Three Ways to Pick the Right POV for Your Story by Deborah Bailey

Before I started writing novels, I wrote short stories in first-person point of view (POV). I didn’t do it on purpose, it just happened. Like a lot of writers, my stories started out as a “what if?” idea. What if an office worker could plug their computer into their bodies? What if a person could order a robot as a boyfriend? And, those ideas came to me when I heard the character’s voice in my head.

A lot of authors start out that way.

But, what are we hearing? Is the character telling us who they are? Or maybe they’re having a conversation with other characters. Their interactions will help us to figure out who they are. What do they like? What do they fear? We have to get to know them before we write their stories.

That’s the key. We have to find the character’s voice and their reason for being.

We have to know what the character wants and how they’ll attain it. In my stories, I tend to focus on the characters (as opposed to the plot). On top of that, I’m also a “pantser.” Which means, my story depends on how I develop my characters and what they tell me about their lives.

When I write, I often start out with first-person POV in my initial drafts. I write down scenes and conversations that come to mind. Then, as I go along, I start to develop the story and figure out what it will be about. But, with that preparation, I’m not always sure how I’ll proceed. So, here are some ways that I decide on a point of view.

What is the easiest way for you to write the story?

This may seem very simple, maybe too simple. But it does come down to how you can get your words on the page in the best way. When you start writing, is there a POV that comes to you naturally? Or do you end up struggling to tell the story? My advice is, go with the flow. The most important thing is to get your words on the page. The first draft is not set in stone.

What’s your genre?

I’ve read a couple of thrillers in first person POV. I’m not usually a thriller reader, so I could just be picking outliers in the genre. But, I have enjoyed reading those stories because I’ve felt close to the narrator. In a story where there is danger lurking, or deception to be revealed, I think a first person POV can be very appealing. It makes you feel that you have some inside knowledge of what’s going on. Of course, the main character may be an unreliable narrator (and they often are in that genre) so you may not be getting the full story.

Is it a personal story?

When you’re telling a story that reflects a deeply personal experience, a first person POV might be the best way to go. There are women’s fiction novels that do this very well. Particularly when the main character is questioning her life and looking back on past experiences. This is also the chosen POV for memoir, for obvious reasons (since someone is telling their own story). It creates an intimacy that pulls the reader in. It makes them feel as though the author is having a conversation with them directly.


Deep Third Person

In some ways, I think first person is very similar to the deep third person POV. In that point of view, the reader gets a very up-close-and-personal view of what the character is experiencing. It all depends on the distance you’re giving between the reader and the character.

For instance, “I got up and went to the kitchen. I took out the eggs and bread.” In comparison, there’s: “She went to the kitchen. Another sleepless night. Her stomach grumbled. Maybe she’d fix eggs and toast.”

Those are very basic examples. But, they show that you can still have distance with first person. On the other hand, you can get closer with the deep third person. It comes down to what you’re comfortable with, and if there are specific criteria for your genre. What are your readers expecting for your type of story? Not to say you can’t break the rules, but it’s best to know them first.

You’ll notice that I’m not mentioning second person POV. It’s not as popular as third and first, and I feel it would take a bit of work to get it right. However, that’s what drafts are for! There’s nothing wrong with giving it a try, if you like. But, keep in mind what I mentioned about the conventions of your genre.

Part of the fun (and sometimes the stress) of writing is experimenting and trying new ways to tell your stories. Things have changed from the days when third person omniscient (where the narrator knows the thoughts of all the characters) was the popular choice.

However, that doesn’t mean you’re limited in how you tell your stories. Don’t be afraid to experiment and find the right point of view for you and your story.

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Deborah A Bailey’s Science Fiction & Paranormal Romance stories include suspense, a bit of mystery and a lot of romantic heat. Her speculative f...