Point of view is a tricky thing. It’s simultaneously a small-picture issue that involves every word an author writes, and yet it shows up only when you view paragraphs, pages, or even chapters as a whole. This makes it easy to make minor slips and makes it hard to master point of view without writing years and years’ worth of books.
There are a lot of really good writers out there who don’t think in terms of grammar and plot structure. They have an instinctive gift for storytelling that allows them to draw readers in and create a plot that anyone would have a hard time putting down. I greatly admire these writers and thoroughly enjoy reading their books. But despite the incredible power of instinct and creativity, there also is a lot of power in the annoying structural details. These technical rules and patterns can do a lot to make a story understandable and believable.
Every scene, every line, every word is from a point of view. This is how you draw your readers in and make them connect emotionally with the story. Real life tends to happen from inside your own head at all times, which can get super boring. But books need to be able to balance the escape of being inside someone else’s head with the power of diving all the way into a moment and feeling what your characters are feeling. That’s what makes books so much cooler than movies. Readers like to be shown the world through the characters’ eyes. It makes them emotionally connected to the story, and emotion is really what fiction is all about.
The Types of Point of View
You probably know about first person, second person, and third person points of view, but I’m going to spend a little time on the basics here and leave some of the more advanced aspects for a different post.
Second person refers to writing that uses "you."
In the fiction world, second person is almost entirely used in picture books. The parent reading the book will say "you" and the child who is listening to the book will feel included or prompted to interact with the page. Outside of picture books, choose-your-own adventures, and poetry, second person is pretty rare and experimental. It's pretty hard to tell a readers that they are thinking, feeling, or doing something that they obviously aren't thinking, feeling, or doing and not just completely losing suspension of disbelief. So I don't recommend second person for anything outside of picture books, choose-your-own adventures, and poetry.
First person is when the narrator is referred to by the pronouns "I" and "me".
As I was putting the milk onto the conveyor belt, the blonde cashier smiled at me. She had the cutest dimples, and I got so flustered that I dropped the milk. Of course the milk hit a metal corner on its way to the floor and burst everywhere, including all over me. I wanted to melt into the puddle and never come out.
First person is most common in romance novels and young adult novels. It also generally works best for stories with a single point of view character. You can read more about first person POV here.
The technical definition of third person point of view is that the characters are referred to by their names or pronouns (excluding dialogue and direct thoughts).
Oliver went to the store and bought some milk. He handed his cash to the lady at the register, who winked at him with a dimply smile, and turned to leave.
In fiction, third person is the most common and also the most flexible point of view. It is generally preferred for novels with more than two point of view characters. Additionally, adult readers often prefer third person point of view (though third person is also common for younger readers).
To really understand third person point of view, you have to divide it into two main categories: limited and omniscient. An omniscient third person POV style means that the narrator knows everything that is happening, even inside the characters heads. A limited third person POV style means that the narrator knows only what is inside one character’s head at a time. Current industry trends lean towards third person limited POV and show no signs of changing anytime soon.
Choosing Your Point of View
First person, limited, or omniscient POV can all be used to write a beautiful story. But, when you choose a POV for your book, you are creating a framework for yourself that will guide which parts of your story need to be shown. Your POV choice will also have a huge effect on the tone and voice of your book.
To help you choose the best POV for your book, you may consider who you want the readers to connect with and how closely inside that character's head you want them to be. You also should consider how large the scope of your story is and whether you'll need multiple POV characters. Lastly, you'll want to consider your own personal preferences. Which POV style feels most natural for you when you write about these specific characters. Your personal instinct, though not infallible, is an awesome tool in the art of writing.
Go forth and write! And best of luck finding the perfect POV for your book.
About my Coauthor:
Ashlin Awerkamp is a student at Brigham Young University studying editing and publishing. She knew she had chosen the right career when she found a page from her diary showing her using professional editing marks at age ten. When she’s not editing, she’s reading (fantasy is her favorite) or even dabbling in writing books herself. In her free time (which she hopes to have more of after she graduates in April), she enjoys crocheting, cooking, watching movies, and playing lots of games with her husband.