Why am I harping more on POV when I already touched upon it in the first segment? Well, the more I read different stories the more aware I am of inconsistencies in POV. Writing from each POV has it's upsides and downsides. As the author, one often sees all different POVs, which you might immediately want to share with everyone. However, that can lead to a confused POV in which the reader is never quite sure whose perspective they are getting. Which Point of View you use is one of the most important decisions you'll make in writing your piece. It will shape how your story is told and has the potential to either add realism to your piece, or completely turn off your reader.
First, an Introduction
First Person POV: written through the "I, We" perspective
Second Person POV: written through the "you" perspective
Third Person POV: (here is where it can get a little tricky)
Limited: written through the "He, She, They" perspective.
Limited (rotating): written through the "He, She, They" perspective.
Omniscient: written through the (you guessed it) "He, She, They" perspective.
As we can see from the breakdown of the third person POV, this isn't as simple as one might first think it is.
First Person POV
It adds a personal feel to your story and interspersing it with their inner monologue can feel natural. The reader gets a better idea of what makes the person tick, and can see firsthand when thoughts and speech/actions don't match up. This can create more tension without having to add in ridiculous superficial drama. It's also great if you want to have your readers empathize with one character in particular.
You can't explore the perspectives of others and you are limited to that person's POV (usually).
I gazed out on the crowd, listening to their intense roar. I could feel my whole body ignite with energy and my heart racing, as I slowly stepped forward in the stiff and heavy space suit.
Second Person POV
This probably has the fewest. If done right, it can make the reader feel like they are the main person. It can be good for one shots.
A lot. For the sake of brevity, your reader may totally disagree with the personality or acts being commited by the main person. It's easier to dislike an OG when the author isn't insinuating that you are that OG. It's also not as easy to switch POVs without it feeling incredibly awkward. To be completely honest, it's more often done horribly wrong than well done.
You spin around, startled and not yet ready to meet the future in-laws, only to come face to face with an unfamiliar man. His eyes would likely seem vaguely familiar if you actually looked at them, but instead you find yourself mesmerized by his tall, greasy, stiff looking jet black hair. Before you know it, he has you in an embrace so tight that you can smell the coconut oil in his hair product.
Third Person POV - Limited
Like with the First Person POV, the reader gets a more personal understanding of the main character. Unlike the First Person POV, with this POV the author can also describe what other characters appear to be thinking about (see last sentence in the example).
The reader only knows what the character knows and only experiences what the character experiences.
Karen knew without even having to ask that Michael was uninterested in her. He'd fired her enough times and gotten mad at her so often that she knew she had been "friend-zoned". Still, no other woman was good enough for him! Should I fake being happy for him, or tell him what I honestly think? She mused as she pretended to be focused on his makeup. "I don't know about Lisa....", she said, before trailing off at the frustrated glint in his eye.
Third Person POV - Limited (Rotating)
Over time, the reader knows and experiences different characters' knowledge and experiences. This is relatively simple and straightforward to write, but can still be very powerful. The author can add tension to the story simply by switching the character whose viewpoint is guiding the narrative. For instance, in one section/chapter, the reader can hear about the OG's internal anxiety about being around MJ, whereas in the next they can hear about MJ's confusion as to whether the OG likes him or not.
There is not all-knowing narrator. An author can also confuse readers if there isn't enough indication that they've changed the character whose perspective is being detailed. Moreover, the effect is lost if the author can't stay in one character's perspective for the length intended. This is a significant, and common, faux pas.
[Michael as lead]
A smirk slowly creeped onto Michael's faces. She thought she was so subtle. Her nervousness was attractive and an indication that despite his insecurities, women found him to be sexy. She wasn't Hollywood-ish or marred by this superficial town in the least. She was notably different from the women he is used to encountering professionally. "God bless you, Laura. I appreciate that. However, the creative process can't be limited to such a narrow frame of time without compromising the songs. My fans deserve better."
