POV Advantages and Pitfalls


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 research my 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 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.
So I thought I would give a brief overview of POVs so that you can know what options are out there:
First person
Told from the inner perspective ("I") of one character.
Ex.) a LOT of YA novels, the Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood series (although after seeing the show, which deviates from only Sookie's perspective, we've gotten a number of new interesting story lines with secondary characters that would have never been possible in the books because Sookie wouldn't have been privy to "see" them.)
Exception: in rare instances, using more than one "I" perspective can work. New Moon did this with Bella and Jacob (kind of drove me crazy though), Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles alternated chapters with the heroine and hero from first person POV.
--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.

--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
(I've heard people say this about PC Cast's House of Night novels. I enjoy the MC's voice, but some people find her annoying and therefore don't like reading the books despite a good story.)
--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. 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).
Ex.) Wicked Lovely (Melissa Marr), Uglies (Scott Westerfeld). Almost any romance you pick up.
--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.
--I won't do a detailed breakdown of this one since it is not commonly used in modern fiction. But the main advantage is being able to tell the reader anything you need them to know. Disadvantage is it distances the reader from the characters.
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".
Wrong: 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.
Wrong: 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...
  • Don't report things that the MC can't see/know for herself or wouldn't notice under normal circumstances. Stay in her head and see through her eyes.
Wrong: 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, that turned out longer than expected.
So what about you? What's your favorite POV to write in or read? Do you find yourself falling out of POV with those last two things (I do!)? Have you ever read a first person book that you couldn't finish because you didn't like the MC?
**Today's Theme Song**
"Lost in Your Eyes"-- Debbie Gibson
(player in sidebar, take a listen to do it old school)