By Karen Payton Holt (AKA KPHVampireWriter)
First of all, let’s determine how one Point Of View (POV) differs from another.
Putting it simply:
‘First person’ is from the writer’s point of view and uses pronouns such as “I” and the plural ‘we’: I saw the child fall over.
‘Second person’ is a dialogue aimed solely at the reader and uses pronouns such as “you”: You saw the child fall over. A book which takes the form of letters, such as ‘We Need to Talk about Kevin’, is written in second person.
‘Third person’ is told from an outside narrators point of view and uses pronouns such as “he,” “she,” and “it”: She saw the child fall over.
‘First person’ POV is the simplest for new writers to grasp. ‘Second person’ POV is rarer, and is the tense we all use when writing a letter to another person. ‘Third person’ POV is by far the most popular in works of fiction.
For the purposes of this discussion, I shall focus on the more popular ‘first person’ and ‘third person’ POV’s.
When an author writes a story/novel, or any piece of fictional prose, the first thing that takes form in their minds will most often be the plot. But the ingredient which gives life to a story will be character POV.
You have a brilliant story, but telling it from ‘first person’ POV will give an entirely different slant than if you tell the same tale from a ‘third person’ POV.
Many writers find ‘first person’ POV easier to write. Staying inside one character’s head means you can use the internal thoughts of the Main Character (MC) to narrate the story, and build a strong personality which can add layers of humor/insight/darkness. It also makes the story much more intimate.
The disadvantage is that the reader cannot be privy to anything the MC does not know. It is like holding a camcorder and walking through the elements of the story, if it cannot be filmed/heard, then the events cannot appear in the story.
I have written a novel in the ‘first person’ POV and I found the freedom of getting inside the head of the MC, and creating intimacy, was outweighed by the disadvantage of the requirement to limit the ‘action’ to the experiences of that same character.
‘Third person’ POV allows you to build suspense by revealing details the MC is unaware of, but this offers difficulties in deciding who’s POV will best serve the story in any given scene.
The writer has the freedom to jump between characters and reveal obstacles/conflicts which the MC has yet to encounter. This builds suspense and draws the reader into the story.
The writer can also reveal ‘inner thoughts’ where the plotline will benefit from that device.
‘Third person’ POV enables a writer to tell more complex stories and to always stay with the character who is ‘doing something interesting’.
The disadvantages, or difficulties come in deciding which character’s viewpoint best serves the story at any given stage. This makes ‘third person’ more difficult for amateurs/new writers to write well.
The ‘voice’ of the character can be less forceful too, as referring to them as ‘he’ inevitably has less impact than the ‘I’ perspective of living ‘inside’ the character’s head. Therefore, stirring an emotional response from those reading your work can be more challenging than the ‘first person’ alternative.
Both POV’s have their place, and whether a writer wants the intimacy of ‘first person’, or the wider encompassing scope of ‘third person’, will depend upon the story you are trying to tell.
Making the decision on which POV to write in is, in the end, as personal as the ‘voice’ which you, as a writer, have crafted.
In this case, ‘practice makes perfect’ rings true. There is nothing better than using short story opportunities to experiment with POV’s and tenses in your writing. Each experience will make you stronger at wielding your craft.