There’s so much you have to think about before you begin a new fiction writing project.
You have to think about your characters, your setting, your tone, the market you’re writing for. You have to think about how you’re going to keep the work compelling and entertaining for your reader at all times.
You have to make a choice between present tense and past tense, which I talked about recently. You know what you also have to figure out? What Point-of-View to use.
Are you going to tell this story in first person (using I)? Or is third person going to suit the work better (using him or her)?
What about multiple points-of-view? Can we see the story from two or more characters? Why or why not?
These are all questions you need to ask yourself before you write a single word of the manuscript because making the wrong choice in this department is often a fatal mistake you can never recover from.
So what are the advantages and advantages of each? Let’s take a look…
1. First Person
- You end up spending so much time with your lead character that your readers develop tremendous empathy for them. First person helps build intimacy between your character and reader, too (often a reason why so many middle grade and young adult novels are written in first person).
- You are never wrong in the first person. Since you’re seeing the events through one person’s eyes, what you’re seeing is the experience of that person and so there’s no wrong way to think or feel.
- The choice for a first person point of view tells the reader whose story it is. The reader understands who to root for on page one.
- The big one — since the reader is seeing the story through only one pair of eyes, the reader can’t see different perspectives and be in different places than the protagonist.
- It’s harder to develop the other characters of the story since you can only learn of them and see them through your protagonist.
- The voice needs to match the main character’s personality. If, for example, you’re writing in the first person of a fifteen-year-old, you can’t write long passages of literary description because the fifteen-year-old probably wouldn’t think that way.
2. Third Person
- It’s the most familiar of the point-of-view choices. When you’re in doubt, usually third person is the way to go.
- You have more freedom as a writer (this is something my MFA advisor taught me about third person). The narrator (you, the author) and the protagonist are two different people. You can comment on your protagonist if you want rather than just see everything from the protagonist’s point of view.
- Third Person is less claustrophobic in a sense because you’re not stuck in one person’s head the whole time. You can hop around to different places and be more free to experiment as a writer.
- One problem with third person is that the characters are always at arm’s length. You might struggle helping your reader build empathy for the characters because of this. And if you focus on a lot of characters, your reader won’t know who to focus on.
- It’s more difficult to have an unreliable narrator in third-person, since the writer would have to lie, not the actual character.
- You also have to deal with clumsy pronouns. When writing a long scene with a ton of characters, it’s hard to keep track of every “he” and “she.”
3. Multiple POV
- Of course the most obvious advantage is that using multiple POVs allows you to show the world and your story and all the other characters from more than one set of eyes.
- Multiple POVs can create a wonderful level of richness and complexity to your writing and to the world of your story.
- You constantly keep the readers on their toes and maintain something fresh and interesting in the narrative.
- Going back and forth between characters can build suspense, too.
- The main one? It’s not easy. In fact it’s really, really hard. Each POV character’s voice needs to be easily recognizable.
- Your manuscript needs to have logical rules about when the POV shifts between characters occur (typically each chapter with a character heading) or the reader will be totally disoriented.
- It is super difficult to establish deep emotional connections in multiple POV. If your reader only cares about some of your POV characters and not all of them, they might not fully engage with the story.
So which one do you choose?
You should go with the one that best serves the story you’re writing. Think about what you’re setting out to do. What you want to accomplish with your characters, your pacing, your theme, your voice. Which point-of-view would get all of that across the best?
I often tell writers who have no idea to go with third person, it’s the safe choice, and it’s one you can do the most creative work in.
First person is a solid choice for middle grade and young adult, but keep in mind the voice has to come through in a way that’s engaging and memorable.
Multiple POV is a choice you should only make if you’re ready for a challenge. You have to implement every strength you have as a writer, and you need a really strong reason for doing it.
Sometimes the choice is instinctual. Sometimes you just know. Other times you might have to write a chapter or two to see. Write a few scenes and then decide if you need to make a POV change.
Whatever point-of-view you end up choosing for your latest work, I wish you all the best!
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