Who's telling the story?

How to choose the "Point-of-View" of your novel


A good book makes readers forget the real world. They become engaged with the story and the characters. But this doesn't happen unless a writer chooses the right point-of-view (POV). This article will tell you how to do that.

What is POV?

You learned about POV in elementary school, although the teacher probably didn't call it that. POV is about pronouns - first-person (I, me, we), second-person (you) and third-person (he, she, they).

Most fiction writers use the first-person or third-person POV. You can combine all three but this approach can be confusing to the reader. Mixed POVs make it harder for readers to get immersed in the story or follow what every character is doing and saying.

In this article, we're going to look at the third-person POV - i.e. when you write about the character in the form "Jack was walking down the dark street when he heard footsteps pattering behind him."

We will examine

-the advantages of using Third-Person POV,

-the limitations,

-and how you as a writer should decide if this is the most effective way to tell the story.

Advantages of Third-Person POV

Write your story in the space below your premises, and you'll be officially finished with the master outline!

In the Harry Potter novels, J.K. Rowling uses what is called Omniscient Third-Person POV. In this approach, the author knows what every character is feeling and thinking and conveys these emotions and thoughts as each character is presented. Omniscient Third-Person (OTP) lets the reader follow the novel as though watching a movie. OTP is particularly suited for novels that have many characters and are plot-driven.

The narrator stays out of the characters' heads and shows only what the camera can record in third-person.. If they don't show their feelings and thoughts, they remain hidden in the body language, actions, or dialogue.

A more extreme version of OTP is called Third-Person Objective POV or "Cinematic POV." As the term implies, the story is told in from an impersonal or camera-eye perspective. The narrator is a fly on the wall and the reader has no access to characters' thoughts, opinions or inner debates.

Disadvantages of Third-Person POV

As the writer, you are omniscient - i.e. you know everything that's happening in the story and what every character is thinking and feeling.

The first disadvantage

This means that you have to choose what descriptive details to provide for each character. You must also make sure that their thoughts and emotions relate to every other protagonist and drive the narrative. And, as the writer, you have to keep track of more details.

The second disadvantage

The OTP creates an emotional distance between the characters and the reader. Because the narrator is omniscient, readers will feel as though they are observing the characters' feelings and overhearing their thoughts, rather than engaging with the protagonists in an empathic way. This is why Omniscient POV is also called Objective POV.

The distance and impersonal pov of the story does not allow the reader to identify or feel close to the characters. It's rarely used in the whole novel. What are the alternatives to this?

Objective POV, as the name suggests, uses an observational method to tell the story. The author reports what the characters do and say, but provides no description of their feelings or inner thoughts.

Although this approach can work in certain genres, such as hard-boiled detective fiction or adventure stories, it is not generally recommended. After all, even readers who prefer plot and action still want to have a sense of what the characters are like - what motivates them and what they are feeling as the story moves forward.

The third disadvantage

The other main disadvantage of Third-Person POV is that it limits how much you can surprise the reader or create puzzles that will keep them turning the pages of your novel. Who killed Duke Trelawny? Does Emmy feel the same way? Why is Brad looking upset?

This is because, if you are an omniscient narrator, you create an information expectation from the reader. If the narrator is all-knowing, there is no good reason to not answer such questions as soon as they come up in the story.

In other words, the reader expects to know as much as the narrator. When an omniscient narrator hides information (about a key event or a specific opinion that a character holds) only to reveal it later, the reader feels manipulated or even cheated.

However, there are techniques to overcome these disadvantages when using Third-Person POV.

Different ways to use Third-Person POV

Third-person POV has different levels. We have already talked about Objective POV, which is the strictest version of this approach. But, at the other extreme, we have Deep Third-Person POV (also called Close or Intimate Third Person).

This is used to convey the innermost thoughts of the main character. It is just like First-Person POV, except the author uses third-person pronouns. Because it is limited, the reader can only find out what other characters are thinking or feeling from the perspective of the main protagonist.

This also means that what the other protagonists think of the main character can only be expressed through their words or actions, not by a description of their thoughts and feelings.

Many ways of POV

You can also use the Intimate Third Person (ITP) for several characters. This technique lets you convey each protagonist's innermost thoughts and feelings as intimately as First-Person POV.

The reader thus gets multiple viewpoints. This approach also helps you to show what's happening in the story, rather than telling. In other words, you as the writer provide concrete and vivid details through the characters.

The reader draws their own conclusions and, if you have chosen the right details, they will make the conclusions you want.

Deep character thoughts are the best way to tell a story. Internalization of the internalization of the character. What's going on with our friendship?

The third shall become first

Even when you writing in OTP, you can still convey a first-person perspective by reporting the thoughts of the characters or what is called their "internal monologue."

When using this technique, you have to make sure that the reader doesn't mix up the narrator's voice (i.e. the author) with the character. There are two main ways to avoid this, one technical, the other stylistic. The technical method is straightforward: put your character's inner monologue in italic font (like this.)

The second method has to do with dialogue. You have to write the character's "voice" in a way that's distinct from the authorial voice. Sometimes, this requires no more than having your character speak in an informal or conversational way. That shows the reader that the words they are reading are different from the words of the narrator/author, which are more formal.

Practice the perspectives

Getting the POV right is an essential part of writing your story right. As with everything else, the more you practice, the better you will get. Write a scene with one character using the first-person perspective or even your actual POV. Then re-write the same scene using the Third-Person POV.

Write another scene using the Intimate Third-Person POV, then re-write the same scene using the Objective Third Person, with all the description of emotions and inner thoughts removed.

These exercises will get you accustomed to different approaches and make you aware of the challenges with each technique.

Once you can do this, you will be ready to write your story - or, rather, your characters' stories. And keep reading this blog for more tips on getting your book right.

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