreliable … Spinning the story just slightly to put themselves in a slightly better light … So it’s a great choice if the character is facing any sort of moral dilemma. Third person gives you the luxury of switching heads, but it must be factual (no opportunity to justify moral decisions) and the best POV for any given scene is *usually* (often? sometimes?) the character with the most at stake in that scene.
I LOVE these DSP blogs. I wish there had been internet with such helpful tools years ago … I would have not hated so much of my writing (and myself) for so many years!
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