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What is the Best Point of View to Use in Fiction?

Benefits and Drawbacks of Each POV in Your MS

How to use different points of view in your novel manuscript for fiction.

As a beginning writer who chose to write my first book in first-person narrative, I discovered the drawbacks of such an approach the hard way.

Halfway through the book, I started all over in third-person – something I wouldn’t recommend.

Briefly, Point of View – when writing fiction – can be broke down between first-person, second person, and third person.

  • I ran from the bank with the bag of cash slung over my shoulder. (first person)
  • You ran from the bank with the bag of cash slung over your shoulder. (second person)
  • The bandit ran from the bank with the bag of cash slung over his shoulder. (third person)

For the reader, point of view delineates between a limited understanding of events and characters, or an omniscient understanding of events and characters.

In most cases, a first person narrative provides the reader with only what the narrator experiences or thinks.

While in third person narrative, the reader can understand a much broader range of experiences in the story, regarding both events, as well as additional inner perspectives from various characters other than just the protagonist.

First-person, as opposed to third person, usually provides a limited as opposed to an omniscient view.

In other words, you can’t have a first person narrator with an omniscient understanding of events. If the reader learns of events outside the scope of his or her experience, or learns the inner thoughts of other characters, then your narrator must hear about them second hand. A first person narrator cannot know what other characters are thinking or planning, unless of course your narrator is God or Santa Clause.

While limited point of view (POV) shows the reader only what the narrator sees or thinks, omniscient (Godlike) POV tells the reader (if the narrator chooses to let them in on it) everything that’s going on in the story, and everything each character is thinking.

Each has its benefits and drawbacks.

For example, while first person POV limits the reader’s understanding of events and the mindset of other characters, it provides the writer with the opportunity to present a strong narrative voice – a voice with character, personality, and strength.

You – the writer – may present your character’s idiosyncrasies of speech or other quirky personalty traits. With first person, you get to provide the reader the chance to see the world through someone else’s eyes.

You can make your narrator arrogant, obnoxious, or funny.

Your reader can see through the prism of a bright-eyed optimist, or a doom-and- gloom pessimist. You could even make your narrator psychologically disturbed, as in Ken Kesey’s Big Chief, in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

But the drawback of first person narrative is that you almost inherently preclude the omniscient view of understanding for the reader.

Third person narrative, while not always necessarily omniscient, allows you – the writer – the opportunity to provide the reader with a much broader understanding of events and people around your main character. You can present action taking place off camera, so to speak.

Action outside the scope of experience of the main character.

There are several types of third person.

You can limit the reader’s understanding to the protagonist only – limited third person.

Or, you could choose to write in third person omniscient, which provides the reader with the broadest understanding and the most information.

And just because you choose third person, doesn’t mean you can’t impart a substantial degree of your character’s personality in your narration.

You’re simply doing it from outside the character.

It’s the difference between actually knowing someone, or hearing me tell you about someone.

Let’s say you write a first person scene of the following:

My father never gave two shits about me. And to be honest, I never understood the guy. Sure, he pretended to listen, at least occasionally. But he never heard me. And if he did, he sure as hell didn’t care. I mean, c’mon! I was adopted for Pete’s sake.

From this passage we get a glimpse into the character’s personality.

We get a feel for him we might not get from an outside perspective, from a narrator or a friend describing him.

But even in third person, you can impart a little of your character’s personality, as seen in the following:

Joe’s relationship with his father was troubled from the day he was adopted. He couldn’t understand why his father never seemed to listen to him. And on the times when he did appear to listen, there was never an indication his father had heard him when he spoke, or cared about him as a human being.

In addition to exposition, the writer could provide the reader with a scene of dialogue to convey these facts about Joe.

Joe’s relationship with his father had always been troubled.

“You never listen to me,” he’d tell his father.

“But I am listening, Son!”

“But you don’t hear me, Dad! And you sure as hell don’t care.”

For practice, write a few short stories using a variety a POV’s.

Ask yourself:

  • What does my character know?
  • What doesn’t he know?
  • And what does he think he knows, but is mistaken about?

Explore the different ways of conveying this information to the reader.

Consistency

Whichever POV you choose, it’s important to be consistent.

You can choose to provide first person narration from more than one character in your book, breaking it down by chapter if you like. But each character, obviously, will be limited to his or her own perspective.

And be careful your character doesn’t learn information inadvertently from you, the author.

How to use point of view POV in your fiction novel manuscript the right way

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