Updated: Apr 16, 2019
POV (point of view, not power of veto, all you Big Brother viewers) is one of the most important decisions you’ll make when planning your book. Although traditionally third person is most popular, many writers find first person works better for some stories. Not sure which is better for your novel? I’m here to help you figure it out.
Find out what’s common for your genre
Almost all books used to be written in third person, but first person is getting more and more popular, especially in certain genres. For example, first person is increasingly common in young adult and new adult novels. But third person is the standard when it comes to fantasy and science fiction. Keep up with what’s trending in your genre.
Determine your preferred point of view
Some writers feel very strongly about one POV or the other. Once I read a comment on Facebook that was something like, “God save us from first person present tense!” Wow! Now, that writer has a strong opinion about POV. Successful stories have been written in both POVs (and tenses, for that matter). The important thing is to know the strengths and limitations of each. That leads me to my next point:
Know the strengths and limitations of each
It’s more realistic, since we each experience real life through only one perspective. It allows for a deeper emotional connection to the POV character because the readers gets to know all the thoughts and feelings of the protagonist. The POV character’s voice comes through clearly, so there’s little room for the reader to misinterpret the character’s motivations and reactions. Writing in first person feels more natural to some writers.
It is essential for the narrator to be relatable and interesting. Who wants to spend 300 pages in the mind of someone they don’t like? The reader can only know what the narrator knows. This means location, back story, and other characters’ thoughts and feelings. Working in personal details about the POV character—physical description, name, etc.—can be tricky. The larger amount of introspection and analysis can lead to too much telling (rather than showing). You have to make sure all the sentences don’t start with I. Switching characters’ point of view can be confusing for readers.
Most readers are more comfortable with third person point of view, since this is how most stories are written. More distance means more can happen outside protagonist’s presence, allowing a broader scope for the story. It can be less confusing for readers, especially with POV switches. It’s easy to show multiple characters’ thoughts and feelings. Easy to show more (and tell less) in general.
It feels more emotionally distant and can keep readers from feeling as deep of an emotional connection to the main character. It’s easy to info dump, i.e., have too much exposition. The main character’s emotions and thoughts are harder to convey. Knowing everything can weaken the tension in the plot.
Ask yourself these three questions:
Does the reader need to know more than one person’s thoughts and feelings?
How much of the plot will take place away from the main character?
What do you want your reader to feel?
The bottom line is this: there is no universal answer to the POV debate. It all depends on the story. Some stories—some characters—come to life better through third person, and some will be better with first person. What’s most important is to pick one, stick with it throughout the novel, and have a plan for the pitfalls of the POV you choose.
What’s your POV preference (as a writer or a reader) and why? Leave a comment below or tweet me @jenichappelle.