Point of view, it seems so simple, but it is so easy to screw up, and if you do, all your other hard work plotting and building characters may be for naught as your reader, frustrated with not knowing whose head they are in, flings your book across the room. There are many types of point of view and each has its pluses and its minuses.
First, let’s review…
Types of point of view in today’s fiction.
Types of Point of View – First Person
First Person Point of View uses the “I” pronoun. As close as a reader can get to a character. They live the story inside that character. They become that character.
Types of Point of View – Third Person Close or Limited
Third Person Close Limited Point of View uses“He” or “She” pronoun, but gets in close to the character. The reader can hear the character’s thoughts. Very similar to first person. One trick to doing this is to actually write in first person and then switch out the “I”s.
Types of Point of View – Third Person Objective
Third Person Objective uses He” or “She” pronoun, but never get in the character’s head. More distance from the character. Objective Point of View is frequently used in prologues. Think “fly on the wall.” No internal thoughts from anyone including the narrator.
Types of Point of View – Third Person Omniscient
Third Person Omniscient Point of View is told by a storyteller who is not part of the actual story, but knows everything that is happening, including all characters’ thoughts. This type of point of view was used more in the past by such authors as Tolstoy and Dickens. It is not as popular today, and is honestly, difficult to do well. The omniscient narrator can also have own personality and offer thoughts on what is happening. Today this is frequently seen as “author intrusion.” “Little did he know.” A good omniscient narrator though should have his own distinct voice.
Types of Point of View – First Person Omniscient
Like Third Person Omniscient Point of View, First Person Omniscient Point of View is told by a storyteller who is not part of the actual story but knows everything that is happening, including all characters’ thoughts, but the story is told with an “I” pronoun. There are very few ways this makes logical sense. The narrator would have to be godlike, dead, etc., but there are a few cases where it works well.
Types of Point of View – Second Person
Second Person Point of View uses the pronuoun You. You rarely see second person point of view used in modern book-length fiction. I have read some short stories that utilized it and utilized it well.
Example of Second Person Point of View
You walk into your kitchen and coffee is spilled over the floor. You curse and grab a towel to wipe the mess up.
Five Tips for Strengthening Point of View
1.) First person and third person close will draw your reader into the story the most quickly and keep them there. Third person objective and omniscient are not as popular (in modern books) or as personal of a choice, but can be used if you do so knowing why you are using them and for a specific effect/outcome.
2.) Decide upfront whose point of view you should be in for this scene/chapter/book. The best point of view for a scene is the point of view of the person with the most to lose.
3.) Try to stick with one person’s point of view for as long as possible. Switching back and forth between points of view, even with a blank line to show shift, can be confusing. Really think “Do I need to make this switch? Will it enhance or detract from the reader’s experience?”
4.) Check yourself to make sure you are truly in the chosen character’s head. Would this character “know” the thoughts and events happening in this scene? Would they think in this manner? For example, a 14-year-old girl witnessing a boy skateboarding through the mall is going to have a completely different reaction from a 40-year-old mother witnessing this same scene. Make sure you are not only in the proper character’s head but also that you are not in YOUR head. Give us the character’s/narrator’s thoughts/reactions, not the author’s. (Unless you are using an omniscient narrator who is you—Note: I don’t recommend this for most books.)
5.) Avoid giving a character a point of view scene only for effect. Too many points of view can be confusing, and readers tend to latch onto characters whose heads they have been inside. Because of this, it is best to avoid showing a scene in a character’s point of view who readers will not meet again. Ideally, point of view characters are important enough to have their own story arc, even if it is a small one.
Have other tips? Or confused by which type is best for your story? Share! Want more on Point of View? How to avoid head hopping.
Lori Devoti is the author of paranormal romance, urban fantasy and young adult fiction. Under the name Rae Davies, she writes the USA Today Bestselling Dusty Deals Mystery series. Check our her books at www.LoriDevoti.com and RaeDavies.com. Looking for help with your writing? Lori also does developmental editing and critiques for other authors and publishers. See our Editorial Services page for contact information and pricing. Or check out Lori’s classes at the Continuing Studies Department of the University of Wisconsin.