Choosing a point-of-view of your novel is one of the most fundamental decisions you will make. This choice will be the bridge between your readers and your story and dictate how your book sounds and feels to your reader. But it’s not always an easy decision. This post isn’t a break down of each type of point-of-view. (Though, you can find that post here.) It’s meant for those of you who have a basic understanding of POV and need a guide to help you select the one that will be best for your story.
Without further ado, here are six things to consider when deciding on your point-of-view.
1) The reader’s proximity to the story
The deeper you are inside a character’s mind, the closer your reader will feel to the story. If you write your story in first person, your reader will often feel like they’re in your character’s head and experiencing the story with them. Second person is mostly reserved for choose-your-own-adventure books and can make a reader feel like they are apart of the story as their own character. However, they’re not experiencing another fictional character’s story, which is why there’s a degree of distance. Third person limited lets your reader feel close to the character, though not necessarily in the character’s head, while third person omniscient has the reader assume the role of an audience member in a theater who is watching the book play out. First person puts your readers closest to the story while third person omniscient holds them farthest away. Everything else falls in between.
2) How much of the story you want the reader to know
The more limited you want your reader to be, the more limited you’ll want the point of view to be. If you want your reader only to know what your main character knows and discover information with them, then first person may be the best option. If you want to keep your point of view pretty limited, but still have the flexibility to occasionally interject information outside of your central character as needed, a limited third person would probably be the best fit. This will give your narrator the ability to add extra information from time to time, but keep the focus on the primary character. If you want your audience to know a lot more than any single character, third person omniscient might be for you. First person is the most limited, while third person omniscient is the most freeing.
This isn’t exactly point-of-view, but it goes hand in hand, so I wanted to mention it here. Tense dictates how immediate your story feels. If your character/narrator is speaking in present tense, it gives your reader more immediacy and it makes them feel like the story is happening right now. If your character/narrator is speaking in past tense, it feels like something that’s already happened. Both can be exciting and interesting. I like to think of it as the difference between reading or hearing about a historic event and experiencing a historic event as it happens–if that makes sense.
4) Your narrator’s reliability
Is your narrator someone we can trust? Or do they have honesty issues? Is there a reason for your readers to doubt what your character is saying? If you’re writing a book where you want to keep your readers on their toes, you might want to consider using an unreliable narrator. If you want your reader to be able to trust your narrator, then you want to make sure they are either seen as honest or have no reason to lie about what’s going on.
This doesn’t mean your narrator won’t be biased in some way, however, that’s not the same as having an unreliable narrator. A biased character might tell you about an event that happened, but they might remember things differently because the human memory is imperfect and our thoughts, opinions, and emotional states color our perception. However, we’d have no reason to question that the event itself happened and that it occurred to the best of that character’s recollection. An unreliable narrator will get significant facts wrong on a regular basis. The character might be doing this on purpose or compulsively. Either way, we can’t fully trust them. Both types of narrators can be useful, depending on the situation.
5) It’s okay to change it up!
If you’ve chosen first person or close/limited third person, it’s okay to alternate between a few characters. You might have two first person narrators sharing a story and alternating every chapter. An example of this is Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun. Or you might have one character that you focus on in limited third person, but switch to another character from time to time. A good example of this is Harry Potter. Most of the time, we’re with Harry, but other times we follow side (or even new) characters as needed to get information about the story that Harry doesn’t have access to. Just be careful not to jump around too much or you may risk confusing your reader.
6) But don’t switch POVs entirely
As much as it’s okay to switch up your narrator/featured character, it’s best to avoid changing points of view entirely. So if you decide to write your book in first person, you should avoid changing to third person and vice versa. It will be very jarring for your reader to have to adjust to a different point of view/distance from your story as move along.
I hope that helps you choose the best point-of-view for your novel!
Now it’s your turn: Is choosing the right point-of-view a challenge? If yes, what do you think makes it so hard? If no, are there any tips you can share? Tell me about it in the comments!
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