Picking the Point of View for Your Story
Point of view is the narrated perspective that a story is being told from.
When you’re picking your point of view for your story, you’re determining the perspective from which your readers will take in your story as well as the relationship they are going to have with it.
The relationship between the reader and the story is going to directly impact how believable your world is for your reader and how close they get to be to that world and the story itself.
Since the point of view determines the reader's relationship, the most important question to ask yourself is — how close do you want that relationship to be?
There are different types of points of view to consider when you’re writing a story. Often times the type of story you are writing is what is going to be the determining factor of your point of view — though it’s not the one you necessarily have to choose.
It’s your story, you can do whatever you want.
For example, fiction stories are predominately told from the first-person perspective but that doesn’t mean you can’t tell the story from the second or third point of view.
The First Person point of view is telling the story from the perspective of one character, giving the reader all of the story information filtered through this single character's thoughts, emotions, and bias.
The reader will experience the story only as the character does with the same information the character has at any given time.
It’s a narrative point of view easily identified by its use of the pronouns “I,” “We”, & “My”, filtering the story through this character's internal filters.
The Second Person point of view tells the story in a way that pulls the reader into the story, using pronouns like “You”, and “Your” to insert the reader into the events. It’s a perspective most commonly found in non-fiction writing and is used to make the reader feel like the protagonist of the story and make it more personal.
Just because it’s not commonly seen in fiction work does not take it off the table of options for you if you’re writing a fiction novel. N.K. Jemisin did it in Emergency Skin and The Fifth Season to immerse the reader into her world and make it personal to the reader.
The Third Person point of view comes with a decision between omniscient and limited.
The omniscient third-person narrative is an all-knowing narrator that has a birds-eye view of all of the characters and events and has a peek inside of everyone's head about everything happening all of the time. I like to think of this narrative perspective as the “all-seeing one”.
Limited third person is the narrator that only knows a few things about one character at a time. I think of this one as the “guardian angel” of perspective. The reader gets the story from the point of view of a single character but isn’t tied to the bias of that character and it allows the reader to take in information that the character doesn’t pick up on or won’t allow themselves to acknowledge.
There’s Give & Take with Each Perspective
Because the narrative perspective is what determines the reader's relationship with the story, knowing the pros and cons of each point of view possibility is a good place to start when you’re considering how close of a relationship you want to give your reader.
First Person grants the reader with a more intimate connection with the protagonist because the reader is essentially being dropped into the protagonist's mind as they go through the motions (events) happening within the story. How the reader feels about the events and other characters will be colored by the lens (bias) of the protagonist voicing the story.
Telling a story from this perspective means that the protagonist has to be likable and relatable enough to keep the reader interested in wanting to stay in their heads for the duration of the story.
Pro — intimacy and immediate connection between reader and protagonist.
Con — the reader can only know what the protagonist knows, sees, hears, and feels in relation to the events of the story.
The Second Person is going to pull the reader in and make them apart of the story and the events happening within it.
Within this perspective, the narrator is speaking directly to the reader and guiding them through everything that's happening.
Pro — You’re breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to the reader, inserting them into the story, and essentially taking them on an adventure first hand. You can also sprinkle this perspective in a first-person or third-person narrative.
Con — It can be easy for the reader to distance themselves from the story and there’s a risk of confusion with the story if it’s not written well.
Third Person Omniscient and Limited is going to create a distance between the reader and the characters, it’s just a matter of knowing how much distance you want to put between them.
Pro — the reader gets to experience more of the story while it’s happening and will get to experience the events outside of the heads of each of the characters so they are removed from the bias of the characters.
Con — there is the potential of what is called head-hopping which bounces the reader in and out of the whole cast of characters, effectively making the reader dizzy with information and removing any intimacy with the characters and story itself.
Between the number of choices and the pros and cons of each choice, it can be hard to know which one fits your story the best. When you’re considering which point of view will best serve your story, it boils down to one thing — how closely connected do you want the reader and the story to be? How intimate of an experience do you want the reader to have with the characters and the story?
There is no point of view that's better than the other, it’s only about which narrative point of view is going to be most effective for the story you’ve decided to tell.
What's your favorite point of view to write in? Is it the same as your favorite perspective to read in? Let me know down below.