Prepare for a very long post. Sorry about this...
This is the a very important way to tell a story. Some point of views will work for stories and other's won't. They can deepen the characterization and make the story more powerful, or make the story seem distant and hard to connect to.
For some stories, you may want to have your readers be able to know what every character is thinking or only one. You may want to tell it from first person or third. Each has their strengths and disadvantages.
Another thing to consider is that point of view can be either objective (also called Cinematic) or subjective. Objective point of view is like what it would be like if you were watching a video. There would be no senses used and no thoughts put out . Subjective is the most commonly used because it includes the full range of human perspective and interaction.
First person would be the most subjective point of view writers can use because it resembles the most our experience of the world.
Like I mentioned earlier, you can choose whatever point of view you'd like to use but keep in mind that some point of views won't work for certain stories. For example in my novel-in-progress, The Cursing, I have the point of view in first person and in a as-it-happens. I'll give you an example:
See? The story is being told as it happens to Tatiana. And we only know her thoughts. When I began writing this book I knew it had to be in first person because third person just wouldn't work. But then when I tried writing it in past tense, I realized the present tense would make the story even stronger. A story that uses this approach is the Sisters of the Prophecy series by Michelle Zink. I have the reviews for all the books up if you'd like to read them. Another approach to first person is the more commonly used one. Where it's like the character is telling you the story in past tense. Example (From another work in progress, The Prophecy):Minora nods. “Do you have something to tell me, sister?”How does she do that? I think amazed by her ability to sense what I am thinking. Maybe it is something that happens between sisters? I do not know, and I probably never will.I make my decision. “N-no. I don’t. What is it so important that you are risking your life to talk to me about? Why can’t you have just sent a messenger?”
Positive:"You've been losing sleep again over them, haven't you? We're not blind Aaron. Why didn't you tell us yourself?" she asked sitting on the edge of my green and blue comforter, smoothing it distractedly with her hand.I leaned against my pillows. "Because they're not that big of a deal, they're just dreams, Mom.""Yes, but they bother you, and they shouldn't bother you that much if you're loosing sleep over them," my sensable mother pointed out.
- Using this point of view, keeping in mind, that this is the most direct one to the character's thoughts and feelings.
- Some readers find this point of view easier because they can connect to the character better.
- First person is the "natural" voice of storytelling. For example, if you were going to tell someone about this great story you wouldn't tell them "the other day Peony went to the store and you won't believe who was there!" No, you'd probably tell it like this, "the other day I went to the store and you won't believe who was there!"
- Some readers may find the intensity of this point of view tiresome.
- In first person you cannot know anyone else's thoughts unless you have a good reason, like if your character can mind read, or the other characters make their thoughts known.
- Because your narrator is telling the story, your readers will assume that the character will make it through till the end. This makes it a bit harder to kill the character off. Unless of course, your character is already dead. But if so, you'd better tell us soon.
- It's harder to describe your characters. A common mistake writers often make when using this point of view is having the character describe him or herself (and often using a mirror to get away with this). While it's fine to do this, you'll probably want to reveal the character through action or dialogue.
Most writers rarely, if ever, use this point of view. Why? Well because it refers to you. You did this, you said that. I've seen short stories written in this form but it was mostly in a letter to someone as if that someone was reading it.
In any case, it may bug people because when they read this, they know they didn't do it yet you're still referring to them. Although keep in mind that this is not to get confused with dialogue because dialogue has no point of view. (Though you could say it's first person).
Third Person Point of Views
When using this point of view, it's like you're "God" in the story because you know everything that is, has, and will happen. Things in distant lands and inside many character's heads. Unlike first person which offers the "least" freedom, omniscient offers the most "freedom". But while it sounds easy, it isn't and often requires some skill to use effectively.
- You can write from any character's point of view.
- This point of view allows you to do the most "stuff" inside books when considering point of view.
- While using this point of view, you may sacrifice character depth and development.
- There might be the temptation to tell your readers too much.
- If you choose this point of view, you'll have to stick to it the whole story.
"Over the shoulder" (commonly known as just third person)
When you think of third person, you'll probably think of this one. The narration focuses on one character but uses "he", "she", "they", etc. Similar to first person because it generally focuses on one character, but different from omniscient because the character generally doesn't know what's happening inside other character's heads.
Third person could be described as being between first person (being restrictive and intense) and omniscient (being somewhat distant and "boundary-less"). It's also one of the most common view points in fiction today. Here's an example of third person, past tense from another work in progress, Night Lies:
Someone was out to kill them.The last two racers ahead of him, Luke and another racer he didn’t know looked back to see what had happened. When they realized what had, they sped up as fast as they could. Xander copied them.A beeping noise in his helmet confirmed yet a third rocket’s fast coming. Xander barrel-rolled to elude it. The red racer in front of him was unlucky; the rocket blasted into him. Xander swerved, as pieces of the racer’s bike flew past him.It now fully occurred to the young racer that this was no longer a race for his future, but a race for his life. If he didn’t win this race, Xander was dead.
- The tight focus on a character allows for more development and control of the suspense than omniscient.
- It's effective in novels where everything else revolves around a character.
- Third person can sacrifice intensity of a story.
- It can make a character and what's happening seem distant.
- Readers may have trouble connecting with the character.
Multiple point of views
While keeping to one character's point of view throughout a book is most common, there are more and more books that are using multiple point of view. Most writing books you'll read when they talk about this will suggest that if you do this, you have to do it in third person. But I disagree. You can have multiple point of view in first person too. In Across the Universe by Beth Revis, she uses multiple point of view in first person. In The Prophecy, I also have multiple point of views in first person as it switches from Aaron to Anastasia.
While you should make sure that your readers can tell the difference between each character (which is especially important when doing this) there are other ways to get around this. Some books will have the title of the chapter be the character's name so that you know who is speaking this time (ex. 11, Susie: I decided that day I was going to die), others (especially in third person) will start off the chapter will the character's name (for example: Chapter 1: Susie decided she was going to die that day).
One of the reasons I like this one so much is because I think it allows for further world building and character development- especially if your characters come from two different species or backgrounds. You get to see how Jack's alien world seems so odd to Susie while it seems so normal to Jack. Of course you can do that with using just one point of view, but I enjoy this method the most.
Mixed point of view
This is probably the most difficult method of narration to use. Beginner writers are usually not advised to try this until you've developed using other point of views. What do I mean by mixed? I mean, that when you, for example, use first person for your protagonist, but third person for any other character who may get a speaking point.
Keep in mind that whenever you switch viewpoints, it's jarring to the reader. Even if it's switch between chapters. You get comfortable reading by Susie's viewpoint and suddenly, you're reading from Jack's.
I feel as if I can't write a post on point of view and not mention tense. When you're choosing between point of view, keep in mind that you can also choose to write the narration as it is happening (present tense), or as it did happen (past tense). Rarely, very rarely, will a novel be written in future tense because the writer risks giving away so much.
A Writer's Guide to Fiction by Elizabeth Lyon
The Everything Guide to Writing a Novel by Joyce and Jim Lavene
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing a Novel by Tom Monteleone
So, what's your favorite point of view? Do you ever mix viewpoints or use multiple?