Whether you're a new writer just learning the basics or an advanced writer exploring different methods of storytelling, it's worth taking some time to examine your choice of point of view (POV). Most writers have one POV they feel the most comfortable with, but that doesn't mean it's the best choice for every story.
Let's go over the different POVs and the pros and cons of each.
First person POV uses the pronouns "I" and "me." First person prose reads as though the character is telling the reader a personal story.
First person allows the reader to develop an intimate relationship with the POV character. Because the story is told as though from the character's perspective, the reader can become extremely invested in the protagonist. Of course, this is something we're shooting for no matter the POV, but it is often more pronounced for first person stories.
First person POV also creates potential for an unreliable narrator. Because the story is told from the character's direct perspective, the reader has no way to know whether the character is trustworthy. The POV character may be lying, of unsound mind, or simply deluded. An unreliable narrator can create opportunities for some really unique and memorable plot twists.
The most common type of multiple POVs to be utilized in first person stories are simple dual POVs with alternating chapters. The first chapter would be from Character A's perspective, the second chapter from Character B's perspective, the third from Character A's, and so on.
Third person POV uses the pronouns, "he," "she," "him," and "her." Third person books read as though someone is telling a story about another person's life.
Third person POV results in an additional layer between the character and the reader. In a third person book, there are several layers of storytellers:
The narrator may or may not be identified—unlike in a first person story, in which the POV character is the narrator.
This additional layer can distance the reader, but it can also create opportunities for more complex storytelling. Because the narrator may feel differently about the events than the character does, the prose can reflect a breadth of emotions and subtleties.
Third person also makes implementing multiple POVs easier. When telling a story from multiple characters' perspectives, first person can be confusing, since all the chapters would use "I" and "me." However, third person books immediately identify the POV character by using his or her name.
That said, watch out for head hopping, which is one of the most common issues in third person POV works. "Head hopping" means transitioning to a new character's perspective without informing the reader, such as by a chapter break. When writing in third person limited POV (which is the most common form of third person in modern literature) you are limited to the knowledge of the POV character.
Victoria Griffin is an author and editor based in East Tennessee. She provides developmental and line editing for traditionally and independently publishing authors. Her short fiction has appeared in more than 40 publications, and she is represented by Sandy Lu of L. Perkins Agency.
She is the author of the workbooks Edit Like a Pro and Craft Your Query. She is also the owner of Blue Pen Publishing Services, which provides book design and branding services for independent authors. Email Victoria.