Deciding on a Point of View

This post was originally written for the ShortbreadStories e-newsletter, ‘The Shortbread Writer’.

Today’s newsletter is dedicated to a fairly fundamental writing principle: point of view (POV). For those that are not familiar with the term ‘POV’, it is the use of the first, second and third person point of view in writing:

*First person is when the story is told from the point of view of a character, for example, ‘I discarded the knife.’
*Second person is when the story is told from the reader’s point of view. (A very rare way of telling a story, so don’t worry if you can’t recall having seen this method before.) An example of second person point of view is, ‘You discard the knife.’
*Third person uses a narrator who is outside of the story. For example, ‘Sally discarded the knife.’

Most authors don’t give much thought to POV when writing a first draft. Often, the point of view comes as natural to the writer as the setting or the gender of the protagonist. However, there may be times in which and author discovers that the piece isn’t working, and that’s when reconsidering the POV is useful.

For the next few weeks, I will discuss the pros and cons of using each POV, and this week we’re discussing first person.

First person can come with difficulties. In a way, first person is like a long monologue. The writer should be aware that every word written on the page must fit the personality of the narrator as a character — much like a monologue. Furthermore, suspension of disbelief can become difficult in longer first-person pieces (ie novels). For example, readers may ask, ‘Why is this person telling me a 350 page story?’ Some authors try to pre-empt this question by providing a framework to the story. An example of this is Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire, in which the entire story is an interview with a journalist. However, there are countless first person novels that hold a suspension of disbelieve without the use of a framing device. The narrator is simply telling a story.

There are positives to first person. For instance, it can be an interesting POV to use when ‘leaking’ information to the reader and holding back certain elements until the right time. For example, an unreliable first-person narrator is an exciting way to lead your reader down one path, while the story takes another. One excellent example of this is Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin.

Additionally, first person can help the reader become more attached to the narrator (often the protagonist) through a simulated bond. Think of it this way, first person can be like a character directly, and personally, telling the reader a story — much like talking to a best friend, a relative, or even someone at a bus stop.

POV: Second Person
POV: Third Person Limited
POV: Third Person Omniscient

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