Wednesday, 25 November 2009

WRITING ADVICE: Which Point Of View?

Which Point of View

by Guest Blogger:
Janice Hardy

Janice Hardy is the author of The Pain Merchants(UK Title)/The Shifter(US Title)
You can read an interview with Janice Hardy on tall tales & short stories by following this link

Running in conjunction with Janice's posts is a chance to win a signed copy of her debut novel. Details can be found at the end of this post.


The First Third

You’ve just had a great story idea. You know exactly what’s going to happen to whom, and know who’s going to tell this tale. Problem is, you’re not sure whether to do it in first person or third person.

Don’t fear, you’re not alone. I think every writer runs into this at least once, and it can be hard knowing which to pick. While there’s no right or wrong answer here, there are some things to consider when choosing which POV to use.

1. How personal is this story?

Do you want the reader to feel as if they’re experiencing the story first-hard or watching it as an observer?

First person is intimate and very personal. It’s the character telling their story directly to the reader, relaying all their hopes and fears (or hiding them). It’s a great choice for deeply personal tales or ones where you want the reader to really understand and identify with the narrator, or even put themselves in the narrator’s shoes (or head).

While a tight third person can also give a sense of intimacy, it keeps one layer of distance and makes it easier for the reader to remember they’re reading about someone, not living that experience. A looser third person, or multiple third person, takes an even more distant approach and can provide an outside perspective. It sees the bigger picture, not just the small part the narrator is involved in.

2. How big is this story?

Third person allows you to show more of a story if things are happening in multiple locations to multiple people. The more going on, the more people you might need to show it. While you can still do epic tales with first person, it tends to narrow the focus to what’s important to that one character.

3. Whose story is it?

If this is one specific character’s tale, then first person could be a good way to show that personal struggle. If it’s a story that follows multiple characters, third can allow you to show the common link between them and focus on the events that tie they story together.

4. How much do you want to keep secret?

This applies to both your narrator and your reader. A tighter POV makes it harder to keep secrets from your reader. If you need your narrator to be in the dark, you might choose a more distant POV. Of course, you can also choose a tight POV and let the reader wonder along with your narrator. Consider what information your narrator knows or will learn and how much of that you want your reader to know.

5. Which serves the story better?

Sometimes one will allow you to show or do things the other won’t. For example, it can be easier for a first person narrator to misunderstand something, because we’re clearly in the head of the person and can see they aren’t the brightest bulb in the lamp. A more distant narrator could feel more contrived to “miss” things.

Conversely, a third person narrator might allow you to pull back and look at things in a broader scope that lets you hide details better, because it’s not one specific person focusing on a certain detail.

6. What feels more natural to you?

Don’t underestimate your own writing style and voice. Just because a lot of YA is written in first person, or fantasy is often written in third, doesn’t mean you have to do that if you’re writing in those genres. While most genres have a common POV, there’s no rule saying you have to follow along. If you enjoy one over the other, then write in that regardless of what genre or market you’re writing in.

Whichever POV you choose, remember that it’s your story and you can do whatever you want with it. Personal taste also plays a role. Some folks love a good first person, while others feel the constant “I, me” is annoying and would rather have a tight third, or even an omnificent third.

And there’s nothing wrong with trying a few POVs to see which works better. Sometimes you need to write a scene from a few different perspectives before you find the one that really sings to you.



  • One winner will win a signed copy of Janice Hardy's debut novel.
  • The winner will be randomly picked from the entries.
  • The competition is open to all countries.
  • To enter please leave your name and email address in the comments box. Please specify which copy you would prefer - the UK or US version.
  • All comments are moderated and no personal details will be posted on this blog.
  • Further rules and conditions can be found in the sidebar.



Candy Gourlay said...

great post as usual, tracy!

Tracy said...

Thanks Candy :)

Donna Gambale said...

Excellent guest post. I chose a very close third person for mine.

Tracy said...

Thanks Ashley - entry received. :)

Tracy said...

Thanks Kate - entry received. :)

Tracy said...

Hi Maggie. Thanks for entry. :)

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