You, Me or They: Choosing the right point of view

Who do you want telling your story?

Choosing which point of view – first, second or third person – is one of the first decisions that you make before you start writing. It will impact every aspect of your story, in character, plot and dialogue. Each will deliver a very different piece of writing. And there are advantages and drawbacks to each one.

First-Person

First-person is when the narrator tells the story by referencing themselves in “I”, “me” and “my”. It’s a personal perspective that transports the reader directly into the mind of the main protagonist.

First-person is exciting and easy to write. The reader experiences every choice and thought of the main protagonist, and their feelings can be explored in length. You can always explore a character’s mind in third-person, but it comes with much more ease in the first point of view. Seeing things from the character’s unadulterated perspective is an empathetic tool that helps the reader understand the protagonist.

However, there are some disadvantages. Seeing things only in the perspective of the main character is incredibly subjective and it’s harder to showcase the thoughts and feelings of other characters. Basically, in first-person, you have to develop an exceptional main protagonist/s. Some writers that use first-person switch between characters. However, using any more than two characters in this point of view can get confusing with the reader, as they associate “I” and “me” with only one person. Also, it’s quite difficult to submerge things about the protagonist from the reader in first-person, such as hidden secrets and motives. In short, it’s hard to surprise the reader.

Many of the great literary and commercial novels are in first-person.

Second-Person

This point of view is an exceptionally rare one and is not often seen in fiction. The writer uses “you”, forcibly involving the reader into the action of the piece itself. It’s even more immersive than first-person and is similar in the way that the reader is extremely close to the action.

However, it is incredibly hard to write in this perspective and it does have it’s drawbacks. Not many people enjoy reading in second-person, finding it confronting as they can’t see themselves being the driver of action. It can also get repetitive if not crafted well. It’s for these reasons that this point of view is mostly reserved for short stories, interactive decision-based novels and games.

However, in saying that, if you can master the use of second-person in a literary novel, you will be acknowledged for your efforts as it is quite a challenge. Acclaimed second-person novels include Jay Mcinerney’s Bright Lights, Big City and Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller.

Third-Person

And now to my personal choice, third-person. “They”, “he”, “her” and “John Smith”, the choices of pronouns in third-person are endless. Though some authors write in a limited third-person, the most popular perspective for novelists is the omniscient third-person. It is my personal favourite perspective to both read and write.

There is something purposeful about knowing everything within your story, and the reader understands that you see everything. It can give a rather theatrical element to your story. For example, the very first paragraph of my manuscript underscores my character’s sheer mortality:

Looking back years later, Ronan Rafferty would come to see the twenty-fourth of November 1984 as a crossroads in his life. A crossroads that would ultimately lead to his death.

This perspective not only empowers the writer, but also the reader. The reader knows things that the characters do not. They want to help them but are unable to warn them of the coming dangers. Third-person is also freeing, as it allows you to describe everything around the story, without being limited by the main protagonist’s subjective and bias perspective.

However, just like any other point of view, there are some traps. There is potential for the writer to become too clinical in their prose and sabotage the chance of emotion and empathy. Knowing everything can the novel less surprising. Also, in third-person you have to establish everything extremely well as you no longer have the character’s mind to guide you. In first-person the reader can accept the character’s lack of attention, however, in third-person, a poor setup will stick out like a sore thumb.

Third-person is perfect for any form of writing but is most common in action, thriller, crime and fantasy/sci-fi series.

If done well, any point of view can create an exceptional story, adding its own influence on your writing.

So tell me, which point of view do you prefer? Leave a comment.

 

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