Point of View & Preferences

In the new novel writing class, we played an icebreaker game in which 3 groups were assigned to be the POV (Point Of View) character in a made up mystery plot. As we explored the different story lines each group created (in every group a different one of the 3 characters turned out to be the killer!), we also talked about how a novel will be much different depending on whether it’s written in First Person or Third Person.
Writing Tip for Today: So what’s your preference? I enjoy reading and writing first person stories (the “I” voice). Others prefer Third Person Limited (He/She said), and it is probably the most often used viewpoint. Omniscient (God’s eye view) is no longer favored as it was in 19th century fiction, and Second Person (“You” voice) is rarely used to good effect.
Pros and Cons of each method:

  • First person (“I”) lends immediacy and intimacy. The reader feels as if they “become” this character. The camera is literally inside the character, looking out on the world. Drawback: Nothing in the novel can occur unless this person witnesses the event. Everything in the “I” voice must happen while the “I” character is onstage.
  • Third Person (He/She) lets the reader view the story as if he were watching a movie. Think of the camera as being just behind the character’s head. In Third Person Limited, we only know the viewpoint character’s feelings and thoughts. Some novels employ a dual Third Person method. Drawback: Distance is created between the reader and the character, meaning it’s not quite as intimate or immediate. If using more than one Third Person VP (View Point), try to switch characters only at the ends of scenes, or give the new character a new chapter.
  • Omniscient is like the “Eye in the Sky,” seeing all, going into all characters’ heads, as if God were looking down. Many 19th century novels were written in this way. Drawback: Omniscient can be all the characters but often ends up “being” none of them in particular. While some writers may think this method is easier, it’s not. Today’s readers want the connection with the narrator that allows him/her to live vicariously as the viewpoint character.
  • Second Person is the “You” voice. This method is clumsy in all but the most skilled writers’ hands. Drawback: While the aim is to make “you” just like “I,” most readers don’t like to read a novel written in the second person, because the necessity of declarative sentences begin to sound like commands. Often ends up as irritating as emails written in ALL CAPS.

Try This! Write a short scene in First person. Now rewrite the same scene in Third Person Limited. Note how the two methods change the tone of the scene. Which do you like to use and why?

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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