POV: Who is telling your story?
Who is telling your story? You, of course! Well, not really. Unless you’re writing nonfiction, your novel probably has a narrator other than yourself, and you want your reader to be fully invested in the narrator.
For instance, when I first read Percy Jackson in elementary school, I actually thought Percy wrote the story. Rick Riordan’s name on the cover just confused me. I quickly realized how wrong I was, but the fact that I believed, if only for a week, that the narrator had actually written the story shows how important it is to develop the narrator’s voice.
POV, or point-of-view, refers to the narrator, or whoever is telling your story.
Which POV Should You Use?
There are three main POVs you can use in your novel.
1ST PERSON POV
is when your narrator is a character in the story. Percy Jackson, Sherlock Holmes, and the Hunger Games are all in first person. 1st Person POV allows the reader to live inside your character’s head and experience the plot with them. When writing in 1st Person, be sure to write in your character’s voice, because people think the way they speak (stay tuned for a later post on that). You can switch perspectives in 1st Person POV, although it is tricky. Allegiant, the third book in the Divergent trilogy, switched between the POVs of Tris and Four.
2ND PERSON POV
is when the reader is a character in your story. I’m using it in this blog right now (along with first person POV). Many children’s books are written in this POV, such as “If You Give a Mouse A Cookie” and “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” It can be difficult to use this perspective in a longer work, like a novel, but if done well, it can have a really big impact on the reader. Placing the reader in the novel makes them more involved and gives them a stake in the novel.
3RD PERSON POV
is when a narrator is not a character in your novel and tells a story about other characters. Some examples of books with this POV are Harry Potter, the Heroes of Olympus, and the Giver. This POV gives you the ability to show your reader things your main character does not know, but this does not mean you should jump between characters’ points of views within a chapter.
How Many Narrators Should Your Novel Have?
ONE NARRATOR (Limited POV)
You can choose to tell your story from a limited standpoint, following only one character and showing the reader only one character’s thoughts. This can create suspense and allow your reader to feel as if they are in your character’s place, because the reader knows only what the character knows. However, this can prevent you from foreshadowing, showing the perspectives of other characters, and explaining events your main character did not experience.
MULTIPLE NARRATORS (Omniscient POV)
When writing in 1st or 3rd person POV, you can follow multiple characters and perspectives. Some scenes and chapters will be written from the perspective of one character, while others will be written from others. Remember, your reader will make a connection with your narrators more than any other characters, so you want to give your reader the time to truly explore the narrators’ perspectives and thoughts. Being a narrator should be something your characters compete over, and you should generally stick to four or less narrators. It is possible to write an incredible novel with many more POVs (the standard example is A Song of Ice and Fire), but narration powers should typically be given sparingly.
Which Characters Should Tell Your Story?
Before starting your novel, you should decide which characters will narrate the story. Consider which characters have the most at stake and will be meaningful to the reader. Also think about what you don’t want your reader to know. Maybe you don’t want your reader to know what the antagonist is planning, so you don’t want your antagonist to tell any part of the story.
Remember, your main character does not have to be a narrator even if you are writing from one perspective! Sherlock Holmes was told from Watson’s POV and Tangled (I know it’s not a book, but the idea still stands) was told from Flynn’s. This lets the reader see the main character from different eyes and makes the reader question the protagonist’s motives. Stories can also be told the villain’s perspective to reveal the bad guy’s motives and increase likeability. Especially if your characters are morally gray, showing the perspectives of both sides of the conflict can increase the reader’s interest and make them pick sides. Depending on your genre, you can make your narrator clearly unreliable or biased to force the reader to question everything they learn from the narrator. For instance, The Tell-Tale Heart was told from the perspective of an insane man.
If you are writing from multiple perspectives, you want to consider which character’s perspective is most valuable to each scene. Which character has the most at stake in that scene? Which character changes the most? Which character has the most conflicted emotions? Maybe you split a fight scene into two chapters so the reader has the opportunity to see both sides.
How Should You Switch Between POVs?
If you are switching perspectives in 3rd person POV, you can either put a scene break with three asterisks or wait until the next chapter. As mentioned earlier, you want to avoid jumping heads, or having multiple characters narrate the same scene at the same time. Give your reader a way to know that POV is changing.
For 1st Person, you should definitely stick to one narrator per chapter. You probably want to title each chapter based on the character narrating it to let the reader know whose head they are in. But what if I want to switch to one character’s thoughts for a moment? Depending on how important that one thought is, you can have a really short chapter (even if it is just one paragraph). Otherwise, you can have the current narrator figure out what the other character is thinking based on their expression.
Whichever POV you are writing in, you can alternate between narrators or have characters narrate at random intervals. Just make sure each narrator gets a good amount of narrating time. You want to avoid having a character narrate only one chapter throughout the novel, because it is likely that chapter could have been narrated by another character.
My favorite POV is 3rd Person Omniscient, because it is the most natural from me, and I like being able to experience the thoughts of multiple characters.
What is your favorite POV to write in? Let me know in the comments!