Point of view is not the single most important thing in your story. Choosing between first and third person is, essentially, a minor point of contention when compared to the more far-reaching consequences of plot and setting. However, point of view (POV) is also the very first thing that your readers will encounter. It is the lens through which a reader will see and experience the world you have created, and it never goes away. It dictates your reader’s view of the story from beginning to end. So, the decision of which POV to use holds great weight in the long run.
Hunger has given you all a brief overview of the different types of POV.
- First person (I, me, my)
- Third person (he, she, they) – (This can be broken down into omniscient and limited. Omniscient means that the narrator has knowledge that the characters do not and that the narrator is not limited to the thoughts of a single character. Limited means the narrator is limited to one or two characters’ thoughts, but consequently, the reader doesn’t have information that the characters don’t have.)
- Second person (you, your)
Each of these have their place, and peculiarities associated with each makes them well-suited to certain types of narratives. First person is especially useful for diaries and journals. Third person is suited best for stories with multiple main characters, dual plots (two separate plots being told in alternate chapters/sections), etc. Second person is rarely used, mostly because it is exceptionally difficult (and sometimes unwise) to tell a story as though it is occurring to the reader. Generally, such a story would be better-written in first or third person. One stunning example of second person is the Choose Your Own Adventure series. Feel free to Google it. (Henceforth, second person will not be referenced.)
Writers tend to have a certain POV that they prefer writing. Some feel that they write more convincingly in first person. Some feel that third person gives a better overview of plot. But sometimes, despite your predisposition, there are some stories that you know better lend themselves to a certain POV. You may begin writing third person and unconsciously switch to first person. Perhaps it’s a fluke, but if you keep doing so, it may be a sign that you unconsciously recognize that first person is more suited to this story. I, personally, prefer third person, but I recognize that first person is more appropriate in some instances. What I hope that everyone can see is that there is no ultimate POV that is always best to use in every circumstance. Each is dependent on many factors (including personal preference, natural flow, type of story, plot requirements, etc.), and each POV lends something different to a narrative.
I’d like you to try something that will, hopefully, let you see the merits of each type. Write a single scene in each POV. The same scene. The same things happen, but they are told in different ways. Let me show you.
First person: I could feel the cool breeze on my neck from the open window. It was warmer than it should have been for January, but at this moment I didn’t mind. It felt like spring; there was even the sound of lawnmowers far below. I let my mind wander, only half-listening as the professor droned on. A quick glance around the classroom told me that I was the only one that felt that way. There were a few people looking down at their notes, but most were gazing intently at the professor. I supposed I should have been looking in his direction too, but I was suddenly very tired. It had been a long day, and that breeze was absolutely wonderful. I leaned my chin heavily on my hand, trying to stay awake.
Third person: The sound of lawnmowers on the Quad drifted up to the second-floor classroom, clearly audible through the open windows. Several students had taken it upon themselves to hoist the glass panes up (one nearly falling through) to keep the room from becoming to stuffy. A good, cool breeze, far warmer than was normal for an early January day, would keep everyone awake enough to pay attention to the professor. At least, that was the mindset. For one girl, the open air had a different effect. As the class wound on, she found herself paying less and less attention to what was being said. Instead, the breeze on her neck was slowly dragging her mind to beautiful weather. What was so interesting about poetry anyway? She settled further into her desk, propping her head up on her hand. Her eyelids slid down, perilously close to being closed, but as she wasn’t disrupting class, no one bothered to prod her awake.
You get a different view of the situation each time, and it can help you to see which POV is more appropriate to the story you need to tell. Another way to perform this exercise would be to take a passage from a book (any book you like) and rewrite it in another POV. If it’s third person, write it in first person, or vice versa.
“Happy writing, everyone!” the author said cheerfully, quickly hitting ‘publish’ in the upper right corner. Another post well-written. Now, she just had to wait for the glowing replies to flow in.
(For the record, I’m not really that egocentric. xD No glowing reviews are necessary, though they are appreciated.)