How To Choose The Right Point Of View For Your Novel?

After writers have decided upon their main characters, secondary characters, and antagonists/villains, writers need to determine how to choose the right point of view (POV) for their novel.

Unsurprisingly, this is an absolutely critical element of the story-writing process. Writers can create captivating characters, like Prince Jalan from Mark Lawrence’s The Red Queen’s War Trilogy, Tyrion Lannister from George RR Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire (ASOIAF) saga, or Roland Deschain from Stephen King’s The Dark Tower hexalogy. But if they choose the wrong POV (or are inconsistent with their POV), they will undermine their story. This inconsistency will leave readers (and maybe even the writers themselves) with a sense of what might have been.

Writers cannot allow for a feeling of regret. So how can they avoid this scenario? By weighing up the pros and cons for:

  • The First Person POV;
  • The Second Person POV;
  • The Third Person Omniscient POV; and
  • The Third Person Limited POV.

The First Person POV

The First Person POV is when writers uses ‘I,’ ‘me’ and ‘my’ in the prose. This style of writing should be considered when writers are looking at how to choose the right point of view for their novel.

Look to examples as well, such as Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, Paula Hawkins’ The Girl On The Train, and Kara S Weaver’s Crown of Conspiracy for an idea of what books in this style of POV are like.

Advantages

The advantages of the First Person POV:

  1. The style puts the reader in the shoes of the POV character, seeing what he/she sees, hears what he/she thinks, and feels what he/she feels;
  2. Writers enable the reader to be intimately close with the POV character; and
  3. The writer can create strong empathy for the POV character as they enable the reader to have total understanding for the character’s positive attributes, flaws and internal struggles.
How to choose the right point of view? Read To Kill A Mockingbird
Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird is a great example of a book that has been written in the First Person POV.

Disadvantages

The disadvantages of the First Person POV:

  1. Writing/reading ‘I,’ ‘I,’ ‘I,’ ‘me,’ ‘me,’ ‘me,’ and ‘my,’ ‘my,’ ‘my’ can grate very quickly on the reader (imagine listening to a narcissist going on endlessly about themselves to get the drift);
  2. POV characters can come across selfish, even if they are not selfish at all;
  3. The main (POV) character needs to be incredibly interesting (usually in an untrustworthy way), otherwise readers are likely to get fed up of the character; and
  4. This style of POV limits the writer to telling the story solely through the viewpoint of one perspective.

General Pointers About The First Person POV

In general, the First Person POV is not a common way of writing fiction and fantasy novels.

In the main, it is used for autobiographies.

The Second Person POV

When weighing up how to choose the right point of view for the novel, one should look at the Second Person POV. This is when the writer uses ‘you’ and ‘your’ in the prose, either explicitly or implicitly. To give you (pardon the pun) of what I mean:

  • Explicitly means that the writer writes in the prose ‘you will go the supermarket and you will buy chicken for supper’;
  • Implicitly means that the writer writes in the prose ‘go to the supermarket and buy chicken for supper.’

Both sentences are in the same conjugation but the explicitly uses ‘you’ in writing, while implicitly does not.

I admit that I have never read a book that has been written in the Second Person POV. Yet, examples of authors who have include Jay McInerney (Bright Lights, Big City), Will Baker (Grace Period) and Caroline Kepnes (You).

Advantages

The advantages of the Second Person POV (as I imagine them are):

  1. The writer can create an immediate connection with the POV character that no other style can reach;
  2. The writer can create immediate empathy for the POV character; and
  3. By using ‘you’ and ‘your’ (explicitly or implicitly), readers can feel as if the narration is talking directly to them.
How to choose the right point of view? Read Bright Lights, Big City
Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City is a rare example of a book that has been written in the Second Person POV.

Disadvantages

The disadvantages of the Second Person POV (as I imagine them are):

  1. This style of prose is very hard to maintain for an entire novel (let alone a trilogy or a hexalogy);
  2. It can feel like the narration is telling the reader constantly what to do after a short period of time;
  3. It can feel like the narration is an assault on the reader; and
  4. While it can create an immediate connection and empathy for the POV character, the reader can lose sympathy for the character equally as quickly.

General Pointers About The Second Person POV

In general, the Second Person POV is not a common way of writing fiction and fantasy novels.

In the main, it is used for short stories, like Anthony Johnston’s Caimen Bret, Stacey Richter’s The Land Of Pain, and Susan Minot’s Lust; for self-help, instruction manuals, ‘how to’ books and online guideline articles; and for advertising campaigns.

How to choose the right point of view? Look at this WWI propaganda piece.
The Second Person POV is more frequently used in adverts, to appeal directly to the viewer. Lord Kitchener’s classic WWI propaganda piece exemplifies it.

The Third Person Omniscient POV

The Third Person Omniscient POV is when the writer uses ‘he’ or ‘she’ in the prose when referring to the main character (depending upon the gender of the main character); and the narrator is like a god, hovering above the central protagonist and can see everything in front of, to the side of, and behind him/her.

In the main, the writer predominantly follows the main character throughout the novel, but occasionally switches the POV to one of the other characters at the writer’s choosing.

