7/29/09

1st or 3rd POV?

I know you've discussed POV before, but how do I know whether I should use first-person or third-person in my novel?

First-person limits your writing in many ways. Because the story is being told by the main character (usually), you can only disclose what they experience. So if you need a scene that does not involve your main character, you have to have someone tell them what happened. Also, your secondary and supporting characters are a little harder to develop because you don't get inside their heads. We learn about them as they interact with your narrator. Some readers really hate first-person. (The woman who gives me pedicures refuses to read anything in first-person.)

The advantages of first-person is it often brings the reader in closer to the main character, letting them identify with them more. First-person goes in and out of style, but it is currently the favored POV for middle grade and YA novels. A very popular example of first person is the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer.

Third-person omniscient allows you to share the experience of a variety of characters. You can look at events from various viewpoints and listen in on the inner thoughts of almost anyone in the book—including the antagonist. This often makes it easier to show motivation and add dimension to all your characters. The difficulty with third person, however, is that it can distance the reader from the main character. It also lends itself to "telling" rather than showing. A popular example of third person done well is the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.

How do you know which is right for your book? Depends on the mood you're trying to create. Read several popular books in your genre that use different POVs and analyze how it makes you, as the reader, feel. Then use the POV that does best what you want to accompolish in your book.

Another option is to write the first chapter in both first and third POVs. Which one do you like best? Share the chapters with a few friends or in your critique group. Which did they like best and why? That should give you the answer to your question.

5 comments:

Moriah Jovan said...

I find third-person limited to be the most common POV used (across my reading, anyway). I don't see third-person omniscient much and when I do, I don't like it. I call it the "meanwhile, back at the ranch..." POV.

Melanie J said...

I had this struggle with my first novel. It's chick lit, where first person is kind of standard, but I kept wanting to do third person. I wrote the first three chapters both ways and had several people read them both. They were evenly split (which is what I get for not choosing an odd number). Ultimately, I went with first person because my MC tended to maintain an emotional distance anyway, so it was one way to bridge that gap and let the reader get closer.

M. Gray said...

Author/literary agent/publisher Sol Stein teaches that a story should be in first person only if the protagonist is the one who changes the most by the end of the story. I love first person and the intimacy of getting to learn first-hand of that character's growth.

But third person is great to learn about the variety of points of view in a story.

I read an awesome book, The Power of Point of View, that challenges writers to try something more intricate, like mixing a book with first person and then third person POV with other characters. I love this concept!

Moriah Jovan said...

I read an awesome book, The Power of Point of View, that challenges writers to try something more intricate, like mixing a book with first person and then third person POV with other characters. I love this concept!

I'm doing this.

My 1st is an unreliable narrator because she lies to herself. (And yes, she does grow the most throughout the book.)

My 3rd is the filter through which the reader understands just *how* unreliable she is.

Sandra said...

I just finished two books by Stephanie Grace Whitson- A Garden in Paris, and Hilltop in Tuscany. She told the story using both first and third person. Some of the chapters were first person and some were third and all three main character's part were included. It was very well done and enjoyable.