Point of view (POV) is my favorite part of writing, but also something many writers don’t understand. The fine details are often lost in the technical aspects. When writing a novel, you have two main choices: 1st Person POV, and 3rd Person POV. (There is also 2nd Person POV, which I’ll touch on last.)
Before I begin: for the sake of conciseness, I use abbreviations. (1PPOV = 1st Person POV, 2PPOV = 2nd Person POV, 3PPOV = 3rd Person POV)
A character is narrating the story. (I walked down the hall, holding my breath as chills ran down my spine.) The most widely used form of 1PPOV is employing the main character to tell the story. Example: The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. However, you can also pick a secondary character to lay down the narrative. My favorite example of this is The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Most of these stories are told from the perspective of Watson, who is a secondary character.
If you’re just beginning to write, 1PPOV is the simplest. Some say 3PPOV is best for writers to begin with, but 1PPOV teaches you how to get inside a character’s head and call it home. Once you learn how to look at the story directly from a character’s eyes, you begin to see it unfold in a different way. No matter what I believe, however, it comes down to a personal decision. Even if you choose to write primarily in 3PPOV, try to write in 1PPOV every once in a while, whether it be in character journals or short stories. It will expand your understanding of your characters.
You are narrating the story. (He walked down the hall, holding his breath as chills ran down his spine.) You can pick one of two paths with 3PPOV: omniscient or limited omniscience. Omniscient 3PPOV is used when you are narrating the story, but you can peek into the head of any character. This is not used very often, as sticking to just a few characters causes the reader to become more strongly attached. Limited omniscient 3PPOV is used when, again, you are narrating the story, but you can only stream the thoughts of a select few characters. Examples: The Hobbit.
This POV is favored by many, as it seems more “professional” than 1PPOV. The concept of professionalism in POV is in how you use it, not which POV you choose. However, 3PPOV tends to be less intimate than 1PPOV, because the reader is not wholly submerged in the character’s thoughts the entire time. You can play with the prose to create an intimate feel with 3PPOV, but it is more difficult than 1PPOV.
No matter which POV you choose to write in, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Every character views the world a different way. Their private thoughts, beliefs, and emotions will cause them to see everything differently. This will have the most impact when you’re writing 1PPOV, but it will also affect your voice in 3PPOV. For example, a depressed character will probably see the shadows and the fog, while an optimistic character will focus on the sun and the beauty. The character’s feelings and thoughts will cause them to bias the reader via the voice of the prose. No matter which POV you choose, the character’s voice must remain consistent.
‘Head-jumping’ is the dreaded act of switching POV mid-scene, or including the thoughts of a non-POV character. It’s most often found in 3PPOV. Even if you choose to have more than one POV character, they cannot all be at the center stage for every scene. Rick Riordian’s Heroes of Olympus series is a great example of this. He has a multitude of POV characters, but each scene is dedicated to a different character. Instead of jamming all the thoughts of all the characters into all the prose, he dedicates each scene to a single character to avoid confusing readers. However, head-jumping is still possible with only one or two main characters. Here’s a simple rule to ensure you avoid this: if your POV character wouldn’t know or notice it, don’t include it.
Like I said in the beginning, there’s another POV: 2nd Person. This is where the narrator is talking to the reader, addressing them as you. (You walked down the hall, holding your breath as chills ran down your spine.) Most 2PPOV stories I’ve read have been written to a character, like a letter, but the narrator is the main character; these stories tend to mix 1PPOV with 2PPOV, to avoid the confusion that writing in straight 2PPOV can cause. This POV is incredibly difficult to maintain for an entire novel. You can knock yourself out with short stories written in 2PPOV, but I don’t recommend writing in straight 2PPOV for a full book.
For all its difficulties, I love this POV for short stories. Like I said before, though, it’s usually mixed with 1PPOV to avoid confusing the reader. If you plan on trying it out, I advise having the narrating character writing to another character, so the character being written to is not the only main actor.
Your two main choices for POV are 1st and 3rd POV. Remember to keep your character voices consistent, and avoid head-jumping. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even use 2PPOV. Try dabbling with all three, and work at developing characters through each. Every POV offers its own mark