How to Write a Novel to the End: Which Point of View Should You Use in Your Novel?
Point of view is a window looking into a scene or story from the mindset of a character. Last week in the Which Point of View Should You Use in Your Novel, Part One, we compared point of view in a novel with the perspective gained by a particular character looking out a particular ‘window’ onto the story. We went into how many point of view characters to have and which ones to use. If you haven’t part one yet, start there.
There are three main points of view from which to write. These are first person, second person, and third person. We’ll cover these one at a time.
First Person Point of View
With first person point of view, you write from an “I” perspective. This allows you to climb into your protagonist’s skin and express the story in terms of what he or she feels, thinks, and knows. You can’t get any more intimate than that, which is why this point of view is perfect for character studies. It also works well for mysteries because it enables the author to hide details from the protagonist and, by association, the reader. First person point of view is the most common viewpoint in young adult fiction.
A downside is that, in first person, a viewpoint character who reacts to a setback can sound whiny. Also, when a moody, aloof tone is wanted or a story calls for the reader to know something the protagonist doesn’t, first person isn’t accommodating.
Stream-of Consciousness Writing
Harnessing the intimacy of a first person point of view to emulate the flow of a focal character’s thoughts, known as stream-of-consciousness style, was first adopted in fiction by Anton Chekhov. Use it when your story demands this kind of intimacy. With stream-of-consciousness writing, details of setting usually have to be reined in or the story can come off sounding forced. Because of this, the reader may feel off-kilter, ungrounded, and even confused.
First-Person Point of View
I should have stayed home that night. Putting a car with bald tires on a highway with rain running in streams across the lanes was not my most brilliant idea.
What was I thinking putting a car with bald tires on a highway running with rain? Not my most brilliant idea. Why didn’t I just stay home?
Some Well-Known Novels Written in First Person*
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
- The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Second Person Point of View
This point of view uses a “you” perspective. It grabs attention and creates immediacy by directly addressing the reader, but it can be hard to sustain for an entire novel. Perhaps because of this, it is rarely found in fiction. If you can pull off casting the reader as a character in your story, using second person point of view is one of the best ways to foster engagement.
Some Well-Known Novels Written in Second Person*
- If On a Winter’s Night A Traveller by Italo Calvino
- Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney
- A Prayer for the Dying by Stewart O’Nan
You should have stayed home that night. Putting a car with bald tires on a highway with rain running in streams across the lanes was not your most brilliant idea.
Third Person Point of View
The third person point of view is written from a ‘him’ or ‘her’ perspective. This is the most common viewpoint used in adult fiction. Its familiarity for readers is a factor to consider when deciding which point of view to use, however the needs of your story should be your ultimate guide.
You can tell use a third person point of view through the eyes of one character or several. We discussed how many viewpoint characters to have in Which Point of View Should You Use in Your Novel, Part One, so today we’ll just take a look at these forms.
Third Person Point of View, Single Viewpoint
This shares most of the same advantages and disadvantages of first person point of view. It allows the reader to get into the head of the focal character and limits experiences, thoughts, and knowledge to those of that character. However, telling a story from a third person point of view does distance readers a little from the focal character. That’s not necessarily bad. It depends on the story you have to tell. A little distance, for example, can help prevent your viewpoint character from sounding whiny.
Third Person Point of View, Multiple Viewpoints
Using several points of view deepens your story with additional layers. It allows you to provide information to the reader that your main character doesn’t know. Elaborate stories with subplots, hidden elements, or a large cast of characters are often better managed through a third person point of view.
It’s important to choose the focal character for each scene well. Identifying who has the most at stake can help you decide a scene’s focal character. A disadvantage to telling your story through multiple viewpoints is that readers can fail to connect with your protagonist or feel the story is too scattered.
She should have stayed home that night. Putting a car with bald tires on a highway with rain running in streams across the lanes was not her most brilliant idea.
Some Well-Known Novels Written in Third Person*
- Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
- The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
- The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye
- And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
I thought I was going to wrap this topic up today. Ha! There’s more to explain about point of view, so next week we’ll look into variations of third person point of view, then after that we’ll cover grammatical positioning. To ensure you don’t miss this information, consider subscribing.
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Previous Installment: Which Point of View Should You Use in Your Novel? Part 1
©2014 by Janalyn Voigt
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