Choosing a Point of View

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June 14, 2024

In Narrative Voice: Point of View and Tenses, we looked at the difference between various points of view; now we'll consider how to put that information to good use. The question is: How do you, the author, know what point of view is best for you and your story? 

Choosing your story's point of view may be the most crucial decision you make when crafting your novel. Point of view directly impacts your readers' experience. It determines whose perspective is shared, and that perspective influences readers' feelings toward specific characters. 

First, you’ll want to consider the pros and cons of each type.

First Person:

This option can provide an intimate connection between the narrator and the reader. Since readers essentially live the story through the narrator’s direct experiences, this point of view can create intense empathy between reader and the main character. 

On the downside, it can be harder to keep the reader invested if the main character isn’t likable or relatable, and reader access to the emotions and insight of other characters is limited to (and possibly warped through) the perspective of the narrator.

Third Person Limited:

This approach is also intimate because the reader experiences characters' thoughts and emotions. But this option also lets you switch between characters to show different perspectives/experiences. 

A con is that this point of view may not feel as intimate as first person, and perspective is still limited to the point of view of whichever character is driving each scene.

Omniscient:

Generally, this is the sweeping, epic point of view. The omniscient narrator can reveal history and world-building. They know all about the culture and psychology and social structures of the story. 

This point of view can feel less intimate to readers who like to become emotionally immersed in a story.

Second Person: 

Puts the reader right into the story and creates a unique, immersive experience in which the reader is an active participant. 

Some readers may feel put off by the unusual experience. 

How to Choose a Point of View

Once you’ve weighed the pros and cons, you can go further by assessing other factors:

  • How close do you want your reader to be to the character’s experience? 
    • If you’re looking for a close, intimate connection, consider first person. To choose the right character, consider:
      • Who has the highest stakes in your work? 
      • Whose perspective is most likely to engage, excite, or surprise the reader? 
  • Do you want the reader to feel an emotional pull toward multiple characters? 
    • Consider third person limited. Think about:
      • How complex is your plot? 
      • Can you keep track of multiple perspectives?
      • Will you need to dive back into worldbuilding to make certain elements of the plot clear?  
  • Does your reader need to know more than the individual characters know? 
    • Consider omniscient
  • Are you writing a how-to manual? 
    • Consider second person

When it doubt, experiment. Write and rewrite your first chapter to get a feel for how it reads in each perspective. The best point of view is the one that not only works for your story, but that also feels comfortable to you. 

Readers will always have their own preferences when it comes to the point of view perspective they love most, but the best point of view is the one that resonates with you, the author. After all, your point of view is the one that ultimately matters the most. 

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