Fiction 101: POV (Part I)

Point of view (which would be referred to as POV for the most of this class) has to do with who is telling the story—the perspective from which the story is being narrated. 

Why is POV important in fiction? Readers need to know whose head they are in and this, in turn, gives them a sense of stability and consistency any good story should have. POV also help the readers connect with the characters and their journey.

There are three major points of view:

  • First Person
  • Second Person
  • Third Person (Omniscient, Limited, Objective)

First Person POV

The main character is the one narrating and not an external narrator outside the story. Readers get to know what the character thinks and feels, but such knowledge does not extend to other characters in the story. Since this POV is limited to one person, words like I, me, my and we are used while narrating the story.

Examples:

I saw a four-horned cow today.

I think Anna hates me.

My head aches.

Advantages: One of the upsides of using first person POV is how familiar it is; it is the most common way people share their day-to-day experiences. When a story is told in first person POV, the reader is likely to feel more connected to the character because of the personal nature of the narrative.

Disadvantages: First person narrative is very limited because of its single point of view. You cannot tell what other characters are thinking or feeling beyond what is assumed by the main character.

The entire story rests on the shoulders of a single character and the slightest misstep can cause readers to lose trust in his narration or even flat out hate him enough to dump the story.

Lastly, giving the physical description of the main character is somewhat difficult and tricky to pull off, a number of writers resort to making the character observe their reflection in a mirror and describe what they see. When this is done, the narration tends to sound awkward.

When we talk about Character Description in our future classes, methods on how to cleverly describe a character without pulling readers out of the story would be taught.

Tips:

Chapter alternating. Using first person POV doesn’t have to be limited to only one character. You can have two main characters in one book and use the first person POV to narrate their story separately. How?

Let’s say Ben and Anna are characters in your story and you want readers to be in their heads, you can narrate chapter one in Ben’s POV and chapter two in Anna’s POV. Note that if you must use this method, do not forget to include the name of the character at the beginning of each chapter. Doing that would help your readers know whose head they are in.

Second Person POV

Here the narrator of the story is directly talking to the reader like the reader is the main character. Words like you and your are used.

Examples:

You were walking down a dimly lit corridor when you heard the sound.

You shut your eyes when she glanced in your direction.

Advantages: This POV makes for an immersive story narration because the reader is the main character. Can it get more personal than that?

Disadvantages: Readers’ rebellion. While reading, you find readers muttering stuff like, “I totally wouldn’t do that. I am not that dumb. ” When first and third POVs are used, the narrator is free to portray characters however he chooses and readers are likely to accept the character as he is. Second Person POV makes it personal by alluding that the character is in fact the reader so there is likely to be more resistance in the mind of the reader. I would advise those new to fiction writing to avoid this POV like the plague… or not, it’s all up to you.

Activity

Remember the activity you did in the last class? What POV was your story written in? How about the novel you are reading? (You should drop a comment.) For today’s activity, rewrite your story in either first or second person POV.

Next class is POV: Part II (Third Person)

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