Picking the Right Point Of View

Every writer is different. Some writers are planners and come into the story knowing exactly what the plot is, who the main character is, where they’re coming from, and where they’re going. Others plan a little lighter, knowing a basic plot outline and the general characters. And some? Just make the whole thing up as they go along.

One thing, though, is generally true, no matter how the writer approaches the story, there is a point of view character, or characters.

Points Of View

Most stories are told in first or third person. In first person, you have the character talking about:

“I went to the store.”

In third person, the story is more:

She went to the store.

For stylized, artsy, or choose-your-own-adventure books, you occasionally get second-person point of view. Or:

You went to the store.

Some stories are ‘closer’ than others. What do I mean by closer? Well, if the story isn’t ‘close’, you can’t know what the characters are thinking. When you are in third-person close, you can have things like,

MAIN CHARACTER thought that so-and-so was a jerk because

Where in first-person close, it would simply be:

So-and-so was a jerk! Why did they always…

But point of view is more than just which pronoun to use for the character (I, she, you) or how close you are. Some stories are told from one point of view, others have up to a multitude of point-of-view characters.

Picking a Point of View

When writing a story, there are many factors that go into picking the right point-of-view — and point of view character(s).

  1. What genre are you writing? Different genres tend toward different expectations for point of view characters. YA tends to be first person, adult science fiction and fantasy is often third person omniscient – like a narrator who can fill in world building gaps. Read in your genre to know what the expectations are.
  2. How intimate is your story? First person is a lot more intimate than third, but easier to throw the reader out of the story if you get a detail wrong. Lots of action and dialogue is great for third person. Mental turmoil often works better in first-person. If your story deals with a lot of trauma, think hard about which way you want to go.
  3. Whose story are you telling? If the character is foremost in your planning, or the most well-developed part of your story, you probably know who should be telling the story.
    • NOTE: Sometimes who you think the story is about isn’t the main character at all.  Things happening behind the scenes can be just as exciting as the things on the main stage.
  4. What does your reader need to know? Sometimes, the plot needs the audience to know things that the main character won’t know.
  5. Are you sure your point of view character is the right choice for your world? Think about your intended point of view characters in relation to what the story is actually talking about. Exploring a real world setting and culture through the eyes of an insider OR an outsider can be done wrong. I’m not here to tell you to ‘stay in your lane’ or anything like that, but this sort of story needs to be told with open eyes, respect for the culture you’re exploring, and definitely consult with people from that culture and background. There are nuances that no amount of study will ever be able to convey.

Do you have a favorite point of view to read? Is it different when you write?

How do you choice your point of view — and point of view characters?

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