Which Person Point of View Is Best for Your Story?

image by geralt
image by geralt

 

Person refers to how the point-of-view (POV) character tells the story—in first, second, or third person. I’ll explore the three options in deep POV (DPOV).

First Person – Using “I”

 

A character invites us into his thoughts. This character could be:

  • The protagonist
  • A supporting character who tells the story of another character.
  • Multiple characters telling parts of the story.
    • Characters share sequentially, staying within the story’s timeline.
    • Or each character tells his/her version of the same story events.

Example:

image by JasonPinaster
image by JasonPinaster

I turned the corner on Main. Alana stood at a cruiser, talking to the police. I followed the busybody to Melissa’s house and listened through the open window as Alana told her I had stolen Melissa’s passport. I ran my hand over my face. Would she believe Alana and send her buff boyfriend to kill me?

 

Analysis:

The open window seems convenient, but first person creates intimacy between the character and us, and we tend to accept what he tells us.

To learn what happened privately between Melissa and Alana, “I” had to eavesdrop.

We only know what “I” sees, hears, and believes. “I” wouldn’t naturally reveal his name or information about his looks or personality.

Melissa’s boyfriend won’t kill “I” because “I” tells the story.

Sometimes using first person, the author slips into sounding like herself. “I” is a male, and wouldn’t say buff. 

Second Person – Using “you”

 

image by PublicDomainPictures
image by PublicDomainPictures

A character tells the story addressing us directly. The author seeks to involve us as if we’re the protagonist.

Substitute “you” for “I” in the example above. First-person disadvantages apply to second person. We may also feel as if the character is demanding our attention. We’re usually ready to be emotionally involved with characters without the “you” viewpoint.

 

Second person is rarely used and seldom works for children. It’s difficult for the author to maintain throughout an entire novel.

Third Person– Using “he/she”

 

A character tells the story from a slight distance. But third person DPOV can easily provide multiple characters and their perspectives.

Example (for brevity, I’ve used some “telling”)

Scene 1 excerpt:

Karl turned the corner on Main. Alana stood at a cruiser, talking to the police. Who was the busybody getting into trouble now?

Scene 2 excerpts:

passport-881305_1280A. Melissa paced her living room. Who’d stolen her passport? Right when she needed to disappear.

B. Melissa opened the door to Alana. Lines wrinkled her forehead, and her eyes misted. Oh no. Here came bad news.

Alana blurted that Karl had stolen the passport.

Melissa’s heart sank.

Scene 3 excerpt:

Karl ordered a soda.

Melissa entered and strode to his table. “You stole my passport. I want it back.”

Karl’s heart flipped. So that’s what Alana had told the police—and Melissa. He ran his hand over his face. If he told her the truth, would she believe him or send her boyfriend to kill him?

Analysis:

We have two characters to supply information, mystery, and feelings from their perspectives. We have Karl’s name. And his death is a possibility.

How to Know Which Person to Use

 

  • Write a scene in each person option.
  • Have someone read the samples to you. Which version sounds right?
  • Send the samples to your critique partners for their feedback.
  • Experts suggest novice writers employ third person until they’re more seasoned.

First, second, and third person viewpoints—advantages and disadvantages. Click to tweet.

What person POVs do you write in and why?

Use These Moviemaker Wisdoms to Bring Your Novel’s Scenes to Life

“The style, technique and methods used in film and TV are so familiar to us, we process them comfortably. To some degree, we now expect these elements to appear in the novels we read – if not consciously, then subconsciously.” —C. S. Lakin

image by pashminu
image by pashminu

I read, “Writing a Novel? 6 Visual Storytelling Techniques to Borrow From Film and TV” by C. S. Lakin on The Write Life blog.

Among other things, Lakin’s suggestions showed me how to stop inserting senses into a scene, and making them part of the experience.

I invite you to read Lakin’s blog. Here’s what I did from Lakin’s suggestions.

1. I broke my ho-hum scene into segments like a movie director does. Each segment represented a key moment:

  • opening “shot,”
  • moments when something important happened,
  • and the high moment before the end.

2. Then for each segment, I imagined where my camera needed to be:

  • where my character physically is as she sees and reacts to what’s happening,
  • zooming in close for details and zooming out for a wider perspective.
image by And_Graf
image by And_Graf

Example: My hero and heroine sit in a Christmas Eve midnight service.

