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POV 1st vs 3rd - SYWTWAB

August 26, 2017

 

When it comes to point of view and which to write in, there is a debate. Which is better? First or third person?* But does it really matter?

 

*For the purpose of this blog, we are going to ignore the second person point of view as it's rarely used in fiction.

 

Some say yes, others say no.

If you ask around you will get a host of responses, many of which are probably "Do whatever is popular in your genre."

Is this wrong? The short answer is no.

But there is more to consider.

 

Yes, you should take what is popular in your genre into consideration, but you should also do what feels right for your story.

 

When I first started out, I was confident I would only write in third person. I was certain beyond all doubt that it was the only point of view the stories I wanted to tell would need. Then came Sound of Silence. It surprised me in so many ways. I had a few false starts until I realized that this story needed to be told in first person.
It opened my eyes to paying more attention to the story and going with what works best for the book, what gives it the best life it could have.

Some people will tell you that one brings the reader into the story better than the other. That one is closer, more personal, and allows the reader to delve deeper into the characters and story. I disagree, I believe both points of view have that potential. It’s all in what the story demands and whether or not the author takes advantage of that particular point of view.
 

To decide what works best for you and your story, you need to know your options. (Please forgive my less than awesome examples, I just pulled them from air to give you sense of the POV.)

 

Lets go over the points of view:

 

First person: This is a limited point of view. "I" is telling the story, the main character is the narrator. The reader only knows exactly what's going on in the character's head.

 

Ex: I looked into her eyes and knew I would regret what I was about to say.

 

Third person Omniscient: The narrator is not a character in the book and also knows everything going on in all characters heads. This POV uses "he" and "she" to tell the story.

 

Ex: Little did he know that he would soon regret his words as he lifted his gaze to meet hers. (In this example, the narrator and the reader know the character will regret something, but the character himself does not. Yet.)

 

Third person deep(limited): This point of view is almost like a mix of the first two but rather than having access to all characters thoughts, feelings, actions, and knowledge the narrator only has access to one character at a time.  This POV also uses "he" and "she" to tell the story.

 

Ex: He looked into his eyes and swallowed hard. He knew he would regret his words.

 

Then there is past and present tense. Which is a while other topic, but I'll touch on it here just a little as it goes along with this subject a little and is also something to take into consideration when choosing the narrative style for your novel.

 

First, past: I walked to the door. I laughed until tears streamed down my face.

First, present: I walk to the door. I laugh and tears stream down my face.

 

Both of these are fairly evenly common.

 

Third, past: She walked to the door. She laughed until tears streamed down her face.

Third, present: She walks to the door. She laughs and tears stream down her face.

 

Third, past is way more common than third present. (It's also the most common and traditional POV in fiction.) I've heard a lot of readers say that reading third present is jarring.

 

Both have their strong points and can really bring a reader into the story, but both have their weak points.

 

When not written with care, third person can become cold and distant to the reader, lacking the ability to draw them in.

 

First person can become trite. Where the character ends up in unbelievable situations and always just "happen" upon information the reader wants to know. (Guessing the exact thing that's happening without any logical reason for them to come to that conclusion - ex: guessing a password or figuring out a puzzle they'd have no reason to be able to solve on the second or third try.)

 

You can do first with a singular POV character, or several. You can do third omniscient and be in every characters head at once, or limited and be in one character's head, or have a few characters the narrator moves between. (Make sure the narrator doesn't head hop within a scene, paragraph, or sentence. It's recommended to have some sort of marker between character POV changes such as scene changes or chapters.)

 

I've even seen authors who have one or two first person character POVs and a few third person characters in a single book. I am not a fan of this narrative style and it often kicks me out of the story, but that's my preference. Others enjoy it.

 

Whichever POV and tense you use, just keep it consistent to avoid losing the trust of the reader.

 

Once you understand the different points of view, pick up several books with the point of view you think fit your book and read. See how other authors use that particular POV to bring the reader into their world.

 

If you tend to write in one POV the majority of the time, try writing a short story in a different one. See how it feels. The writing might go slower at first but that's because it's new. You will get the hang of it. And it might help to pin point weak points in your writing and in the end make you a better writer for it.

 

Don't count on readers to tell you. Some people will argue that one point of view is superior to another. This is just not true. Both first person and third have their own advantages.

 

Write a short scene in each of these styles. See what feels right for the story, what lets you closer to the characters and the emotions you want to portray to your readers.

 

In the end, only you can know for sure what point of view to use. Just remember not to limit yourself!

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