There are three traditional perspectives, or “point of view”, a writer can write from.
- FIRST PERSON
When writing in first person, the pronoun used is “I”. Example:
“Running at top speed, I turned the corner into the alley, hoping to lose the hired competition trailing me. Never glance behind you, because it means you’re not looking in front of you. I glanced back as I made the turn, and felt a hard arm slam into my chest, knocking me off my feet to the ground. I sprang to my feet instantly despite gasping for air, but two more “Mils” came at me. One grabbed the package, the other punched me in the chest so I’d let go of it.
I doubled over in pain and started to catch my breath. Damn, my chest ached. “That’s no way-” I panted, “to treat a lady.””
First Person is usually used when incorporating personal examples into an essay, in autobiographies, and in hard-boiled detective fiction. The advantage of writing in this perspective is the reader knows your character inside out. A connection is made and maintained with ease. The downside is that as a writer, you can only tell the story from one character’s point of view. We can only show what he or she knows and experiences. Roughly 10% of fiction is written in this perspective.
2. SECOND PERSON
When writing in second person, the pronoun used is “you”. Example:
“Running at top speed, you turned the corner into the alley, hoping to lose the hired competition trailing you. Never glance behind you, because it means you’re not looking in front of you. You glanced back as you made the turn, and felt a hard arm slam into your chest, knocking you off your feet to the ground. You sprang to your feet instantly despite gasping for air, but two more “Mils” came at you. One grabbed the package, the other punched you in the chest so you’d let go of it.
You doubled over in pain and started to catch your breath. Damn, your chest ached. “That’s no way-” you panted, “to treat a lady.””
Second Person is usually found in niche works such as “Choose Your Own Adventure” style series books. Readers consider second person to be highly annoying, which is why writers rarely use it.
3. THIRD PERSON OMNISCIENT
When writing in this perspective, the writer has the advantage of using multiple characters to tell the story through. The author is a deity-like narrator, relaying events to the reader as an all-knowing, nameless observer. A word of caution- limit the frequency with which the characters are switched back and forth to tell the story and make it CLEAR when the switch has occurred. Readers won’t appreciate thinking it’s Betty May in the scene only to discover at the end it was being told from the perspective of Sylvester all along.
This is the most popular point of view for fiction writers, making up almost 90% of all fiction written. The pronouns used are “she”, “he”, “it”.
“Running at top speed, Marie turned the corner into the alley, hoping to lose the hired competition trailing her. She knew to never glance behind her, because it means she’s not looking ahead. Marie glanced back as she made the turn, and felt a hard arm slam into her chest, knocking her off her feet to the ground. She sprang to her feet instantly despite gasping for air, but two more “Mils” came at her. One grabbed the package, the other punched her in the chest so she’d let go of it.
She doubled over in pain and started to catch her breath. Damn, her chest ached. “That’s no way-” Marie panted, “to treat a lady.””
4. THIRD PERSON: DEEP POINT OF VIEW
This perspective combines elements of first person and third person. While using third person pronouns, the perspective is limited to that of one character. The main character’s knowledge must remain limited to what he or she can reasonably be expected to know or experience.
In this style of writing, we will want to cut out filter words, avoid passive voice, and limit dialogue tags such as “said” and “asked”. The simplest way to limit dialogue tags is to describe the action the character speaking is taking, or their body language as it shifts when they speak. This illustrates who is talking without using tags. We want to show the reader the story rather than tell the reader the story. The goal of this style of third person perspective is to immerse the reader in the experience of one character as if they were there with that character the entire time. You can create a more vivid picture of a scene since you’re already inside the character’s head.
“Running at top speed, Marie turned the corner into the alley. Would she be able to lose the hired competition chasing her? Focus mattered; Marie wasted no time looking behind her. Marie glanced back as she made the turn. A hard arm slammed into her chest. Thud! Marie’s rear end met the ground. Springing to her feet, Marie struggled against the pain as two more “Mils” rushed at her. One grabbed the package, the other punched her in the chest. Oomph! The package hit the ground and rolled a couple of times.
Damn, her chest ached. Marie drew in sharp, panting breaths between her words. “That’s no way to treat a lady.””
There are three things that are easier to do in Third Person Omniscient than in Deep POV. These are:
- Relate relationships between characters. In Deep POV, you have to get more creative. No longer can you say, “Eric, Marie’s brother, was racing towards her.” Why? Because Marie already knows Eric is her brother. Instead, find another way to relay this to the reader. Example: “Eric rubbed the scar between his eyes, a permanent trophy from deciding at age six to jump from their favorite climbing tree as if he was Superman.”
- Exposition for backstory. Some readers actually dislike backstory exposition. That’s good news! In Deep POV, you can readily slip into memories of the main character and give it an authentic feel.
- Create Mental Distance. It’s easy during horrifying scenes to add filter words and create mental distance so as not to overwhelm the reader. In Deep POV, take the main character to a special place, or narrow their focus. Think about how you personally mentally handled such a situation and use that to make that mental distance without pulling out of Deep POV.
Remember, although Deep POV is new and gaining popularity among readers and authors alike, there’s nothing wrong with writing in another POV. Write in the POV you are both comfortable with and that suits your type of story the best. Don’t let worrying about POV choice keep you from writing. There’s no “best” POV to write in. If there were, 100% of all fiction would be written in that POV all the time.