So, you’ve drawn up a complex character sheet, prepared a full outline with all the plot twists and surprise reveals, and have everything ready to write that future best-selling novel. But before you can write the clever opening line of your book, you have to decide on one important thing: the Point of View.
Point of View (POV) refers to the narrative point of view, voice, and time. For example:
“The man kills his friend.” — This is Third-Person Present POV.
“I killed my friend.” — This is First-Person Past POV.
There are MANY POVs to choose from, including:
- First Person (I, me, we) Present and Past
- Second Person (You) Present and Past
- Third Person (He, she, them) Present, Past, Limited, and Omniscient
For the sake of this article, we’ll focus on the THREE most common POVs:
First Person is all written as “I, me, us, and we”. For many people, it feels the most natural, as you’re telling the story as YOU see and experience it. You can write with your own voice and only have to deal with your own perception, thoughts, and experiences.
To Kill a Mockingbird and Moby Dick are both written in first person, and masterfully!
However, First Person has its limitations. You can’t get into the minds, thoughts, or feelings of other characters, and you’re limited to what you, the narrator can see, experience, and know. If something happens out of your line of sight, you can’t write about it.
Third Person Omniscient
Third Person Omniscient is written as “he, she, they”. Most third-person narratives are written in past tense (he ate, walked, breathed, killed, etc.), though some books use present (he eats, walks, breathes, kills, etc.) to great effect. With this POV, you’re hovering over everything, and you can see all, hear all, and experience all. You can pop into any character’s head at random, hear what they’re thinking and feeling, and move between settings and characters at will.
This makes it easy to show everything that’s going on in the world, or broaden the scope of what’s happening around your characters. On the downside, it can be confusing to hop between characters and settings so much, and you can over-switch POVs, making your story even harder to follow. It takes a disciplined mind to keep third person omniscient cohesive and coherent.
Dune and War and Peace are both written in Third Person Omniscient.
Third Person Limited
Third Person Limited is written as “he, she, they”. With this POV, you’re living in the heads of one character at a time, and simply narrating everything as they see it.
This is the easiest tense to write if you are going to be changing characters often (as in The Song of Fire and Ice or The Wheel of Time), and it will allow you to shift between contrasting viewpoints. You can relay both sides of a conflict and portray differing opinions on a subject, but without filling the narrative with too many random thoughts from non-essential characters.
There are very few downsides to Third Person Limited. As long as you can keep the POV consistent (only see, hear, feel, and think what your narrator/POV character is), you can write a clear, coherent story with relative ease.
Guest post by author/editor Andy Peloquin
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