When I started my first novel, I didn't give POV much thought. I was going to write in first person. Why? I dunno...seemed obvious. I wanted my readers to feel close to my character. And that's the best way to do it, right?
Well, maybe, but not necessarily. First person came with a lot of restrictions and forced me to tell the story from one character's perspective. So making sure she "saw" everything that needed to be seen was a challenge. At the time, I didn't even realize I had another option at my disposal.
But then when I started to write romance, I realized that the common romance structure is third person limited or deep third person POV. I had read hundreds of books using that POV, but had never realized exactly what I was reading. I'd just lumped third person into all one category. And once I started writing in deep POV, I found that this style POV came much easier to me and allowed me the flexibility I wanted. (Though, I still occasionally write stories in first person. It depends on the characters and how they are "speaking" to me.)
So I thought I would give a brief overview of POVs so that you can know what options are out there:
Told from the inner perspective ("I") of one character.
Note: In some instances, using more than one "I" perspective can work. Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles alternated chapters with the heroine and hero from first person POV, which did work well IMO. I use alternating first person in NICE GIRLS DON'T RIDE.
--If written well, your reader will feel like they are part of the character and will get to know them fully through their inner thoughts and storytelling voice.
--Intimate and emotionally intense
--When writing it may be easier to become the character
--Makes the story feel "true"
--This often feels most natural when you first start writing because, well, we think in first person.
--For some reason, it's easier for me to write younger characters in 1st POV. So my New Adult stories often come out in 1st person.
--First person can sounds monotonous for an entire book
--If the reader doesn't like the main character of his/her voice, you're toast
--It's easy to get a little too wrapped up in introspection and not enough dialogue
--Sometimes when writing "I" you let too much of yourself enter the character. You have to remember to react as the character not as you.
Third Person Limited/Deep POV
Very similar to first person. You write from inside one character's head at a time--but it doesn't have to be the same character for the whole book (although it can be).
--You can write from more than one character's POV. In romance, that means you get the hero's perspective as well as the heroine's, which adds to the tension. In suspense, you can have a few chapters from the villain's POV.
--Your MC doesn't have to be everywhere and with everyone to make sure the reader gets all important facts of the story.
--Readers are used to this POV and it becomes invisible
--Less likely to become monotonous because you're getting different perspectives
--Not as immediate and intimate as first person
--You can be tempted to head hop
--You have to get to know every POV character intimately and develop distinct voices, which can involve more work. Your villain's POV can't sound like your MC's. And your hero needs to think like a guy, not a woman--there's a big difference.
Third Person Omniscient
Narrator is all-knowing and separate from the story--playing God. He/She knows what each character is thinking and can see it all. "Little did Bob know that today was the last day he'd see the sun."
Ex.) This is seen mostly in classics and epic fantasies/sci-fi. Lord of the Rings and some Literary Fiction.
--You have control to reveal information whenever you'd like, regardless of whether or not your character is privy to it
--Can feel "epic" to the reader and give them a wide-sweeping view of your story
--Distance between the reader and characters. This POV is very hard for me to read because I feel separate from the story.
--The reader becomes aware that there is a narrator present, so can feel like they are being "told" a story as opposed to experiencing it
WARNING: What to watch out for in first and deep third person POV...
Cut out these words from your MC's voice: decided, thought, knew, remembered, noticed, saw, smelled, realized, heard, felt, understood, etc. These take us out of deep POV and "tell".
Not great: She saw him smile at her and felt warmth course through her. She realized with dismay that she still loved him.
Better: He smiled and warmth coursed through her. Crap. I still love this idiot.
Not great: I saw the empty living room and remembered how my grandmother used to braid my hair in front of the fireplace and tell me stories about her childhood.
Better: I stared at the empty living room and tears stung my eyes. Grandma used to braid my hair in front of the...
Not great: Her face turned beet red. (She can't see her own face.) The girls in the corner laughed at her reaction. (She can't know exactly why they are laughing, only guess.)
Better: Her face grew hot, and the girls in the corner pointed and laughed.
Alright, hope that helped. Hope you have a wonderful weekend!
So what about you? What's your favorite POV to write in or read? Have you ever read a first person book that you couldn't finish because you didn't like the MC?
*Post updated in 2015