Sunday, October 17, 2010

Tip: The Three POVs

First Person, Second Person, Third Person.  Pretty elementary, eh?

In this post, I'm going to explore each of these three POVs--and their advantage to the writer.

First Person

Is, WEs, OURs, etc.  It usually only has one Protagonist (one POV)--it doesn't switch from person to person.  However, there are some exceptions.  The Restorer series, by Sharon Hinck is one.  It has several main characters, switching back and forth, while still in first person.

If you want to take advantage of increasing suspense, this isn't the one for you.  Usually, one POV is the limit, making it so that you can't get inside the villain's head and reveal his plans and other things like that.

But if you struggle with randomly switching from POV to POV (like when you are inside character #1's head the first sentence, and character #2's head the second), first person helps prevent that.  It's a lot harder, you'll find, to make mistakes like that in first person.  And I tend to find that when I am writing in first person, the emotions of the character I am writing are easier to write.

Emotion is a lot closer when told from first person.  You, the writer, are the person relating all that is happening to you.  It makes the story seem more realistic at times to readers.

Now, which one of the following sentences creates more emotion?

"Johnny's father died when he was little."
"My father died when I was little."

The second sentence, by far.   By just changing two words--Johnny and he--you create a whole new emotion.

Second Person

Second person.  You, you, and... you.   :)

Second person is rarely used in fiction or fantasy: can you imagine?  Telling a fantasy story from the reader's eyes?  You can see why most writers do not do this.

Like in multiple POVs in first person, there are exceptions to this.  In my short story, The Cornerstone, I used second person for several short scenes to introduce a new section of the story.  Here is the first sentence from The Cornerstone to give you an idea of what I mean:

"Imagine you are an eagle, floating on the crisp spring breeze over the land of Tasdu."

I introduced the story without going straight to my character and simply telling what was happening: I used the reader to imagine the place before diving into the plot.

But again, writers of fiction usually do not use second person.

Third Person

Third person: he, she, they, etc.

This is the most popular point of view for fiction and fantasy.  Of all of you writers out there, how many of you are writing a novel in third person?  Most, probably.  I myself started my writing using third person.

If you are aiming for suspense, multiple POVs, and a longer word count for a shorter plot, this is the POV for you.  You can get into tons of characters' heads, jump all over and foreshadow events, and a lot of other things.

Many of the fantasy novels you've probably read have third person--which is another motivator for writers who want to be published. 

Now, it seems like you can just do more with third person, which makes it better than first person.  However, it has one setback: it's harder to create emotion.

Note that I said harder.  It is just as possible to create good emotion with third person as with first person--but it is a lot easier with first person and harder with third person.


So which Point of View is ideal for writers?  Well, second person can be crossed out pretty quickly, which leaves just first and third person.

Now, there is a problem when examining these two point of views: emotion.

The goal of a novel is not to make a lot of suspense.  It isn't to torture your characters.  It isn't even to achieve your main character's goal.

The goal of a novel (to quote Daniel Schwabauer on OYAN) is to create emotion.  That is your greatest goal.

So we run into this problem: it is significantly harder to create emotion using third person.  While it has many other advantages--making suspense, multiple POVs, etc.--it is harder to create emotion.

This is not to say that first person is better.  The advantages that third person has--suspense, multiple POVs--are disadvantages for first person.  You can't create quite as much suspense with first person--or at least you don't have as many options for creating it--and multiple POVs are a lot harder to pull off.

So which one is best?   What do you think?

Let's find out.


Anonymous said...

Now, while second person is difficult, yes, I find that it is refreshing to write in second person because of that. First and second person are easier by far. But second person somehow makes the reader feel more involved, because the story is about, well, you!

Jake said...

True. :) I enjoy writing in second person as well.

Jessica said...

I like to play between third and first person. Though I must say third person is hard to let emotion just go.
First person...I find hard to write because I want to be in other peoples heads! And I get really tired of saying I, I, I, I, I, I, (You can used other things too but it gets annoying because there more than usual, and people using the word I frequently is one of my pet peeves :P).

Third person is my style. The freedom to play around in peoples heads and abstract their thoughts is my favorite thing.

Thank you Jake!


Gillian said...

I definitely prefer third person. I wouldn't want to rule out first person entirely, but I feel that third person is a much more enjoyable read - even though Treasure Island one of my all time favorites, is written in first person. First person is so much more limited than third person. It relies more on narrative than anything else, telling more than showing. And I think that you can definitely display emotion through third person, probably more than in first. I think it's hard for people to write about their own emotion some times... so why would a character in first person be able to explain their emotion in a way that the audience can feel what is going on in the scene without it being overboard or too long or unreal.

I'm not saying that first person cannot be done well and make an interesting story, but I feel that third person has much more potential. And I personally prefer writing in third person!

Jake said...


I, personally, find it easier to write about my own emotion more than someone else's... >_>

But though I really like writing in third person, there is the danger of POV confusion. :P

Son of the King said...

@ Jake,
Isn’t third person somewhat like omnipresent? You know, when the narrator knows all the thoughts of all his characters? Just a thought.

~Son of the King~

*LuLu* said...

what! i do not like them all 1st 2nd and 3rd person!

Jake said...


No, third person CAN be omnipresent. It is known as third person omnipresent. :) More often then not, in third person, you switch between different characters' heads, using ******* or something similar to seperate the point of views.

Liz said...

I've enjoyed browsing through your blog - Squeaks posted a link to it.
Your post on POVs is interesting and I'd never even considered writing in second person... Hmmm, I feel a short story brewing!
First person is my favorite because it allows for a lot of style in the writing and intense character development.

Scrolling down to read more of your blog,
~ Liz

Jake said...

Thanks for stopping by, Liz! :)