One of the first things you need to decide when starting a writing project is what Point of View (POV) you are going to use to tell your story. There are reasons for choosing each one and there are benefits and drawbacks to each as well. Let’s start with a brief over view of your choices. There are three basic perspectives to choose from: 1st Person, 2nd Person and 3rd Person.
1st Person – This is the most intimate POV as it tells the story from inside the head of your character with the use of I/me/my/mine in their speech. You can weave a tight, confined – even claustrophobic – tale with this perspective. This can be a benefit or a detriment, depending on how you use it and what goal you have for your story. (This year I have undertaken my first 1st person project and so far I love it.)
Your reader will get to know your character very well, their thoughts and feelings, their understanding of the world and the situations they are in. You need to keep in mind exactly what your POV character would know and not include anything that they would not (this applies to all perspectives). This can sometimes land writers in a bit of a pickle if they need to convey a bit of information that their POV character would not know. There are different ways of dealing with this and it can become a ‘make or break’ point for a writer. Use your imagination and creativity, but please avoid employing deus ex machina. :-D (That is a topic for another blog.)
The Rashomon Effect is something I’ve recently learned about and has become something I would like to try – either as a writing exercise or a final project. Basically, it is multiple first person accounts of one event by various people who were involved in or witnessed the event. It underlines how people’s perspectives color everything they see and how unreliable eye witnesses can be. I think it would be a fun way to both get to know your characters and to tell a story, however.
2nd Person – Involves the use of you/your/you’re/etc. Where you will see this POV used most often is in blogs, textbooks/instruction manuals and Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books. It is possible to write a story in 2nd person, but it would be extremely difficult. My knee-jerk reaction to being told what to do leads me to believe I would not be a fan of a book told in 2nd person. I loved the CYOA books because I made the decisions that brought me to different parts of the book, but a book that was constantly telling me what I was doing and thinking without any input from me would not be a book I would stick with for very long. I think that would be a common reaction and the reason only certain types of avenues use 2nd person.
3rd Person – Probably the most common POV used. The terminology used with this POV involves he/his/she/hers/it/its/they/them/theirs/etc. It is separated further by two subcategories: limited and omniscient.
Limited - This is the perspective that most people use and most are familiar with. It follows one character at a time, telling the story from their perspective – much like 1st person, but taking a step back from the I/me/my’s. You still need to keep in mind what this person would and wouldn’t know and show things through their specific tinted glasses. You are limited in the information and experiences you can convey by the character you choose to use.
There are ways to work around the limits of Limited. One example is in the Harry Potter series, which is told almost exclusively from Harry’s POV. Rowling created the invisibility cloak and the pensieve to be able to give the readers information that Harry would not have had otherwise.
George R. R. Martin and Rick Riordan (to name two examples) use 3rd person limited, but switch the POV character between chapters. This is limited because readers still only experience the story through one character’s perspective at a time. This helps convey more information and tell more of the story than you would be able to if you stick with one character.
Omnicient - These stories are told from an all-knowing view point. Readers are able to know everything that is going on with all the characters in a story. There are different ways to go about this, but the most common is to have a narrative voice (re)telling the story. They know everything and so readers get to know everything.
Whichever perspective you choose, make sure it is the best fit for the type of story you want to tell and that you follow the rules that go along with the particular POV. If you aren’t sure, try writing scenes from different characters perspectives and different POVs. It won’t take you long to discover which feels right to you.
Do you have a favorite POV? Do any of them frighten/intimidate you? Tell me about it in the comments section :)