By Megan Malone
Narrative point of view is the commitment we make in the first words of our story. It’s a decision we’ll uphold from Once Upon a Time to The End, and a decision that alters how your story feels. Yet, it’s a choice that’s often overlooked, which can leave a writer feeling like they’re wearing the wrong pair of shoes. It can be restricting, or it can have far too much wiggle room. However, choosing the correct POV can provide support and allow you to go further!
A Bird’s Eye View on Point of View in Fiction
1. First person: “I couldn’t find a comfortable position to read in, and I knew I’d have this reason the whole time. My friend smiled knowingly.”
We get an internal view of one character; our narrator is the character.
In this POV, the reader nestles right behind the main character’s eyes and listens in on their thoughts. The character tells the story, coloring the prose with their personality. This level of intimacy allows for more freedom with narratives that prioritize internal conflicts, and readers can easily connect to your POV character. However, this point of view is a double-edged sword. There are only so many characters that readers can invest in at this personal level, so you’re often restricted to one or two POV characters. Additionally, the readers only know what the POV character knows.
2. Third person limited: “She couldn’t find a comfortable position to read in, and she knew she’d have this problem the whole time. Her friend smiled knowingly.”
We get an internal and external view of one character; our narrator is the author.
Third person limited is similar to first person writing, where readers experience the story alongside one character, but you have the freedom to zoom in and out. You can describe the character from the outside as well as the inside. The reader becomes the main character’s shadow. Plus, the narrative isn’t being told by a character- it’s the author’s voice! However, you’re limited to one specific character’s thoughts and you’re still tethered to including only what that character knows.
3. Third person omniscient: “She couldn’t find a comfortable position to read in. She knew that she’d have this problem the whole time. Her friend smiled and thought, “she always has this issue!””
We get an internal and external view of all characters; our narrator is the author.
While this POV is nearly identical to #3, there’s one key word that changes everything.
Having complete or unlimited knowledge, awareness, or understanding; perceiving all things.
The polar opposite of limited!
This point of view is like seeing the story as an author- nothing is off-limits. You can slip into any character’s mind and catch glimpses of details that may not be expressed otherwise. However, readers may feel more distanced from the characters because they are not strictly experiencing the story alongside them.
What point of view fits your writing style?
Keep count of your points as you answer these questions!
Note: This is just for fun! Don’t take your result too seriously, and write what you enjoy. Remember, POV depends on the goals of your story!
Do you enjoy writing monologues?
Yes, I have fun delving deep into a character’s thoughts for long periods of time (1 point)
I don't mind them. (2 points)
Not really, I find them boring. (3 points)
How difficult is it to choose your main character?
It’s easy; my stories often revolve around one or two characters. (1 point)
Very difficult… there’s too many interesting characters to pick from! (3 points)
Do you tend to overwrite?
Yes. (1 point)
Not often! (2 points)
Never. (3 points)
Are you aiming for intimate or cinematic?
Intimate. (1 point)
Cinematic. (3 points)
Do you enjoy writing in a character’s voice, or your own voice?
I like getting into character. (1 point)
I prefer to write as myself. (3 points)
What are your strengths- character building, or world building?
Character building. (1 point)
World building. (3 points)
Finally, when you sit down to write, what POV do you gravitate towards?
First person. (1 point)
Third person limited. (2 points)
Third person omniscient. (3 points)
If you got 1-12 points, I think you may enjoy writing in first person.
My best tip for this POV: Work on developing your POV character’s voice!
If you get a group of people together to tell the same story, and you’ll receive totally different recounts. They’ll choose different words and emphasize details that others may not have noticed. Your character should be the same way- seeing the world through a lens all their own. If they’re an animal lover, they would notice every animal in the vicinity. If they haven’t ever seen the ocean, they likely wouldn’t describe someone’s eyes as “blue as the sea”. You’ll be spending countless pages inside this character’s head, so don’t let it fall flat!
If you got 12-17 points, I think you may enjoy writing in third person limited.
My best tip for this POV: Put effort into learning how to write body language and describing emotion from the outside!
As a third person limited narrator, you are an observer to the action, describing what you see to the readers. Your narrator doesn’t know what the characters are thinking, but the body language should say it all! Sharpen your expression writing skills to give the readers the best experience. I recommend the book “The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression” by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi to assist here.
If you got 17-21 points, I think you may enjoy writing in third person omniscient.
My best tip for this POV: Focus on choosing the right POV character, and stay concise!
Writing in this POV can be like decorating a room. If you fill every inch, then the space will be muddled. Your decorations become junk. But, when you know what to keep and what to throw out, your choices remain meaningful. Everything gets room to breathe and stand out. You have to do the same thing when writing in this POV. Decide what you can throw out and what you can keep, rather than leading your reader through pages of head-hopping and irrelevant information. It can get tricky when there’s so many options, but try to narrate the most engaging and intense POV- the character with the most stakes in a scene.
Each unique story deserves a point of view that works for it, not against it. So take care when you make that decision. If you’re still not sure, experiment with it! Write the same scene three different times, each with a different point of view, to find the right one. Then, you’re all set to make your story the best it can be!