I Do, You Do, or She Does?

What to do with Point of View? Every story has a Point of View (POV), so that the reader knows who is telling the story, protagonist or narrator, and how they’re telling it.

Sounds like an easy decision, but it’s not. How do you know which POV works best for your story?

readingI struggled for a while with that decision. Once I figured out the difference between POVs, I tried to decide which would be the easiest to write. Then I worried about which POV the reader would prefer. Of course, there’s no right answer. The best response I could find to the question of POV was, “It depends.”

I began my writing with a Mystery, using first person. Then I used first person for a Paranormal. One critique suggested it might be better in third person. Yikes! The whole thing? I couldn’t do it.

I never considered using second person, because I didn’t understand it in relation to fiction. I have used it, however, in non-fiction in my “How-To” articles.

Today, I’m answering a challenge to write a paragraph, using each of the POVs. Previously, that kind of challenge always gave me an antsy feeling, probably because I was afraid I couldn’t do it very well. Pretty silly, huh? I thought it would be difficult to change a piece of my work from first to second to third person. Surprise! It wasn’t difficult at all, and the exercise gave me a better understanding of each POV.

Below is a paragraph from my New Adult Fantasy book, The Watcher Clan, written in each POV. In this paragraph Alexandra’s hair is ruined from riding in an open convertible.

speakerFirst person has the protagonist telling the story from her first-hand POV, using the pronoun “I.” The reader walks through the story in the protagonist’s shoes, privy to all her thoughts.

 

“I slammed down the visor and stared into the mirror, horrified at the vision before me. My hair stuck up in clown-like spikes, as if I’d touched a live wire. Then the humor of the situation struck me and I began to laugh. If I’d tried, I couldn’t have made my hair look more ridiculous. As my laughter subsided, I thought of something else that cracked me up. In between giggles, I told Nick, who’d been watching my performance with interest, what had struck me so funny. “Should I tell Aunt Bree that this is what happened to me when I plugged into my powers?”

Second person has the protagonist narrating the story using the pronoun, “you”, to speak of herself indirectly. Second person can also be used to speak directly to the reader.

“You pull down the visor and stare in horror at the vision before you. Your hair sticks up in clown-like spikes, as if you’ve touched a live wire. Then you see the humor of the situation and you begin to laugh. If you’d tried, you couldn’t have made your hair look more ridiculous. As your laughter subsides, you think of something else that cracks you up. In between giggles, you tell Nick, who’s been watching your performance with interest, what struck you so funny. “Should I tell Aunt Bree that this is what happened to me when I plugged into my powers?”

Third person has a narrator (outside of the action) telling the story. This POV can be limited, entering only one person’s mind or omniscient, opening up the thoughts of all the characters.

“Alex slammed down the visor and stared into the mirror, horrified at the vision before her. Her hair stuck up in clown-like spikes, as if she’d touched a live wire. Then the humor of the situation sank in and she began to laugh. If she’d tried, she couldn’t have made her hair look more ridiculous. As her laughter subsided, she thought of something else that cracked her up. In between giggles, she told Nick, who’d been watching her performance with interest, what struck her so funny. “Should I tell Aunt Bree that this is what happened to me when I plugged into my powers?”

When I initially changed my writing from first person to third, I had trouble staying in the same POV. But, once I got the hang of it, I liked third person better. In third person, I find it easier to describe the action revolving around my protagonist. In first person, you can only describe what the protagonist can see. On the other hand, when I write horror, I think it feels more scary in first person.

horrorThe writings of Dean Koontz and Peter Straub, who both write in first person, come to mind. However, Stephen King uses third person in his stories, and his writing is awesomely terrifying. Remember, it depends.

Your choice of POV depends on things like the person, the time, the genre, and the story. But, most of all, it depends on your comfort zone. I firmly believe that writing is something to be enjoyed, a passion to be indulged, in any POV. If you find yourself wondering what’s best for you or your story, try the POV writing challenge. It’s fun!

 

 

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “I Do, You Do, or She Does?

  1. Great post. I’ve tried using different POV’s for the same section before to see what seems to fit the best. It’s a great exercise. I find that different POVs fit different stories and characters.

    What do you think about using different POVs in a novel – say, changing from chapter to chapter? And do you think they all have to be in 1st person for consistency or could you have 3rd person for some and 1st person for others? Its fun to think about. Heard a great panel at ThrillerFest where they talked about how different authors use this and how this is developing over time.

    • That is interesting. I don’t recall any books I’ve read that have changing POVs, but I can see where it might be done. You might pick out a person like the antagonist who remains in the background for most of the book. Maybe all you’d know about him is what he’s thinking (in first person). For the rest of the book, you could use third person. That might make it kind of creepy.

      What kind of ideas were they discussing at ThrillerFest?

      • This is what I’m doing with my present thriller, ESCAPE TO PANAMA. I started with 3rd person point of view but found it lacked the immediacy and pace I wanted. Now, I have the protagonist in 1st and everybody else in 3rd. Unlike my first book, MESSAGE FROM PANAMA, which was all 1st, the plot of my current book demands a significant amount of both POVs.

        One POV that hasn’t been mentioned here is 1st present. “I go to the table.” “It’s not important,” I say.

        I began MESSAGE in this tense but changed after two of my alpha readers complained they had a hard time adjusting to it. I’ve read some novels in that tense that have been good but there was a necessary period of adjustment for me, too.

        Really enjoyed your post.

        Jane

  2. They used James Lee Burke as an example and how he slips between the different character’s POV. Steve Berry led the discussion and for some authors on the panel, they wouldnt try it – but for others, they thought it added to the story and gave them a freedom and different avenue to tell the story that they didnt feel they could do otherwise. And there was some thought that the style for mysteries/thrillers was moving in that direction.

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