WRITING TIPS – #3 Choosing the Right Point of View

The champagne burned her eyes, but she smiled and asked Romo, “How important was Buster Posey’s hit in the sixth?” She had a job to keep, after all.

The majority of the literature I read growing up was in third person, past tense, like the above sentences about Giants’ broadcaster Amy G. The pros and cons I’m listing, though, are not based on what I’ve read, but what I’ve written. When you’re reading a perfectly edited novel, it’s hard to see the difficulties that certain points of view present. But those difficulties are glaringly obvious when you’re writing. And so these tips come from my personal experience.

Third Person Pros:

1. You can switch to a different character’s point of view without having to announce it. (Do wait for a new scene, though. It’s the generally accepted rule to have only one POV per scene.)

2. Works well for a storyteller or fairy tale feel.

Cons:

1. Writing POV character’s thoughts can become tedious. “I have a job to keep, after all,” she thought.

2. Easy to accidentally slip into character B’s POV when the scene is supposed to be in character A’s POV. The champagne burned her eyes, but she smiled and asked, “How important was Buster Posey’s hit in the sixth?” Romo laughed at Amy’s tenacity. That’s why they called her Amer the Gamer.

First person, past tense

The champagne burned my eyes, but I smiled and asked Romo, “How big was Buster Posey’s hit in the sixth?” I had a job to keep, after all. 

Pros:

1. Easy to get into main character’s thoughts

2. Easier to stay out of other characters’ thoughts.

3. First person is popular with young readers.

Cons:

1. You are limited to one character, unless you title each chapter with the POV character’s name.

2. The character is telling the story from some point in the future where they know more about the story. It can take over the story. The champagne burned my eyes, but I smiled and asked Romo, “How big was Buster Posey’s hit in the sixth?” I had a job to keep, after all. If only I had known back then that Kruk and Kuip would make sure I’d keep my job even if I swore and dropped the mic. This problem can be avoided with a diary format.

First person, present tense

The champagne burns my eyes, but I have a job to keep, so I smile and ask Romo, “How big was Buster Posey’s hit in the sixth?”

Pros: 

1. Feels immediate.

2. The character can’t break in with information from the future, because they don’t know the future.

Cons: 

1. Some readers are not comfortable with present tense yet, but it’s becoming very popular.

I have to admit, I read many articles about POV when I first started writing, and they didn’t help me at all. I’ve done my best to explain the problems I’ve run into, but I don’t know if it’s any clearer than the articles I read. If not, my advice is to write a scene or two and then stop to evaluate. Maybe even rewrite the scenes with different points of view to see what works best. A little extra work in the beginning might save you a novel’s worth of regret.

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