There are many ways to tell a story, and many ingredients needed to make one work. One of the basics is point of view (or POV as it’s commonly abbreviated), or in other words, who is telling the story. There are variations galore, but in general, you start with three options when it comes to POV: first person (I’m telling you a story), second person (You are telling a story), or third person (He/She is telling a story). Most commonly, people write in first and third. It takes balls, and a really, really good reason to write in second person and pull it off.
When I first started writing back in the seventh grade, I had heard of point of view, but it’s importance in story-telling didn’t quite click. Grammar and spelling were not my strong suits when it came to writing back then. I wrote to entertain my friends, not to appease the grammar nazis. Point of view worked fine for me when I used first person, but when it came to third…I tended to get lost.
Strangely enough, most of the things I first wrote were in third person, generally a messy take of third omniscient, which is fancy speak for “I jumped in and out of people’s perspectives at a whim.” And it worked, until I wrote and finished my first novel and wanted to send it out into the big, bad world. That one, I wrote entirely in first person, which was super illuminating in keeping to one POV. However, it had a prologue in third without a clear narrator. Now prologues are problematic at the best of times, but this one was it’s own brand of horrible writing. And I had no idea.
I sent it off to a local publishing company at the tender age of twenty with high hopes. Of course, the editor didn’t want it in its current mess, but since I lived close by, she offered to speak with me about it and give some feedback. I was shocked and thrilled, and of course took her up on it. One of the first problems she pointed out was my prologue and lack of voice there. The rest, in first person, had a great voice, she said, but the first second was too nebulous. And then she explained why by asking a simple question, “who is telling the prologue? Whose point of view is it from?” Out of all the things we talked about, that was what stuck with me.
So I went home, rewrote my prologue with a POV character in mind and…it was good. A helluva a lot better than it had been before. And it was simple to do.
Now I’m not advocating one point of view as better than the other. I write in both first and third. Which one I write in, well, that depends on the story. Sometimes a character starts telling me the story herself, and it ends up in first. Sometimes I’m watching what happens beside her, and it’s in third. Sometimes I don’t realize which POV is right until I experiment with both. But I do believe POV can make or break a story.
Can you, for instance, imagine Harry Potter in first person? Or Catcher in the Rye in third? Think of what you would lose if your favorite story was told in another perspective! It wouldn’t be even close to the same book in some cases!
So what’s your take on point of view? Do you have a story of changing POV in the middle of a novel? Do you have first and adore third, or vice versa? Let me know in the comments!