"They do; they also deserve to experience your musical talent on a more frequent basis," she said smartly. "I am very familiar with how loyal you are to your fans, as well as their loyalty to you. As a fan of many artists, I know the disappointment of hearing that an album release has been delayed."
Michael frowned. He didn't want to disappoint his fans and he resented her taking that approach. "My fans would understand if it meant they'd get a better album; one of the quality that they've come to expect from me."
[Lauren as lead]
Lauren was so uncomfortable with how this meeting had turned out that she was ready to hide under the table. Here she was, face to face with her idol, and she was obviously angering him. She watched his neutral facial expression as she finished her comment "....has been delayed."
"I'm sorry, but it's not possible. My fans will understand," he replied with a note of finality to his tone.
She felt her muscles tighten. He was shooting her down. So this is what they meant when they said that he has a way of shutting down the other side when upset by them. She had thought she would be different. It was such an odd experience, him behind his classic aviators, her feeling vulnerable. This is supposed to be her domain! How is she to get ahead in this business if she both annoys The King of Pop and disappoints her higher ups, all in the same meeting? "I understand that if this is delayed, future albums would likely be delayed, and that would put you in violation with the very lucrative contract you signed with Sony Music."
She watched as his tapping fingers stopped abruptly and his shoulders tensed.
Note that the first scene is told from Michael's POV, with the reader able to see his thoughts and some inkling of what Lauren is thinking. However, her thoughts aren't really known until the second scene, which is told from her POV.
Third Person POV - Omniscient
The reader sees what happens through all of the characters' perspectives, including their thoughts. The narrator is in this instance all-knowing, so readers can track all the different characters. The author can also say things about the present, future, and past, because the narrative isn't depending on what the characters are thinking.
It's complicated (in case you missed that message in the benefits section). If the author isn't very attentive to detail, who is being described, the owner of the thoughts being expressed, who is making an action, what is taking place....it can all get lost and become a jumbled mess that is a headache for both the author and the readers. Plus, it can be impersonal. There is no exactly "main" POV that the reader gets to sink into, so the reader may become less engaged.
Michael watched each brother as he walked onto the stage. Jermaine noticed that Michael looked tired. Tito noticed that Michael had put on weight. Jermaine reached Michael and embraced him, including an extra squeeze in an attempt to keep his concern from reaching his mouth. Walking past his embracing brothers, a focused Tito walked over to his guitar and started testing the tightness of each string. It wasn't that he lacked Jermaine's concern, he'd just talk to Michael later. Back in the hug, Michael had immediately gotten the message and begun to feel uncomfortable. This was not going to be fun.
that was annoying to write.
If you can pull that off on a regular basis
and produce chapters that sound good,
I will applaud you.
I just may not read consistently.
The Faux Pas that Keeps Happening (and how to avoid it)
A common mistake is blurring Third Person Limited (rotating) and Third Person- Occasional Omniscience, so that multiple characters' POV are shown in one chapter, with occassional blatant foreshadowing by an omniscient narrator. I've pointed this out before to fanfiction writers, and they commonly have said things like "I want to show what both of them are feeling." That's all fine and dandy, but one has to know the limits of the viewpoint they are attempting. Doing a hybrid version of these two POV will only lead to confused and frustrated readers. Which, given enough repetition, can translate into former readers. On top of being confusing, taking this hybrid approach means that half of the drama that the author could be creating (without relying on absurd plot twists), is lost.
SO, what does that leave an author with, if they want to show what multiple characters are feeling?
- Third Person POV - Limited (writing overlapping scenes that differ in whose view is being used)
- Third Person POV- Omniscient
- Accept that it can be too awkward to show each/both person's view of each event. Especially if you are showing too many character POVs (Don't do that!). Instead focus on writing one viewpoint of a given event and enough information for the reader to infer the other character's POV.
Finally, I know that this shouldn't have to be said, but I'll say it anyway:
- Keep the author notes separate from the story. They aren't part of the POV (or POV changes).
- Don't switch POVs without a break/separator. Pressing "return" a few times is not remotely adequate.