by Marie Valentine, editor
I noted previously the importance of keeping a consistent perspective in a novel, and I suggested authors use point of view (POV) as a guide in writing and editing their story.
If you’re not sure how to pick your story’s point of view, consider genre and reader expectations. For example, memoir is usually written in first person. Self-help is directed at the reader: second person. Fiction is first or third person. Once you’ve narrowed down your genre, you can decide between first and third person, and beyond that, how many characters’ viewpoints you will include.
First-person POV has the benefit of immediacy. A lot of young adult fiction is written in this perspective. It’s also fun when combined with present-tense verb structure in mystery and thrillers because the action unfolds in real-time creating suspense in that the character doesn’t know what is going to happen next. It’s intimate, and it’s vicarious. The pinhole viewpoint allows for unexpected twists and turns.
When writing, the author has to keep in mind that you cannot say or think things that the character would not say or observe. It is hard to show not tell when you’re writing from this viewpoint.
First-person POV lets you use a voice that shows the character’s personality, as long as you’re able to get inside the narrator’s head and reveal his attitudes.
Point of view in nonfiction depends on the type of book. Most academic texts are written in an impersonal third person. Memoir uses first person “I,” but should not switch into second person (“you”). Self-help also uses “I” and can use second-person “you” freely. Instruction manuals use “you,” and you will also find it in poetry and epistolary fiction (stories written in “letter” form).
While some novels, like young adult, are written in first person, third-person POV is most common in fiction, but there are perspective considerations. We sometimes refer to omniscient point of view, where we can see the thoughts of every character. This is difficult to pull off effectively due to each character needing a distinct voice so the reader knows who is “speaking” at any time.
Third-person-limited POV is where you choose one primary viewpoint character and stick to him or her throughout. Another style is to write from multiple viewpoints, where you can switch between character’s viewpoints in different scenes. This requires conscious effort to control consistency.
If you are struggling with deciding what point of view works best, try writing a scene from first person, then rewriting it in third person. Which way serves your story more effectively?
Read on for a deeper dive into third-person point of view.
Marie Valentine is an experienced book editor who can help keep your novel’s point of view consistent.