In my heroine’s point of view, I zoomed out and saw two pastors bring flames from the altar to the congregation. They start the chain in which people in the pews pass the flame to their neighbors’ candles.

Then I zoomed my lens in on the hero beside her. He whispers in her ear something she doesn’t expect. I zoomed in closer as she studies his profile and has an epiphany about him.

3. Next I considered background noise, instead of trying to think of sounds I could insert.

In my example scene, the only sounds in the draft version were the hero’s whispering in the heroine’s ear and the congregation singing “Silent Night.” I sat in the pew with her in the opening segment and listened. Ah. Soft organ music played.

In another segment, I heard a man’s cough farther back in the sanctuary. And when the candles glow in the dark before “Silent Night” is sung, I noticed the silence.

In a segment when the hero and heroine walk home, I heard the hum of a car passing.

image by tpsdave
image by tpsdave

4. Next, I colored my scene. Not inserting colors so much as seeing them in my segments.

In one segment, considering what some colors imply, I sat in the pew and saw the red carpet on the stairs the pastors climb to the altar to light candles. In a zoom, I saw the white candle in the heroine’s hand.

 

 

5. Finally, I looked for textures of weather or atmosphere.

While inside the church, I remembered from past Christmas Eve services how I loved when the lights were dimmed and only the glowing candles emitted a warm and meaningful light.

image by Antranias
image by Antranias

On their walk home, it’s snowing. I saw the snow gathering on the hero’s hair and eyelashes. I felt snowflakes cold on the heroine’s face, making her lower her head against them.

The items I added to the scene were those I visualized through my camera. They weren’t the plot or action, but they brought what surrounds the action alive.

 

Get out your camera and see what needs to be added to your scene. Click to tweet.

What might your camera see in the scene you’re working on as you zoom in and out?

Does Your Secondary Character Undermine Another Character’s Role?

“The glory of the protagonist is always paid for by a lot of secondary characters.” —Tony Hoagland

 Pulling

Most fiction writers have heard that the purpose of secondary characters is to support a main character. One of their jobs is to help flesh out a main character’s identify. Another of their tasks is to move the story along. Another is to give the main character someone to talk to, instead of the character constantly reflecting internally.

Recently, I learned in a mentoring session that one of my minor characters undermined the purpose of a secondary character.

The Set Up:

A young widow has had a special relationship with her mother-in-law. The mother-in-law considers the widow her daughter. In the widow’s grief she’s been pulling away from her in-laws.

My Problem:

The widow deals with some ugly information about her deceased husband. I needed her to relocate for a while.

My Solution:

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I have the widow’s mother call and ask the widow to come home and help with her father’s illness. So, the widow goes home to help her mother. 

The Problem with My Solution:

The widow’s mother-in-law is a major secondary character, whereas the widow’s mother has a short-lived appearance. The widow already has a nurturing character for support: her mother-in-law. The widow’s real mother, a nurturer, downplays the mother-in-law’s purpose, and to some extent makes her unnecessary. The reader’s emotions may be split between the two nurturers, watering down the reader’s connection to either mother figure.

A Better Solution:

  • My mentor in the session suggested the widow’s mother be out of the picture (deceased or unavailable).
  • She also thought the widow should visit someone on a more equal basis with her such as a sister or friend.
  • And finally, she proposed the widow make the visit because, in dealing with her grief and the ugly information about her husband, she needs to get away. A more character driven motive.
by DuBoix
by DuBoix

My Reaction:

  • I liked the suggestions. Now I don’t need to mess with the widow’s caretaking back home, which doesn’t move the story along.
  • The widow’s strong relationship with her mother-in-law motivates the widow to visit her in-laws, which puts her together with her brother-in-law, the hero.
  • Her departure because she’s overwhelmed ups this reserved and no-nonsense widow’s likeability.
  • And her sister can play the part I needed her mother to play for a short time. The sister’s purpose is to move the story along. The mother-in-law’s purpose is to nurture, mentor, and move the story along.

What you can do when a secondary character horns in on another’s role. Click to tweet.

What tips do you have for creating secondary characters?