Plots and characters are undoubtedly important things to consider when writing a novel. I would argue, however, that POV is even more crucial. This is because if you screw up the POV, no one will even think about reading your book, regardless of how great the plot or characters are.
I’ll prove my point. Read the following paragraph:
You walk toward me, hips swaying as your silky black stilettos clack on the marble tiles. Bradley sits casually at the bar, considering what to say to the beautiful woman approaching him. She’s way too good for him, thinks the bartender. I eat up the luscious man lounging at the bar with my eyes. “What can I get you?” asks the bartender.
Has your brain exploded yet? That’s because of all the shifting POVs. For the record, the POVs in that paragraph went as follows: second-person → third-person → first-person → third-person. Ack, I say. Ack.
But there is a solution! I like to call it the “Know your POVs so you don’t explode your reader’s brain” solution. It’s my understanding that brain-explosion is frowned upon, so you might want to avoid doing that if at all possible.
Without any further ado …
Michelle’s Guide to POV
For first-person narration, you essentially write the story from the perspective of one of your characters. One of the best examples of this POV is in the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. The story is told from Katniss’ POV, meaning we only get her perspective. If something happens that she doesn’t know about, we don’t know about it either. First-person limits you to what a single character is experiencing, but it also allows you to delve deep into the mind of your protagonist, which can be a very powerful addition to your story.
I don’t know why, but there’s something about him that enthrals me. Maybe it’s his smooth skin and his tousled ebony hair. Maybe it’s the way he says my name, like smooth bourbon sliding over my lips. Maybe it’s because he’s a vampire who has literally enthralled me with his sinister vampiric powers. Whatever the reason, I know that I must have him. Right now. On the dirty concrete floor if necessary. Although a bed would be preferable. Pillows are probably more comfortable than concrete.
Second-person narration is where you write like you’re talking to the reader–sort of like what I’m doing right now. You find second-person a lot in those Choose Your Own Adventure books, although Wikipedia claims that there are multiple famous authors who have used this POV. Clearly I need to read more, because I’ve only heard of one of those people. Anyway, second-person isn’t used very much in books, so you probably shouldn’t use it either. Unless you want to. In which case, go nuts. Just don’t expect me to read it.
You watch the wave flow gently up the beach. The cool water laps at your toes, making you shriek with delight and jump back. Then the wave retreats, and you scurry forward again, wondering how far you can get down the wet sand before the water returns to claim you. But you misjudged, and the wave rushes toward you, covering you up to your thighs. Your pants dissolve, and you are suddenly standing on the beach wearing nothing but your underwear. You probably shouldn’t have worn cotton candy pants to the beach, no matter how trendy the salesperson said they were.
Third-person is the most common POV style. It’s told from an outside perspective, and all the characters are referred to by their name, or by “he”, “she”, or “it”. JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series is written in third person, as is the Game of Thrones series by George RR Martin.
The two big types of third-person POV are third-person limited and third-person omniscient. Third-person limited is from the perspective of one character; the third-person omniscient narrator knows all and sees all.
Harmony bowed to the crowd, who applauded madly. Then she began the dance. First she twirled, then she flipped, then she did an acrobatic spin that nearly spun her right off the stage. The roaring of the crowd grew louder. Encouraged by their support, Harmony gathered her nerves for the final act. Balancing on her tail, Harmony built up the fire in her lungs and then let it shoot forth from her mouth in a multi-coloured inferno of flame and heat. But she overshot the target dummy. The flames splashed onto the flammable tent walls, igniting the fabric and inciting mass panic in the crowd. “Please, don’t panic!” Harmony pleaded, trying desperately to put the flames out. “I’ll fix it! Don’t leave!” But no one understood her, because Harmony was a dragon, and dragons can’t speak English.
There are pros and cons to each of these. I personally prefer third-person limited, because restricting the POV to one character leaves you room to do big reveals–e.g. that Harmony is a dragon. However, third-person omniscient lets you get into all the character’s heads, which can be great–except that if you reveal what everyone is thinking, it kind of takes away some of the mystery.
First-person is more like writing a diary, in that everything–descriptions of places, characters, interpretations of events–is from that character’s POV. I’m actually writing a book right now in first-person, the first time I’ve attempted this POV, and it’s going pretty well. I like being able to get into my character’s head and see the world through her eyes, but it also prevents me from showing the reader what the other characters are going through, which can be restrictive at times.
But as always with writing, the choice is ultimately up to you.
What do you think?
What’s the best POV? What POV are you writing in right now? Are there certain POVs that work better with different styles of writing? Is there any POV you hate?