How to Understand Point of View in Your Book

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Choosing the right point of view for your story is crucial. Your POV will determine how your readers get immersed in the story. But how do you even begin to choose the right point of view? Let’s start by looking at the three most popular POVs.

First Person:

First Person POV is when the book is written like your main character is talking to the reader, telling his or her own story. Pronouns such as I, me, and my are used in this POV. This POV is used in popular fiction like The Hunger Games and Divergent.

Here’s an example from Divergent:

“I sit on the stool and my mother stands behind me with the scissors, trimming. The strands fall on the floor in a dull, blond ring.”

As you can see in the excerpt, Veronica Roth also writes in the present tense, which shows that everything the main character is telling us is happening as she tells us.

This POV limits you to one character, which means the readers can only know what your main character knows. In Allegiant, Roth finds her way around the limited POV by switching POV characters from Tobias to Tris every chapter. That allowed Roth to maintain the first person POV while allowing her to reveal information and events to the reader that she would not have been able to do otherwise.

Third Person Omniscient:

Third Person Omniscient is written from the outside looking in. Pronouns such as he, she, his, and hers are used because we are observing the characters from the outside instead of being in their heads. It is written in the past tense.

The thing that separates this POV from Third Person Limited is that the omniscient POV allows the readers a glimpse into any of the characters’ minds at any time.

In Little Women, Louisa May Alcott gets us into the minds of all the characters while maintaining the third person POV.

“Jo’s face was a study, for the secret rather weighed upon her, and she found it hard not to look mysterious and important. Meg observed it, but did not trouble herself with inquires, for she had learned that the best way to manage Jo was by the law of contrary, so she felt sure of being told everything if she did not ask.”

In the first sentence, we’re given a glimpse into Jo’s thoughts and her struggle to look unimportant or risk telling her secret. In the second sentence, we learn that Meg knows she is hiding something. We can only know the thoughts of both women because Alcott chose to right in the omniscient POV.

Third Person Omniscient was more common in literature in the nineteenth century than it is today, but authors are still using this as a device to tell their stories.

Third Person Limited Omniscient:

Unlike the Omniscient POV, Third Person Limited Omniscient only lets us into the mind of one character. This POV still uses pronouns like he and she, but the focus remains on one character, who is often the main character. This POV is also written in past tense.

While J. K. Rowling strays from the limited POV on a couple of occasions, she mostly uses the limited POV in her Harry Potter series.

“Harry kept to his room, with his new pet owl for company. He had decided to call her Hedwig, a name he had found in A History of Magic.”

Some authors will have the same POV character throughout the whole novel or series. Other authors choose to alternate POV characters so that the readers can see events they wouldn’t be able to if the author remained with one character.

I used the Third Person Limited Omniscient for my novella Wynter. I use my protagonist, Wynter, as the POV character in the first chapter, and I switch my POV character to my antagonist, Lucinda, in the next chapter. I continue alternating each chapter through the end of the book.

Many romance novels will also alliterate POVs so that the readers can get into the minds of both the hero and heroine.

If you use this POV, you have to make sure not to slip into another character’s mind in the middle of a scene. Only alternate POV characters at the start of a scene change or new chapter.

Which POV should you use?

1. Preference

Some authors choose their novel’s POV simply by preference. I prefer third person limited omniscient because that’s what I usually read, and I enjoy writing it.

If there is one POV you prefer over the other, try writing one of your scenes using that POV. If you don’t have a preference, try writing the same scene three times using the different POVs. Which version do you like best?

2. Genre

If you haven’t already, read a few popular books in the genre you are writing. What POV is the author using? Does the author stick with one POV character, or does the author alternate or use multiple POVs?

First person POV is common in dystopian novels and third person limited is common in fantasy and sci-fi. While you’re not restricted to the writing styles of your genre, it is important to know what those trends are and consider using them in your own writing. Readers often expect certain styles or plot points in their genre, and sometimes it helps to follow those expectations.

3. Limitations

More important than preference and genre is what will serve your story best. If you prefer first person POV but have to clue the readers in to information that your POV character doesn’t know, then you will have to try the omniscient POV or use alternating first person POVs.

Look at your plot and your potential POV characters. If you chose only to write from your protagonists POV, will you leave the reader in the dark about important plot points only the antagonist knows? Or will you confuse your readers if you write in omniscient POV and give them too much information?

Sometimes stories benefit from keeping information from the readers until the end, and other stories give the information up front to heighten the suspense for the reader.

Which POV do you use in your writing and why? I’d love to hear how you use your POV to add depth to your story, so share with us in the comments below.

Meagan Nicole