Tuesday, May 3, 2011

POV Pros and Cons

POV, or point of view, is the perspective from a which a story is told.  Sometimes there's a specific narrator and sometimes the story is seen through many different eyes.  It is important to be aware of POV while self-editing , especially in order to watch out for inconsistencies, which often do slip in unnoticed.  Also, you may start by writing in first person only to discover that third person is  a more appropriate approach for the story.   Either way, it's helpful to consider and evaluate your options for POV.  Today we'll briefly examine each of the three major POVs and discuss their individual strengths and weaknesses.

First person

The first person POV is the "I" voice, the narrator speaking directly to the reader from his or her perspective.   The first person narrator is not all-knowing nor does he or she speak from the perspective of the author (that would be omniscient), but plays the role of a single character within the narrative. 

Pros: The greatest advantage of the first person POV is that it creates a sense of intimacy.  Here your main character can literally invite the readers into his or her head and shows them the world from his or her eyes. 

Cons: If your whole story is being told from the point of view of one character, that character had better be, as Browne and King explain, "strong enough or interesting enough to keep your readers going for an entire novel---yet not so eccentric or bizarre that your readers feel trapped inside his or her head."  You also will lose a great deal of perspective since you can't write about anything your character doesn't know. 

Third Person Omniscient

The opposite of the first person POV, instead of being written from a character's perspective, the omniscient narrator knows, or is capable of knowing, all that goes on within the world, including other characters' heads.

Pros: Omniscient POV makes exposition and narrative summary easier, and provides a much larger perspective.

Cons: We should limit our use of exposition and narrative summary.  Also, you lose a degree of intimacy when the narrator knows everything.  It's difficult to feel close to any one particular character. 

Third Person Limited

 The third person limited POV is a compromise between the first person and omniscient perspectives, allowing you to create both intimacy and perspective. 

Pros: You can easily move from character to character and write more immediate , less expositional, scenes.

Cons: The biggest problem you'll have is keeping your POV consistent throughout your scenes.  You should choose a character to use to view the scene and then describe only what that character would see or hear.

What are your thoughts on POV? How do you choose POV when you begin writing?  Do you ever have a hard time sticking to one POV?

Images thanks to mikecpeck on Flickr.com


  1. There is also second person, but I've heard it's very hard to do, especially for novel length stories.

    Personally, I prefer Third Person Limited. All my stories are told from one person, but if I have to switch, it's usually at the beginning of a chapter or a very quick break in the scene.

  2. I LOVE 1st person, both reading it and writing it. I have heard quite a few people say they hate 1st person and they will avoid anything written in it. This appears to be backed up by the fact that it is rare in my genre of romance erotica, so I do feel like I am alienating some readers. But I have to be true to my characters and my writing style. I have tried it both ways and my 1st person comes out way better. In fact, even while writing 3rd person, I can accidentally slip into 1st person because it is so instinctual for me.

  3. @Amber, I know what you mean. I usually write 3rd person limited but when a story is meant to be in 1st person, I can't write it in anything else. So if you read anything of mine in the 1st, you know I wrote 10,000 words of crap before figuring out the problem!

    @Darke, most of mine are 3rd person limited as well. I like to stick to one POV, but it's very common in my genre (romance) to jump between both protags. Which means my decision to never break to a new POV looks very weird to some people.

  4. It's been my experience that the closer I want to keep the psychic distance, the more I stay in first-person.

    Where I tend to distinguish my story/plot from the characters is the decision to use either past or present tense. The more forward the tense, the more I find myself focusing on character, since there are sentences that don't have a whole lot of time confusion.

    I still love the past tense, particularly in the first person, since I'm afforded that natural end-result success by reader (we know the character has survived the events they're describing, in some way/shape/form, because the story we're hearing/reading happened already.

    I've toyed with second person, and found it to sound too much like a nagging ex telling what I would, could or will do.

    But that's just me.

  5. First and foremost, I am loyal to what POV a particular story would be best told in, but naturally, I find myself writing in the third person omniscient.

    I think it's great that most writers *do* have a preferred view; it says a lot about individuality.

  6. Ever since I began to write erotica I've been struggling to break away from first person - you can inject so much passion and mystery into first person. That said, it can be difficult from story to story to differentiate between people that way!

  7. I love writing in first person, but I try to stay in third person. One advantage of that is when I'm stuck, I can rewrite the scene in first person and gain an entirely different... well... perspective!

  8. I'm an omni writer, and I disagree that a story loses intimacy because the narrator knows everything. That's two unrelated points.

    Distance: Omni filters through an outside narrator. That filtering can make it more distant and less intimate. A lot depends on execution and what the story is. It may be entirely appropriate to have a little distance because of the subject matter. But there are some wonderful YA books that are mistaken for third because the omni narrator gets in close.

    All seeing: When the omni narrator knows everything, the first thing everyone thinks is that the narrator is giving away spoilers. Rather, it's that the narrator can see things a viewpoint character doesn't see and can show the reader. Or the narrator can tell us something viewpoint character would obviously know but that the reader needs to know. It's a very different way of thinking.

    And why do we need to limit the exposition? If it's important to the story, it should be in there, and if it isn't important it shouldn't be. I personally like exposition because it adds flavor to the story dialogue doesn't have.