Choosing a point of view, point of view characters, and tenses, can be a rather difficult thing.
Apart from my point of view characters, I find that I usually can’t choose these until I start writing my novel and experiment with them, which leaves the first few thousand words a jumbled mess.
This happened to me because, while I knew the technical differences between tenses and point of views, I wasn’t able to grasp how they would influence the way the story was perceived.
If you’re experiencing the same difficulties I was, I hope that this post will help you understand the narrative and emotional differences, so that you can choose the perfect tense, point of view, and POV characters for your story.
Choosing a POV
Choosing a point of view is what I used to struggle the most with. After a few years of learning, here’s what I can tell you about point of views:
In first person point of view the pronouns being used are ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘myself’.
Here’s a paragraph written in 1st Person POV:
“I opened the door and stalked across the room. The armchair in the corner was inviting, but I was too irritated to sit down, so instead I paced across the hardwood floors. The old oak boards creaked under the weight of my steps, but I ignored them.”
Using first person perspective is more intimate than using third person perspective, because it’s as if the POV character is speaking directly to the reader. The reader can understand their thoughts and emotions on a very close level.
The downside to using first person perspective is that it can be a bit limiting. The reader can only know the thoughts and emotions of the point of view character, unless you switch characters.
In first person point of view, you can have 2 kinds of narrators:
- Reliable Narrators
- Unreliable Narrators
A reliable narrator is a narrator who is telling the story as it actually is. The information they’re presenting is correct and accurately describes what’s happening in the story.
The way they view things isn’t warped by their own sense of reality.
An unreliable narrator is the opposite of a reliable one.
The way they view and tell the story is warped by their perspective of reality. The information they present isn’t entirely accurate because things have been exaggerated and changed.
Unreliable narrators are a bit more true to life than reliable narrators, since no one can remember things exactly as they happen. However, unless shown otherwise, most 1st person narrators are assumed to be reliable.
Second person point of views are very rare to find. The pronouns used are ‘you’, ‘your’, and ‘yourself’.
This is because in second person point of view, you are the point of view character.
Here’s a paragraph in 2nd person POV:
“You opened the door and stalked across the room. The armchair in the corner was inviting, but you were too irritated to sit down, so instead you paced across the hardwood floors. The old oak boards creaked under the weight of your steps, but you ignored them.”
Second person point of view is pretty rare, because you’re assigning a personality, thoughts, reactions, and emotions onto the reader.
They become a deep part of the story, but it can be alienating to have someone else put words into your mouth, especially if you would never say them.
Third person perspective is a point of view in which the narrator is like a disembodied character, a floating camera if you will, that follows characters around.
The pronouns used are ‘him’, ‘his’, ‘he’, and ‘himself’, or their feminine counterparts if the character is a girl.
Here’s a paragraph in 3rd person POV:
“He opened the door and stalked across the room. The armchair in the corner was inviting, but he was too irritated to sit down, so instead he paced across the hardwood floors. The old oak boards creaked under the weight of his steps, but he ignored them.”
As with first person, third person POV has a couple of different types to consider:
In limited third person perspective, only the thoughts and feelings of one character are ever focused on at a time.
Omniscient third person perspective is the opposite of limited.
The camera through which the reader sees the story can jump around from character to character, telling the reader what their thoughts and emotions are.
Choosing POV Characters
Choosing which characters’ view points to tell the story from will largely depend on what kind of story you’re trying to tell, as well as personal taste.
I don’t enjoy changing POV characters in a story, since I always find it to be jarring. It breaks the flow of the story, so I never have more than one POV character in a story.
I can do this because my stories don’t need multiple characters telling it.
If your story does need multiple characters to tell it, or if you enjoy reading stories that have multiple POV characters, then go ahead and write a story with multiple POV characters!
Traditionally, the main point of view character in a story will be the protagonist of the story.
Even in a story with multiple POV characters, the protagonist will almost always be one of them.
Having the antagonist be a POV character allows you to show some of their thought process and motivations, which can help them be more sympathetic and relatable.
It’s also a great way to have your reader know about the antagonist’s plans, without the protagonist having to know, which can lead to added tension.
Having a sidekick be a point of view character can create an interesting dynamic, especially if the protagonist is an unreliable narrator, as it can show the reader a different aspect of the reality of the story.
If the sidekick also disagrees with your protagonist on a regular basis, or is secretly working for the antagonist, having the readers know this can add tension to your story.
Other POV Characters
If other characters in your story have remarkable things happen to them, or would show something to the reader that would increase the depth of your story, then go ahead and have them be POV characters.
Remember that every scene in your story should accomplish something. This means that POVs that don’t add anything to a story have to go, so think about what value they add.
Choosing a Tense
Choosing a tense for your story is like choosing a point of view. They each have their pros and cons, and two of them are used a lot more than the third.
Past tense is used more traditionally, and it is a bit more stable and grounding than present tense.
While more modern novels, especially in YA genres, are using present tense, it can still be jarring to read present tense because of how immediate it is. I am one of those people who find present tense to be a bit unnerving, so I prefer writing and reading novels that use past tense.
Present tense is becoming increasingly popular in YA and can be found in more action heavy work, like the Hunger Games.
This is because present tense is very immediate and creates an almost movie like effect. Everything you’re reading is happening now.
I don’t recall ever reading something that was entirely in a future tense, however things like prophecies and visions are often told that way, since they are things that are going to happen.
If you’re writing a novel that is entirely a prophecy of some sort, a future tense will be perfect to use.
There are many different point of views, tenses, and possibilities for point of view characters. Learning about them before you begin writing your next piece can help you avoid the experimentation, and help you understand why authors make the choices that they do.
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