Point of view is one of the most essential elements of fiction. When done correctly, it helps the reader walk miles in your character’s shoes. When done incorrectly, it affects the flow of the narrative and will turn most people away from reading your manuscript to its conclusion and climax.
The best way to write is to choose a point of view and stick to it throughout, although chapter and section breaks represent opportunities for shifts in point of view and/or point of view characters. Deciding on which point of view you will use in a work of fiction might take some consideration. Some characters don’t feel right as point of view characters, and some points of view might not do your narrative justice. When in doubt, try on a few, writing and re-writing some of your scenes from different points of view to see which one fits best.
Again, the secret sauce of point of view is to be consistent.
There are five main points of view, but the three most common are first-person limited, third-person limited, and third-person omniscient (the other two are second-person and third-person objective). Here is an overview of the three most common points of view.
First-person point of view
First-person point of view selects a point of view character as the narrator of a story. The story unfolds based on what the point of view character sees, hears, feels, smells, tastes, and knows. In first person point of view, the narrator cannot report on what other characters see, hear, feel, smell, taste, and know as they cannot assume to have access to this information. As the point of view character, I can surmise what the other person is sensing, but I cannot know for sure. The narrator doesn’t have to use phrases like “I thought” because the whole narrative details the character’s thoughts and motivations. Giving the reader a peek into the inner workings of the point of view character’s mind helps the reader bond with the character, putting themselves into the character’s shoes so they will understand and come to identify with the narrator of the manuscript.
First-person point of view uses first-person pronouns (e.g., I, me, my, etc.) in the narrative. It is best if the narrator avoids second-person pronouns (like “we”) as I cannot know for sure that if I am cold or I hear something, my partner in the scene will, too.
Because first-person point of view may be limiting in that the narrator cannot report on anything that happens when they are not there, you might want to switch up the point of view character or point of view itself in different sections or chapters. For example, if my story is written from Character A’s point of view, but I want to show Character B scheming against them, I might choose to show a few scenes using Character B as the point of view character. To really differentiate the viewpoint, I might choose to write Character B’s scenes in a different tense or in third-person omniscient.
Here is an example of a narrative in first-person point of view;
We order and sit at a round bar table in the back corner. There’s music playing in the background and people talking, and he has to lean over the small table for me to hear him when he speaks. Social distancing protocol alarms go off in my head—some habits are hard to break—but if he is a supernatural, I have nothing to worry about as they can’t transmit the virus. That begs the question: do I really want to date another supernatural? Granted, I didn’t know about Seth until he tried to take a bite out of me, but would I have willingly dated him if I’d have known beforehand?from my upcoming NA novel, Braelynn’s Birthright—Book Two: Fallen Angel
Third-person point of view
Third-person limited point of view is similar to first-person in that it selects a point of view character and sticks with them. The narrator of the story—which unfolds based on the information the point of view character is likely to have—is a disembodied voice that is not a character in the story. All of the parameters given for first-person hold true for third-person limited, with the exception of the pronouns, which are also third-person (e.g., them, they, he, she, etc.). Also similar to first-person is that the narrator should give the reader an intimate window into the point of view character’s thoughts, feelings, and motivation.
Avoid placing the point of view character’s thoughts in italics, working the inner monologue into the narrative.
Here is an example of a narrative in third-person limited point of view:
Nigel thought about it for a moment. Though Daniel was only his lab assistant, their academic rivalry was known throughout campus. He’d always thought of Daniel as somewhat of his muse. The more Daniel pushed, the harder Nigel worked to best him. He’d always planned to be the first human through the arch to explore other times—was he willing to compromise that dream for Daniel of all people? More importantly, could he allow himself to compromise that dream?from Chicken or Egg: A Love Story?
This is the most difficult of points of view to do expertly.
In contrast to the other two points of view, third-person omniscient regularly dips into the heads of multiple characters. For this to be recognized as third-person omniscient and not an error in first- or third-person limited, the point of view character must change regularly and consistently throughout the manuscript.
Like third-person limited, third-person omniscient uses third-person pronouns (e.g., them, they, he, she, etc.). The narrator is disembodied and God-like in that they are all-seeing and all-knowing.
Here is an example of a narrative in third-person omniscient point of view:
“Please,” Balor begged. He jumped from his seat, leaped across the room, landed in front of Samael on one knee, and bowed his head. Had the man’s hands not been pinned behind his head, Balor would have gladly kissed a ring on any of his fingers. In absence of a ring, one of his knuckles. “Not now.”
Samael sighed. They all pleaded to break their deal in the end, but a contract was a contract. He’d held up his end of the bargain, awarding them their most coveted desires—was it too much to ask for them to hold up their end as well?from Braelynn’s Birthright—Book Two: Fallen Angel
Whatever point of view you select, be sure to use it consistently throughout and mark all shifts in point of view with a “hard” section break, such as a symbol (***) or chapter break, to avoid confusing your reader. Once you have learned the particulars of each point of view and how to use it correctly, you are sure to forge a bond between your characters and readers that will transcend the pages of your manuscript.
If you are in doubt about your manuscript’s point of view, why not contact me for a manuscript evaluation? I would love to work with you to put your hard work out into the world. Please click on “Contact” in the menu at the top of the page or send me an email.
You are right being consistent with your writing and setting a reminder/mark to avoid confusion. I always struggle with POV while writing. I forget how I started then remember somewhere along the way I chose a different POV to begin with. I confuse myself let alone the reader haha.
Had fun reading this, posting. 🙂
Thanks, Rob. Glad to know it helped.