Writing Craft 101: Person and Point of View (part one)

Point of View, or POV, is through whose eyes the story is told. Most stories will have one primary POV character, typically the main character, although there can be multiple POV characters in one story.

There are many different types and styles for writing POV. It’s fine to choose which you want to use, but you must be consistent within your story.

POV is directly related to Person, which is who is telling the story.

Person is the narrative voice and how you’re telling the story. This is similar to POV, but not exactly the same. The POV employed is a storytelling style, whereas Person has to do with grammar.

Your options for Person are first person, second person, and third person. In fiction, you’ll most often encounter third person and first person POVs. What Person you’re telling your story in determines, to an extent, what type of POV you’ll use.

If you’re writing in first person, then by default, your POV character will be your main character (though not necessarily your protagonist). First person means the narrator is telling the story through his or her own eyes, using “I am, I did, I said,” rather than “he” or “she.” Common examples of stories written in first person are Twilight, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Fault in our Stars.

Second person is when the narrator is talking directly to someone. For example, when I am telling you what to do to write well and I say, “First, you read my series on writing craft,” I am speaking in second person. In fiction, pretty much the only time you would use second person would be if you were writing one of those “Choose your own adventure” stories and you place the reader into the story. There are a few exceptions in classic literature, such as Lolita, but I don’t recommend it, especially for beginning writers.

Third person is by far the most common for use in fiction writing. Third person is when a narrator is telling the story, talking about the characters as “he” and “she.” Even in third person, the story is often told through the eyes of a particular point of view character, but it is still written using pronouns as though the story is being told by an outside source.

Between first person and third person, there are pros and cons to either choice.

First person is a much more intimate way of experiencing the story. Remember, your number one goal is to engage your reader, and in fiction, that happens when they make a connection. First person allows the reader to experience the story right along with the character, walking with them as they discover whatever it is they’re discovering in the story.

The downside of first person is that you are limited to only that one character telling the story. As you narrate, you can only give away the information that the character learns as they learn it. The reader can’t know anything that the narrator hasn’t personally experienced. (Technically, you could have a first-person omniscient character, as in the dead character that narrates Desperate Housewives, but that would be rare and not recommended.) First person makes it harder to show what’s going on with other characters or in other locations, and depending on the type of story you’re writing, it may drastically limit the scope of your story and possible tension.

First person works particularly well for romance and YA.

Check out this post for more explanation about POV options when writing in the third person.

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