To me, point of view is something that tends to decide itself. When a story has developed in my head to the point at which it can begin to leak out of my brain onto paper, I have usually already decided what point of view to write from. However, I have also, on occasion, begun writing from one point of view, only to change my mind part way through. This makes for a lot of rewording, rehashing, and rewriting. To avoid such a situation, it is wise to ascertain, before you begin writing, what point of view will best carry your story. Using the correct point of view is essential to your story, and yet, there is no real “correct” when it comes to perspective. It is, entirely, a matter of choice, although it can be difficult to tell the story of one character’s experiences when you are trapped inside the mind of another. The point of view you choose to write from will ultimately colour your tale, influencing where the plot leads, and perhaps more importantly, doesn’t lead. Point of view is the lens, the spectacles through which your story will be viewed, and you get to choose if you want them to be rose-coloured, or very limited in view, or everywhere at once, making them the first pair of omniscient spectacles to ever be created (I’d like to see such a pair).
There are many variations and stylistic choices that can be made regarding point of view, but here are a few basic structures:
First Person (I)
Written from the perspective of a single character, this point of view is used most commonly in young adult literature. Your story unfolds entirely from the viewpoint of a single character, typically the protagonist. This perspective is difficult to write from, as everything must be related from the mind of a single character. Character voice must be strong and intact, and the author cannot, under any circumstances, sway from that voice—which may become a problem, especially if you decide you want to tell readers about what’s going on on the other side of town. But this perspective is very intimate, and really allows you to get inside a character’s inner workings, which is why I chose it for my first novel, Unsettled.
If you want to write from a deep point of view, really getting inside a character’s mind, but you need to get out once in a while and follow a different path, this may be for you. Switching between characters, while tricky to handle, can be very effective. Changing perspective with alternating chapters or some other definitive marker for readers to identify will allow you to experience the story from multiple perspectives, while still writing from the first person point of view. One of my novels-to-be-written, once I’ve finished the Reset series, will be written from multiple points of view in the first person. This can be done in many different ways. The story can be told sequentially, as experienced by different characters, or multiple seemingly unconnected plots can be woven together. There are many different ways you could go with this. Just be careful that you’re not simply switching voices—you must also be switching minds. You must write each character with a completely different way of thinking, and this is exceptionally difficult. It can also result in chaos, if your readers become overwhelmed and confused by frequent, poorly-executed perspective changes.
Second Person (YOU)
This is generally the least used point of view in fiction. Second person point of view is told from the narrator’s perspective, addressing another character, or the reader, as “you”. I am currently writing in the second person, but just in case you’re still not sure what I mean, let me give you an example:
“You are currently reading this blog post. You are in great danger. If you believe that you are being watched, immediately drop to one knee and begin proposing to the nearest passing stranger. When it is safe to do so, continue reading the contents of this post. If the danger does not pass, attempt to rip your computer into small pieces and eat them. These words must not fall into enemy hands, understand?”
This perspective is generally used in “Choose your own adventure” stories, although it has been used in other fiction, albeit sparingly. It is generally avoided in fiction because it, well, it’s a little jarring to readers, and while it can be effective, it’s a little off-putting to be told that you, specifically you, must eat your computer. Most of us don’t particularly like the taste of computer circuitry. I know I certainly don’t.
Third Person (THEY)
Third person limited is quite similar to first person, however, there is one key difference. First person is written from the perspective of a single character. Third person limited is written from the perspective of a narrator—that’s you! Therefore, while the inner thoughts and feelings of one character may be related by the narrator, you are free to provide information and insights that are not the personal opinions of that character. “Limited” simply means that you are stuck to that one character—you won’t be able to divulge the thoughts of all your characters, only those you’ve chosen to follow. Much of fiction is written from the third person, as it is a very effective point of view from which to drive the plot and is both engaging and non-threatening to readers.
Third person omniscient allows you to, basically, do whatever you want. You know everything, see everything, and tell everything. The thoughts and feelings of any character are fair game. You are no longer bound by time, space, or any of the laws of physics. You basically get to say whatever you want to, which sounds pretty great, although it can be rather challenging. Switching between characters, settings, etc., can be a little overwhelming for both writer and reader, and while it makes it easier to say whatever you want to say in order to get the story moving, it may distance readers. Without any sort of compelling connection to the characters and story, readers may find this perspective lacking.
Well, have you decided? Hopefully you didn’t take me seriously in my example about writing from the second person, because if you actually went and ate your computer, you’d have no way to finish this article, and that would be a real shame. Also, you’d probably need some medical help, though I don’t know what kind of specialist they’d bring in for that one. Mental help wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
Hopefully, now that you know all about point of view, you’re ready to write a bestseller!
Love to all!