What is “POV?”
The acronym POV is short for “point of view,” or the perspective from which your story is told. The POV that you choose will depend on several factors, including how many main characters you have, how close you want your reader to be to the protagonist, and what information you want them to have access to.
The best type of POV will be more obvious in some stories than others. The POV you choose will have a direct impact on the pacing, format, and suspense of your story.
Types of POV
Before deciding which Point of View is right for your story, you need to understand what the different types of POV are, and what they can do for your story.
Below I’ve written descriptions of the most common types of POV, with examples and the pros and cons of each.
First Person POV
Stories written in the first person are told from the perspective of one of the characters in the plot – usually one of the main characters, though not always (see First Person Peripheral POV, below). First person POV is marked by “I” statements – the narrator is telling the story of something that happened to them personally.
First person POV is especially popular for young adult fiction.
Pros: Readers are able to experience events that happen to the character first-hand through the character, as though it is happening to them. It’s also easier to keep other character’s secrets from the reader.
Cons: It is difficult to describe events that don’t happen directly to the POV character. It’s difficult to keep secrets about the POV character from the reader.
Examples: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
First Person Peripheral POV
First Person Peripheral POV is from the first person perspective of someone who is not the main character – someone close enough to the action to see most of the events, but distant enough to have some objectivity. First Person Peripheral was especially popular in 19th and early-20th century novels.
Pros: Readers will have that personal link to the story while being able to see the main character objectively. This is especially helpful if there are aspects to your MC’s personality that are integral to the story but that the MC is unaware of. You will also be able to describe events that the MC was unaware of or did not witness first hand.
Cons: Readers will be unable to feel a direct emotional connection with the MC – this is even more true of First Person Peripheral than of Third Person. The main character will remain somewhat of an enigma.
Examples: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald; Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Second Person POV
Second Person POV happens when the narrator is describing what the person they are grammatically speaking to is doing. It is marked by the pronoun“You” statements – i.e., “You grabbed the ball.”
In fiction, second person POV is rarely used outside of experimental literature; and only then in short works or interactive-fiction, because it can be annoying to read. It is not recommend to use this POV unless you have a specific reason for doing so.
Conversely, second person POV is used quite well in Non-fiction “self-help” and DIY-type books. In these types of books, it is acceptable to break the fourth wall.
Pros: Seldom-used, so there is room for innovation. Attention-grabbing.
Cons: Second-person POV will pull readers out of the story and cause them to pay more attention to the writing itself. It will annoy the reader because it break’s the fourth wall.
Examples: Most “Choose your own adventure” type books; DIY and self-help books, letters and other forms of correspondence
Third Person POV
Third person is the most common POV used in fiction, especially adult fiction. The pronouns “I” and “you” will not show up at all, except in dialogue. The narrator will be nameless and without personality (if we know who the narrator is within the framework of the story, then the POV is First Person Peripheral).
There are four types of Third Person POV – Third Person Limited POV, Third Person Multiple POV, Third Person Omniscient POV, and Third Person Objective POV.
Third Person Limited
In Third Person Limited POV, the story only follows one character directly – the narrator only knows what that one character knows.
Pros: readers don’t get overwhelmed trying to keep up with the different POV characters, readers don’t get frustrated when you switch POV, less stressful to write
Cons: can’t easily describe events that don’t happen directly to the POV character.
Example: The Giver by Lois Lowry
Third Person Multiple
In Third Person Multiple POV, the narrator writes from the perspective of more than one character.
In most stories, the narrator will stick with the same character for an entire scene or chapter, and be unable to enter the POV of another character for that time. To switch from one character to another within the same scene is called “head hopping” and is generally frowned upon; however, some authors have been able to pull it off with ok results. One example is The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King.
Pros: can directly show all events in a story by switching to whichever character is experiencing them; can reveal/keep secrets from reader by writing from the perspective of a character who is/isn’t “in the know”. Great for stories with more than one main character.
Cons: readers can be confused by the different characters. It can be difficult to decide which POV is most beneficial at any given time. Readers may have a hard time identifying the main character.
Examples: Game of Thrones series by G.R.R. Martin
Third Person Omniscient
“Third Person Omniscient” refers to a story narrated by an unnamed entity who knows EVERYTHING. It’s characterized by head-hopping and descriptions of things the characters don’t know about and can’t observe.
This POV has fallen out of popularity in modern books.
Pros: You can easily impart knowledge without worrying about how your character found out, You don’t have to worry about inadvertently switching POV.
Cons: Less personal. It’s also difficult to justify keeping information secret from the reader.
Examples: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Third Person Objective POV
“Third Person Objective” is the opposite of Third Person Omniscient – the narrator describes only what happens or what a character does, but never what they’re thinking or feeling. Character emotions and thoughts must be inferred by what they say and do.
Pros: This POV makes it easy to keep information from the reader. It also makes it difficult to ‘tell’ emotions rather than show them.
Cons: Readers lose that direct link with the characters.
Example: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Normally, it’s ill-advised to switch between the different types of POV within one story, but there are times when it’s permissible.
For example, let’s say your book is written in Third Person Limited POV, but then your character receives a letter. The letter (as letters usually do) addresses your character in Second Person using “You” statements.
If you include the text of the letter in your book, you’re switching POV. And that’s totally acceptable.
What’s not advisable is to switch from first-person to third person willy-nilly, simply because that’s the easiest way to write the story.
So what’s your favorite POV to write in? Do you think some POVs work better for different audiences? Let me know in the comments!
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