How to Write: Point of Views

By reader’s request, I will be doing how to write from different Points of View (POV) in a story.

I am by no means an expert, but I do have this gift of thinking about things in a different way from most people, so I am going to tell all of you how I learned about different POVs.

The first thing that I learned was third person POV. Think back on the first books you have ever read: “This is Sam. Sam runs. Go, Sam, go.”

Image result for this is sam

Because we are looking from the outside at Sam, we are in third person. I usually think of it like watching a movie. When watching a movie, you can pan out and look at multiple characters and multiple locations at the same time.

Within third person, there is third person limited and third person.

In third person limited, you follow the journey of one character. You observe things and journey in tandem with one character, getting only their viewpoints and perspectives through their exclusive personal experiences while still not using an “I” narrative.

I think of this like the difference between something like a wide view of things like The Lord of the Rings movies where you can jump from place to place following the journeys of many characters at once, and a movie like Harry Potter, where you follow the story and thoughts of only one person.

As an author, one would act as the director of the film, pointing the camera in whatever manner you would like the story. Do you want to be with Gandalf right now, or Frodo, or Merry? Do you want the camera to pan out on Harry or do you want to zoom in on his face as he holds his wand for the first time?

When I think of Second Person POVs, I think of ‘choose your own journey’ books where it would give a scenario and two options and for each choice, you would go to a certain page. I think of this like video games where readers can create their own characters and the author of the book is the game. As a writer, you are telling the player (or the reader in this case) what they are doing:

“You come upon a road and see that it is filled with needles. You don’t want to get hurt, but you really need to get across the road. You walk across the needles and you are in crippling pain.”

Authors tell readers what they are experiencing and/or give them a choice.

In first person, it is as though readers are looking directly through the eyes of the character. If something goes on behind the character’s head, the reader would not know.

First person POV

Advantages

  • First person narratives are effective at gaining empathy/sympathy from the reader, because they see the world/story solely from the chosen character’s perspective.
  • It can create empathy/understanding for characters that would be otherwise unrelatable (e.g. an “evil” character).
  • Provides a lot of depth for MC.
  • Writing from first person POV immerses you (as the author) into a fairly solid perspective, can be easier to write a consistent character/maintain a specific tone or style.

Disadvantages

  • Difficulties with physical descriptors of MC.
  • Difficulties balancing the “objective” nature of the world/story with the narrator’s perspective.
  • As a writer, constraining yourself to the limited and biased perspective of your narrator.

Second person POV

Advantages

  • Immersive/(provides strong hook) for a reader

Disadvantages

  • Difficult to do well.
  • Can confuse reader – as writer, or narrator, who is being addressed? Could be the narrator talking about themselves at a previous point in time, could be addressing the reader, could be the narrator retelling a story with the intention of distancing themselves from the story (“you” instead of “I” so that it becomes less personal).
  • If reader can’t imagine themselves as an actor in the story (I would never do that/I can’t imagine doing that), it can be difficult to have reader suspend belief.

Third person POV

Advantages

  • Extremely flexible – can be objective/subjective, omniscient/limited. Can span great periods of time or distance, talk about settings/situations in which no characters exist, etc.
  • Allows for the reader to obtain a great deal of information
  • Provides objective and “true/accurate” information about world/characters/plot.

Disadvantages

  • When using multiple POVs, difficult to track perspectives and information
  • Switching between character POVs must be done clearly, reader can lose track/become overwhelmed by number of differing perspectives
  • Narrator is not a participant in the story – can create emotional distance between reader and characters/events, lessening impact of story/conflict
  • For writers, ability to be omniscient (provide details/information of world, characters, plots) can result in tendency to over inform reader – providing details that don’t matter and can cause a loss of interest

Multiple perspectives are also an option. Going from first to third can give a wider array of information. Also using multiple narrators but going in close with first or third can give a different flavor or tone to the same setting i.e. when Harry learns about events from Snape’s perspective.

All in all, knowing the different perspectives is often very useful and finding one that fits your story can take several tries, but it’s good to have a good idea of where to start.

Is there any other topics you’d like for us to cover? Let us know in the comments below and keep on keeping on!

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