A Brief Note on POV

So I obviously haven’t succeeded in my plan to post weekly. Sorry about that. I’ve been busy, and while I have many blog ideas floating around, haven’t had a chance to really sit down and do any of them justice.

One subject I think of a lot is Point of View (POV). In other words, in whose head we’re in when we’re reading the story. There are three primary POV narrative styles: First Person, Second Person, and Third Person.

First-Person Narrative (FPN)  means the story is told by the narrator himself (or herself), using “I” and “me,” etc. The fun thing for your reader with FPN is you can give insight into your narrator (often the protagonist, though not always) that you couldn’t necessarily get otherwise. This is because we not only get the character’s thoughts, but we also get his/her voice, or the style in which he or she writes or speaks. The reality of FPN is you shouldn’t use it as a writer unless there is a driving reason to: for example, the character’s voice is particularly strong (such as Peter Grant in the Peter Grant books) or being limited to their perceptions and coloring of events is pivotal to the story (such as Nick Caraway in The Great Gatsby). I normally don’t write in FPN, but I went with that for UnConventional because I felt it was important that we stay inside Di’s head, with her often skewed interpretation of the narrative that wouldn’t have been possible in third-person.

Second-Person Narrative (SPN) means the story is told to you, the reader, using “you,” and often otherwise in “first-person.” Epistolary novels (novels that feature letters) are usually in this form, but you don’t see it very often, partially because it can be a challenge to maintain for an entire novel, and also because some readers find it annoying. Into This River I Drown features one section in SPN, though I’m not entirely sure why the writer went with that narrative decision. I have one novel-in-progress in which I experimented with select chapters in this form, but it’s really something to be used cautiously, and only if the type of story you’re telling demands it.

Third-Person Narrative (TPN) means the story is told by someone outside the tale, using pronouns like “he,” “she,” they,” etc. TPN can be limited or omniscient, which means the story can be limited to a single character’s experiences (closer to a FPN), or can cover various characters. TPN is a good choice when you want to distance yourself from your characters to a certain extent, or when you can’t justify using FPN. It can also be a good choice if you want to head hop so your reader can experience events or gain insight into things that the protagonist isn’t privy to. The biggest problem I find with TPN is that writers use it as an excuse to be lazy, head hopping all over the place, sometimes from one sentence to another. In my opinion, even with TPN omniscient, it’s best to stick with a particular character for a scene, only jumping to a new one when you break into a new scene. Not only does this make it easier for your reader, but it also forces you to look at each scene from a particular character’s perspective and challenges you to show what the other characters might be feeling without actually getting into their heads. In/Exhale is written in TPN omniscient, though I generally stay in the perspectives of a few of the main characters. If you’ve never tried that before, you should do it, even if it’s only an exercise. You might find it fun to see things through someone else’s eyes, instead of as the “all knowing writer god.”

Of course, this is a very succinct overview of POV. I definitely want to write more about POV, but I figured it’d be good to introduce the subject briefly so that I can refer back to this when I have time to elaborate later. Next time you read a book, think about the POV and ask yourself, “Why did the author choose this particular POV? Would another POV have worked better?” Then try to apply this to your own writing, experimenting with shifting from one narrative style to another, as well as different perspectives. What if you wrote from the first-person POV of someone who isn’t the protagonist? What if you limited your TPN to only one character? Challenging yourself and questioning yourself in this way will help you improve your writing and find the narrative style that is perfect for each story you want to tell.


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