Which Point of View is Right for Your Story?
Who’s telling the story? One of the most important decisions you will make when writing a novel is which point of view to use. When we started writing together, we didn’t give point of view much thought. We defaulted to a third person omniscient point of view in our first book, CIRCLE DANCE.
Over the years as we honed our craft, we began playing with point of view and learned a few things along the way.
1) The story dictates which point of view is most appropriate. If you want to really get inside the head of your protagonist, the first person point of view is probably your best choice. This gives the reader an inside view to her deepest thoughts and motivations and fosters a more intimate relationship between reader and character. Conversely, if your narrator has something to hide or you are going for misdirection, the third person may a better choice as you can choose which thoughts and emotions to make the reader privy to.
2) You can use more than one point of view in your story. In THE LAST MRS. PARRISH, we wrote one character, Amber, in the third person, and the other, Daphne, in the first. The shift in point of view comes in the middle of the book where the major twist is. This method worked well for us and is one of the things commented upon positively by our readers.
3) There are variations within each point of view. You can choose to write in the past or present tense. Again, the story and the feel you want to convey are the best indicators of which to use.
Example of First Person Past: I looked around at the crowded cafe and wondered if she ever came here. The thought that she might, at any moment, walk through the door suddenly occurred to me, and it struck me that I knew nothing about her anymore.
Example of First Person Present: I look around at the crowded cafe and wonder if she ever comes here. The thought that she might, at any moment, walk through the door suddenly occurs to me, and it strikes me that I know nothing about her anymore.”
Example of Third Person Past: Julianna looked around at the crowded cafe and wondered if Lindsay ever came here. The thought that she might, at any moment, walk through the door suddenly occurred to her, and she was struck by the fact that she knew nothing about her anymore.”
Example of Third Person Present: Julianna looks around at the crowded cafe and wonders if Lindsay ever comes here. The thought that she might, at any moment, walk through the door suddenly occurs to her, and she is struck by the fact that she knows nothing about her anymore.”
You can see that the present tense conveys an immediacy not found in the past. However, depending on the story, it can become tedious. In the example above, first person present is the preferred point of view as it puts us squarely in the reader’s mind and emotions. In this example, the third person past puts a distance between the reader and the character that makes it harder to connect with her, and the third person present just feels awkward.
4) It’s helpful to try your narrative in several points of view before deciding on which to use. In our most recent work in progress, we wrote the first several chapters of our first draft in three different points of view before finally settling on the one that felt right. It became an intuitive process which was helped along by seeing the story unfold in different ways. As we wrote, we realized that there were too many boring details being included when we tried to write it in the first person. When we changed to the third person, we both became excited about the story again and knew immediately we were on the right track.
5) Become familiar with writing in all points of view. Read widely and don’t shy away from books written in a point of view that you don’t especially like. Exposing yourself to all kinds of writing and becoming familiar with all the tricks of point of view will help you as you continue to develop your own unique voice.
I think the first person present works particularly well in thillers or suspense novels, because it keeps the tension going…