TAP039, Point of View: Which One is Right for Your Story
Before you put pen to page, you need to decide which point-of-view is right for your story. In this show, I will discuss point-of-view in writing fiction and the things to consider when choosing the right point-of-view for your novel. But I will not discuss second-person because I don’t understand its mechanics. And I will not be delving too deep into third-person omniscient point-of-view for similar reasons.
While researching for this episode, I received contradictory advice on how to write in third-person omniscient, especially about whether head-hopping is permitted. In light of this, I’m considering interviewing an editor on my podcast and asking questions about point-of-view in fiction. So, let me know if you are interested in listening to this interview. However, I have experience writing in first-person and third-person point-of-view.
Things to Consider
Before you choose the point of view that you believe might be easiest to write or even best for your genre, there are important things you need to consider.
#1 – What type of story are you writing?
Is it a personal, character-based story? Or is it a plot-driven or epic quest? A personal character-based story might benefit from first-person point-of-view. Whereas a plot-driven or quest story might benefit from one of the third-person point-of-view.
#2 – Which point of view is most common in your story’s genre?
If you are not sure what point of view is best for the genre you are writing, read five books that are similar to yours. Pay attention to the point of view and narrative style of each book.
#3 – Consider the kind of experience that you want your audience to have as they read your book.
Do you want your readers to have a close personal connection to the narrator? Perhaps, experiencing the larger scope of the story world is more important than that close personal connection. Or, do you want your readers to be piecing together a puzzle alongside your detective or amateur sleuth?
#4 – Do you want to create suspense in your story?
Where do you want the suspense to come from? Is it essential to your story for readers to know more than the main character? Or, will this suspense come from the narrator’s interpretations of what is happening around them?
#5 – How many point-of-view characters are in the story?
You might want to write using third person multiple or omniscient if it’s more than one.
When writing in first-person you use the pronouns “I, me, and my” or the gender neutral pronouns depending upon the character narrating the story. The interesting thing about first-person is you’re telling the narrators story not the story. And thus focuses on what the narrating character knows, thinks, feels and experiences. But, the story is told through a single character, not multiple.
Considering this, the point-of-view character needs to be interesting or likeable and might not be suitable for an anti-hero, especial if this is your first story. However, even though this point-of-view is character-based you can still build intrigue indirectly due to the limited access to information and how the character interprets the events and people around them. But it can be harder to create dramatic irony where the readers knows something that the character does not.
One aspect of first-person point of view that can’t be escaped is that the perspective is biased. And depending upon the mental state of the character, it can often be heavily biased like in Gone Girl or Girl on the Train.
Because the point of view is character focused it might not be a good choice for plot focused stories that sit in the mystery and thriller genres. Nevertheless, it’s quite common to see first-person narrated novels with the domestic thriller sub-genre because of the everyday setting of the story.
When writing in third-person, you use the pronoun “He, she, they, or it.” Some people say that third-person doesn’t have the intimacy of first-person. And that’s correct to a certain extent; however, you can have the intimacy of first-person in third-person by letting the reader closer to the character by revealing their opinion of the world around them and revealing character thoughts. But you can also have a broader point-of-view than first by pulling back from the character to offer a wider perspective. That’s the benefit of third-person. However, third-person isn’t just one thing. It’s not just limited but allows for multiple point-of-view characters and can have an omniscient narrator.
Third-person limited is similar to first-person in terms of distance between the character and the reader; maybe it’s a little further along the spectrum. It’s told through a single character’s perspective. In saying that, if the character doesn’t know something, then the reader can’t know it. However, one bonus is you create tension from the protagonist trying to piece things together.
Multiple Limited is precisely how it sounds. It’s when a story is told using third-person pronouns but with multiple viewpoints from different characters in the story. But you still need to stick to a single viewpoint per scene or chapter at a time. And thus, you can easily create dramatic irony, where the reader knows something that the point of view character does not. Consequently, suspense is more easily created from this point of view.
Omniscient is a common point of view in classic literature and features an all-knowing narrator. Jane Austen’s pride and prejudice immediately comes to mind. Just a side note, there are modern novels with this perspective, but none come to mind.
The narrator is almost a character in their own right, able to offer information and perspective not available to the book’s main characters. And reveals the thoughts and feelings of all the characters but should be done deliberately. Showing everything might be a bit too much for the reader, so keep it in mind. Or take that with a grain of salt. After all, you should do what’s right for your story.
This point of view’s biggest pitfall is the distance between the narrator and the reader. So keep that in mind if you’re writing a character-based story.
To be honest, I don’t know how to write in third-person omniscient. So I’m going to leave things here because as I researched this episode, there were too many contradictory pieces of advice regarding this point of view. And I don’t want to contribute to the noise.
Below are a few of the most common mistakes made when writing in firs and third person point-of-view, and a quick tip on how to fix them.
Mistake #1 – Head-Hopping
Head hopping, where the narrator character is telling the reader how another character feels in response to something, is a mistake that can be made in every point-of-view, but especially in first and third-limited. In these instances, you need to filter this through the character’s perspective, where the character is guessing how another character might feel, instead of saying it outright.
Mistake #2 – Filtering Words
When a story is told using first-person pronouns, it can be tempting to overuse filtering words like saw, heard, looked, and touched. And this is common in thrid-person too. Quite often, these words are used when describing the five senses. A simple fix is to describe the sense and how it makes the character feel. For example, instead of saying “he saw the red coat flapping in the wind,” you could write ” a lone red hooded coat hung on one of the posts of the horse paddock, flapping in the violent wind.” The second option is less than stellar, but you get the point. In the first instance, the word saw is redundant because the reader knows the scene or chapter is from the character’s perspective.
Mistake #3 – Repetitive Sentence Starts
Repetitive sentence patterns are also an issue with this point of view, so it goes without saying that you should avoid starting too many sentences in a row with the pronoun “I.”
Mistake #4 – Telling
Often, your first draft with a first-person narrated story can be telling-focused because you’re limited to what the narrator character knows, thinks, and feels. As you’re editing, look for places where you can show something instead of merely stating something outright. For instance, you can show the suspicious behaviour of another character instead of having the narrator speculate. I know that’s a basic tip, but I don’t just want to point out common mistakes without helping you fix them.
I hope this episode gives you a basic understanding of point-of-view in fiction. And provides you with tips on how to choose the right point-of-view for your story. As always, I have an important question for you. Are you interested in listening to me interview an editor about point-of-view in fiction? I want to hear from you. Share your process or struggles with outlining in the comments section below or over in the Am Writing Fiction Facebook Group.
In the next episode of the podcast, I will delve deeper into point-of-view and discuss the point-of-view character, and I’ll share the thing I wish I knew before I wrote my first novel.
Thank you for listening, and happy reading and writing, everybody.
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I’m Amelia. When I’m not hosting the Authorpreneur Podcast™️ and the Book Nerd Podcasts, I write Mystery Novels under the pen name A. D. Hay. And, I’m the author of Suspicion, the Lawn, and the Candidate.
On this blog, I help new writers to finish their first draft, prepare their manuscripts for professional editing, and when they get stuck in the first draft phase or are confused about the revision process.
Right now, I’m editing and preparing my soon to be published mystery novels, Suspicion, Duplicity, 24 Hours, and Immunity for publication.