Advantages

The advantages of the Third Person Omniscient POV:

  1. It makes the novel easier to write (and read);
  2. Writers can get inside the heads of any of the characters at their choosing;
  3. All the major characters can give an account of themselves and give details that the main character may not know; and
  4. The writer is not limited to the viewpoint of one character, so the story is ‘objective.’
JRR Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring (as well as the rest of The Lord of the Rings trilogy) is a great example of a fantasy book that has been written in the Third Person Omniscient POV.

Disadvantages

The disadvantages of the Third Person Omniscient POV:

  1. There is little by way of suspense, as the reader can see what is coming in advance;
  2. The story is told at arm’s length from the main character, so the reader lacks intimacy with the main character;
  3. A lack of intimacy with the main character means that the reader cannot know or understand the full complexity of his/her personality; and
  4. The ‘objectivity’ of the narration can hinder the story because the reader cannot fully understand the internal complexity of the main character (i.e. why he/she makes the decisions that he/she does).

General Pointers About The Third Person Omniscient POV

In general, the Third Person Omniscient POV is a common way of writing light/high fantasy, which is usually aimed at a younger audience. This should be a determining factor in how to choose the right point of view for your novel.

Examples of book in the Third Person Omniscient POV include JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, David Eddings’ Belgariad and Mallorean series, and Philip Pullman’s The Dark Materials trilogy.

Nevertheless, Third Person Omniscient POV is not exclusively for younger audiences in the fantasy genre, or to the fantasy genre either. It has been used by some classic authors as well, such as Leo Tolstoy for Anna Karenina, Oscar Wilde for The Picture of Dorian Gray, and George Orwell for Animal Farm and 1984.

George Orwell’s Animal farm is a classic piece of fiction that is also written in the Third Person Omniscient POV.

Journalists, news reporters, economists and historians also tend to use this style to make their writings come across as objective.

The Third Person Limited POV

This is when the writer uses ‘he’ or ‘she’ in the prose when referring to the main character (depending upon the gender of the main character); and the narrator is not like a god, hovering above the central protagonist, but rather is inside the head of the chosen POV character.

How to choose the right point of view? Read To Kill A Game of Thrones.
George RR Martin’s A Game of Thrones (as well as the rest of the as yet unfinished A Song of Ice & Fire series) is a fantastic example in fantasy of an author who uses the Third Person Limited POV to marvellous effect.

Advantages

The advantages of the Third Person Limited POV:

  1. It is like the First Person POV, only without the grating, self-centered ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘my’ in the prose;
  2. Readers can get intimately close to the POV character, as they hear what he/she thinks, see what he/she sees, and feel what he/she feels;
  3. The reader can fully understand the POV character’s personality and why he/she makes the decisions he/she does;
  4. Writers can give a unique perspective about the society from which the POV character comes from;
  5. The writer can give the POV character a very satisfying story-arc;
  6. Writers can make the story suspenseful, as the POV character (and the reader) cannot see what is coming in advance;
  7. The writer can have as many POV characters as he/she likes.

Disadvantages

The disadvantages of the Third Person Limited POV:

  1. It is (significantly) harder to write.
  2. A writer has to carefully plan out his/her story to ensure that the POV characters (if there’s more than one) are in the right place at the right time and that they have agency at those moments;
  3. The writer is limited to the sole perspective, bias and knowledge of the POV character;
  4. The writer must carefully choose which character(s) to make as his/her POV, as they have to be uniquely positioned, as well as have enough complexity (personality-wise) and agency, to make the story worthwhile;
  5. If the POV character does not know details about another character or society, the writer cannot share these details.

General Pointers About The Third Person Limited POV

In general, the Third Person Limited POV is a common way of writing low fantasy. It is favoured by George RR Martin in his ASOIAF saga and his A Knight Of The Seven Kingdoms novels, Mark Lawrence in The Broken Empire trilogy, Brandon Sanderson in The Stormlight Archives, and Joe Abercrombie in The First Law trilogy.

However, the Third Person Limited POV is not exclusively limited to the (grim)dark fantasy genre. When determining how to choose the right point of view for your novel, also look at some classic authors that have used this POV style as well, such as Ernest Hemingway for For Whom The Bells Toll, Charles Dickens for A Christmas Carol, and Jane Austen for Pride & Prejudice.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is an example of an author, outside of fantasy, who uses the Third Person Limited POV to write a wonderful story.

(The Third Person Limited POV is, as it happens, the style that I have chosen for my fantasy series.)

Tip – Don’t Be Afraid To Start Writing With One Style And Change To Another Later On

As said above, deciding how to choose the right point of view for your novel is hard. All I can say is that you need not worry about starting your novel with one style and realising later on that you are better served by writing it in a different style. It is not a crime, you just have to go back and make corrections for consistency purposes.

If that sounds daunting, know that I started writing in the Third Person Omniscient POV and changed it to the Third Person Limited POV three years down the line. (And I enjoyed making all the amendments, would you believe?)

Otherwise, I hope you have found this article useful and makes the writing journey more enjoyable. If it has helped you decide which POV style to write in, please write in the comments. I would love to hear it from you. Also, if you feel that I have missed anything out, let me know as well.

Paul

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