|Posted by Kristen Hamilton on October 26, 2019 at 5:40 PM|
As an author, it’s your job to create an attractive narrative using the best/most ideal point of view and perspective. The book’s perspective is who is telling the story (the Harry Potter series would be much different if told from Voldemort’s perspective!) and the book's point of view (POV) is how this character tells the story (i.e., using "I" or "he/she").
Watch highlights of my presentation on point of view and perspective at the 2017 Boise Book Fest.
Whichever character’s perspective you choose to write your book in has the capacity to make or break your story. Writing from a side character’s point of view, for example, is not as engaging or as effective as if you had chosen to write the story from the main character’s point of view. But once you figure out which perspective your story will be told in, you have to determine which POV to write in.
Let's talk about the POV options in storytelling, as well as some pros and cons of each. Most novels use a first person or third person narrative style.
First person POV is fantastic for books that have heightened sources of internal conflicts, and this POV influences the reader to agree with the main character’s opinion of the story’s plot, as the main character is telling the story through his or her eyes.
Historically speaking, first person POV have made for the best books; they really speak to the human condition and allow the reader to fully get inside the main character’s head. They are often hard-hitting books that stay with the reader for a long time (i.e., The Help by Kathryn Stockett, The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee).
The first person POV doesn't come without its warnings, though. With the first person POV, you’re stuck in your main character’s mind frame. You can’t understand what other characters think unless they say it through dialogue, or if you switch perspectives (i.e., a different character is narrating their side of the story) in a different chapter.
EDITOR'S TIP: In first person POV, it's most popular to stay with the main character's POV through the entire book.
If your book is told in third person point of view, you'll always use “he” or “she” to explain the action—as if you’re seeing the story from over the character’s shoulder. Third person point of view is good for almost all fiction books, especially those more focused on plot. Third person POV storytelling has several different subcategories: third person objective, third person limited, and third person omniscient.
Third Person Objective
In third person objective, the reader views the action from over the character’s shoulder without getting inside their head. The narrator is unbiased and just tells the action how it happens—it’s up to your reader to interpret the story how they wish. This is a pretty common narrative style in modern books.
Third Person Limited
In third person limited, the reader views the action from over the character’s shoulder and sometimes gets inside the character’s head with direct internal thought. This is a common narrative style that is becoming more popular in recent decades. EDITOR'S TIP: If you share direct internal thought, be sure to format the thoughts in italics.
Third Person Omniscient
In third person omniscient, the reader views the action from over the character’s shoulder. But instead of being limited to only one character’s knowledge and thoughts (as is common in first person or third person limited POV), the narrator knows everything the characters know.
But heed this warning: While readers can fully understand each character and enjoy a rich reading experience with contrasting viewpoints, it can also be “jolting” to readers to constantly flip-flop from one character’s perspective to another—also known as head-hopping. EDITOR'S TIP: When using this POV style, it’s important that you are disciplined by indicating a perspective shift with a scene break—or better, a chapter break.
Using POV to Increase Tension
Did you know you can use POV to increase tension in your book? Consider telling the story from different perspectives of important characters to increase tension. This also might be a good narrative choice in order to differentiate the story.
EDITOR'S TIP: When switching to another character’s perspective, be sure to include a section break to indicate the change, which is standard in the industry. Be sure to stay within your characters’ perspectives to “show”—rather than “tell”—what’s going on in the story.
When evaluating an author's manuscript for its level of success, I spend some time looking at the book's POV style. These are the questions I ask when doing a manuscript critique:
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Book editor Kristen Hamilton is the owner and sole employee of
Kristen Corrects, Inc., where she provides manuscript editing
services for traditionally and self-publishing authors. Several
authors whose books she has edited have won awards and
Reading is Kristen's passion, so when the workday is over, she
can usually be found curled up with a good book alongside her
four cats. She loves watching cat videos and scary movies,
eating pizza, teaching herself French, and traveling, and she is
likely planning her next vacation. She lives outside of Boise, ID.