A third of the population look at a glass containing 50% water and 50% air, and they say the glass is half-full. The next third say it’s half empty. The final third say screw it and grab a drink. Each third have a different point of view.
Perspective is everything.
As authors of our self-created universes, the point of view we choose to tell a story in sets the stage. It is, perhaps, the single most important decision we make because telling the same tale from a different point of view (POV) creates an entirely different novel.
First, Second, and Third Person
The biggest question you’re going to ask is this:
Which point of view makes the most sense for your story?
POV needs to make sense; otherwise, readers will drop like flies…right along with book sales. As you contemplate the big question, consider the three POVs at your disposal:
- First Person: According to Writer’s Digest, first person is “a matter of intimacy.” It’s when we hand the storytelling reigns to our main character and become their personal amanuensis. It creates a strong narration based on I. Boisterous with individual reaction, first person gives the reader a firsthand account of how the character feels and thinks versus how they outwardly respond. It opens a peephole into what makes them tick.
- Second Person: You is the foundation of the second person point of view. It’s the primary tone used in copywriting projects, How-To excerpts, and content that speaks directly to the reader to incite action. Example: You walk into the room and are immediately overwhelmed. It is an awkward and nearly impossible POV to maintain throughout a full-length novel.
- Third Person: The most commonly used POV for fiction writing is third person. He, she, and they are its technical building blocks. The author is the narrator and able to comment on any and every aspect of the story.
Selecting a first, second, or third POV lays the foundation for how your story will be told. But these are not the only elements to consider.
The Three O’s of Narration
POV can further be influenced by what we’ve dubbed the three O’s of narration. Each has a favored application, and each can contribute to the richness of your story.
#1: The Unlimited Omniscient Narrator
According to WritersRelief.com, the unlimited omniscient narrator is often reserved for longer fiction. It pairs with the third person perspective, and it makes the author the god of their universe.
As the all-knowing entity, the author is able to jump into any character’s thoughts and provide background and motivationally focused commentary. Opinions, judgements, interjections—it’s all at the author’s disposal. It’s free writing at its very finest.
#2: The Limited Omniscient Narrator
This POV works well with first person narratives, where the storytelling is limited to a single character—the protagonist. A common technique used in both short stories and novels, the writer limits the narration to what the character knows and observes.
#3: The Objective Narrator
Objective narration can be used with first, second, or third POV. Unlike omniscient narration where the author can interject opinions and project judgements, no opinions and no judgements are offered. Instead, the reader is left to infer their own meaning as the author sticks to supplying limited external descriptions.
Picking a Point of View and Narrative Style
Selecting a POV comes down to deciding the purpose of your story. What is the ultimate goal?
- Do you intend for the reader to be intimately intertwined with the tale? First person with a limited omniscient narration might work best.
- Should the reader be immersed in an encapsulated universe? If so, then third person will work best. You can then decide whether to use an omniscient or objective narration, and you might choose to use both to better develop the plot.
The POV and narration style you choose will largely hinge on the plot. What will the reader need to know? Is omnipotence required to construct the best telling of the tale, or will limitations create a more thrilling reader experience? Could objective narration empower your readers or create greater appeal? These are all questions you must carefully consider.
But there’s one crucial key to remember:
Maintain Consistency throughout the Manuscript
In the heat of the moment, it’s easy for an author’s chosen POV to slip. We are, after all, only human. The problem is that a lack of consistency can confuse—even alienate—your readers.
Want to become a bestselling author? Then mastering consistent point of view and narration should be high on your to-do list.
According to the Grammarly Handbook, using you when another point of view is required is a very common—if not the most common—error. For example:
If she wanted to go herself, you should have said so.
Third person transitions to second person when you is used in place of she. It’s a painfully easy oops to make, and if it’s left for the reader to find…well, you won’t be winning any positive attention.
Maintaining consistency becomes paramount when using the omniscient narration. Switching from character to character as an all-knowing narrator can make it easy to slip from first to third person at inappropriate times. The result is confusion, and you may not always catch it.
Authors live their creations. They spend hour after hour, day after day, and week after week immersed in the birth, nurturing, and subsequent maturing of their manuscript. They become so intimately familiar with it that their brain skips over typos, inconsistencies, and flaws. And it’s sensible because what else would a loving parent do?
What’s the solution?
For starters, learn how to avoid unnecessary shifts in point of view. If you’re working with the omniscient narrative technique, remember that you needn’t change POV just for the hell of it. Being all-powerful involves knowing when to flex that unlimited power and when to reign it in.
Shifts in POV need to compliment the story. If they don’t develop the plot in some way, then they are likely unnecessary. They must make sense; otherwise, they will become little more than an obstacle some readers will choose to traverse while others will quit.
Perhaps your best defense against inconsistency is the eagle-like gaze of an experienced editor. As unattached bystanders, they can provide an unbiased source of aid.
Our editing team is excited to announce a major update to our editorial services. After having worked with a number of independent and enterprising authors, we saw the need to offer focused services for a manuscript at any stage. We now offer:
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