On Tuesday, we looked at the basics of point of view; but there’s far more to it than simply choosing between 1st, 2nd and 3rd POVs.
The POV choice you make for your story will be based on a number of different factors, and will result in a number of different effects. It’s an important decision to make.
Let’s go back to 1st, 2nd and 3rd viewpoints.
- Seeing a resurgence in popularity.
- The usual choice for writing a story in the form of letters or diary entries (epistolary narrative voice).
- Commonly used in the gothic horror and noir genres.
- If used as 1st person limited, the reader only sees what the narrating character sees, hears, feels, thinks. They only go where the narrator goes, only sees through their eyes, which can be very limiting.
- You can use 1st person omnisciently, so that the narrating character can see into the minds of all the characters. This is often used if the narrator is dead, or some kind of deity or supernatural being. You’d have to have a good reason for them to have so much insight.
- This is the least popular and most unusual choice for literature, which may alienate some readers.
- It does bring them into the story, giving them a sense of intimacy to the characters and plot.
- It can be a hard-sell, however. If you chose to use 2nd person narrative, you would have to have a very specific reason for doing it, and be sure that you can pull it off.
- The most common choice and what readers are most used to reading, so there is little or no learning curve.
- 3rd Person Objective: there is no insight into the heads of any characters, allowing the narrator, and the reader, to view the story neutrally and objectively. More common in journalism, it disconnects the reader from the characters, and would be an unusual choice for fiction.
- 3rd Person Limited/Subjective: the story is seen through the eyes of one or just a small number of characters. You do not know every character’s thoughts, only those chosen. Allows a wider viewpoint of the story than 1st person, but without opening it up to every single character.
- 3rd Person Omniscient: the narrator can see into the head of every character. While previously the most popular POV, it is losing favour to a preference for 3rd Person Limited. It can become a little overwhelming for readers who, thrown quickly from head to head, find it difficult to get to know any one character enough to really empathise with them.
- For one reason or another, the narrating character is deemed untrustworthy. They may simply be naive or inexperienced, or they may be bias, or purposefully skewing the facts for their own gain.
- Usually found in 1st person narrative.
- They may omit information, either by accident or on purpose, or see things differently to the way anyone else would.
- Examples of unreliable narrators could include children, characters with mental health issues, characters that are drunk or have drug addictions. It could include characters with amnesia or sensory impairments. It may simply be a character who is very modest and downplays their own part in the story.
- Their unreliable nature may be evident from the start, or may only come to light further into the book.
- While it can be used to great effect, it can run the risk of leaving readers feeling angry or frustrated.
Furthermore, you have the choice of past, present or future tense, which all lend themselves to different POVs in different ways.
And even so, this is still a bit of a whistle-stop tour to POV, and there are a lot more things to consider. If you are deciding to use a less common POV, go and read other books using the same one, see how it has been done well, and see how it has been done badly too.
if you don’t terrify people a little bit then what’s the point.
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