What’s Your Point of View?

jpcoverphotoWhen I wrote my debut novel, Into the Free, I never gave much thought to point-of-view; but as the words began to hit the page, they naturally fell into first-person narration.

First-person narration tells the story from the point-of-view of one character in a novel (usually the protagonist), and makes use of the words “I” and “me.” Critics point out that this style limits the perspective because it doesn’t allow readers to access other characters in the story. While this is a viable opinion, I argue that first-person allows the reader to gain even greater perspective by viewing the universe from the lens of that one character on a much more intimate level than anything an omniscient third-person narrator can provide. (We’ll leave second-person for another day.)

Yes, the view of other characters will be skewed by that one character’s interpretation of their actions, appearance, etc., but readers are granted full-access into the brain of that one narrating voice, even more so when that narrator is a trust-worthy character who isn’t deceiving us as we read. Essentially, we, as readers, are allowed to become that character. This enables us to enter that character’s world, interacting with the other characters, experiencing the events, and engaging at every sensory level throughout the story.

When an author delivers a story in first-person, we close the book feeling as if we have lived to tell the tale. This intrusive point-of-view makes the entire reading experience personal for us, moving it from the level of observation to participation. And because, by nature, the first-person perspective limits every scene to those in which the narrator is actively present (or his/her memory of such), we aren’t forced to pull back and watch something happening across space or time. We have no choice but to dive right into every single event of the story. We feel it, taste it, smell it, and react to it cognitively, emotionally, and instinctually.

As a reader, I have always enjoyed reading first-person narrations. Some of my favorite books were written using this point-of-view, and as a result, the narrators have become some of my favorite characters. Consider Scout in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, or Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, who tells us the tragic love story between Gatsby, Daisy, and Tom from his perspective.

Your turn: What point-of-view do you prefer to read? What do you prefer to write? Share some of your favorite examples, and introduce us to those characters who continue to stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.

Writing prompt: If you’re stuck in a scene, try writing it from another character’s point-of-view. What can you learn from seeing the event from a different perspective?

5 Replies to “What’s Your Point of View?”

  1. Julie, I’m sure I’ve told you how MUCH I love your first person POV. It’s what I fall most naturally into, as well. My Viking historical is first-person present, which is quite different for this genre, but I think it makes my MC’s feelings that much more relevant and easy to relate to. I’ve tried going to third, but always find my way back to first. I also tend to pick up first-person novels more readily than I would third. I think it’s a matter of taste, both for the writer and the reader, but for me, first is the bomb.

  2. Thank you for this post.

    Some people who read my manuscript said they didn’t connect with my protagonist or the story. Just for fun, I turned my first chapter upside town. When I changed my viewpoint from third to first person, I represented my main character more realistically. I connected with my character instantly in a way that surprised me. My revision mode continued until I transformed my entire manuscript from third to first person. I wouldn’t recommend what I did is for everyone, but I hope the extra months I spent looking at my characters and plot from a new view will capture my readers.

    And as far a reading, I don’t prefer a particular point of view. As long as I can willingly follow the characters and pace to the very end, I know I’ve found a winner.

  3. Hi Julie,
    Thanks for a great post. I’ve been published in third person and almost all of my novels are in this POV. One unpublished is in such a deep third, it probably could have been first person but it didn’t feel right for the character and story.
    Right now I’m working on a fantasy novel and I’m using 1st person for the first time. I enjoy how I can get deeper into my character and how the story world seems more alive through his eyes. Because of the plot line, I’ve had to add a third person POV for the female lead. And her POV is much deeper. I think having a 1st person POV is helping.

    As far as reading, I’m with Heather. I don’t have a preference. It’s the characters, the plot, and the story telling that carry me along.

    I like your prompt. It is one I’ve used on several occasions when I’ve felt stuck. It really helps.

  4. Interesting insights, Julie – thanks for sharing! I write in first person, but prefer to read 3rd person. I wonder if that reflects my need for control? (I am a mother of five, remember!) Anyway, I’ve had readers say they just don’t go for first person, so they put down my mysteries, and I totally understand their preference, since I share it. Yet I’ve read some wonderful 1st person tales – including yours. Now I’m wondering if the key is the subject matter – I like my thrillers in 3rd person, so I can see it all coming and enjoy the thrill as characters and events collide, but 1st person is much more personal, so it works when the protagonist’s voice is key to the story. Thanks for making me think about this.

  5. I am doing NaNo for the first time and started out in 3rd person. But I took a nap after writing one day and when I woke up the first thing I said to my husband was, “I need to switch to 1st person!” It has made all the difference. I am new at novel writing and this switch has kept me from head hopping! Thanks for your article.

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