By Thomas Torres
A new novel idea has just sprung forth from your imagination, and you scribble as many notes as you can in order to set up that outline. After a few weeks, or even months of turmoil, you finally have enough to start writing. Just before you type that first word, you realize something has to be decided that can downright make or break your novel. I am of course talking about the perspective in which your novel will be presented. The lovely, POINT OF VIEW.
You hear a lot about various types of POVs in novels. Some are used much more often than others, but all of them have the capability of bringing your novel to that next level.
Before I get into this brief little discussion, I want to bring up a bit of a personal “adventure”. If you can call it that. It was more like I was given the ultimate challenge by my fantabulous (yes, that’s a word according to the comedian, Eddie Izzard) agent, Dawn Frederick. You see, I had recently pitched my new MG novel idea to her, which was written in the common FIRST PERSON POV. The thing is, I just didn’t quite nail it as well as I should have. So she came up with the idea of transforming the entire novel into THIRD PERSON. Now, this isn’t all about changing all the “I’s” to “HE” for my main character. No, there’s a lot more to it than that. But I took the challenge, grabbed the bull by its horns, and a few months later I transformed my newest MG novel into something quite possibly a hundred times better than it originally was. And that’s what it ultimately comes down to.
Figuring out what POV works for you, your novels, and more importantly your characters.
Now, I won’t get into every perspective that a novel is written in. Because there are quite a few, some I can place a wager on that you never even heard of. Heck, when I was tasked with writing this blog entry, I discovered some that made absolutely no sense to me and could never imagine as a novel. But who am I to judge. I’m just a newbie writer.
As I said before, I originally wrote my newest MG in First Person. In a nut shell, your main character is the narrator. There’s no outside source looking in. Everything is viewed and reacted upon in the main character’s head. It’s a good way to get into the nitty-gritty of every emotion your main character feels, but it also keeps the novel a bit limited to how readers understand other characters. Let me tell you, it’s not a very easy POV to write in. You need to think of it as if you are living ONLY the life of the main character, which is hard to do when putting so much thought and love into every single character in a novel. Not many people like the restriction, but if you are truly focusing on the emotions and the experiences of your MC, this is your way to go. I’ll tell you this much, it’s a POV that I feel evolves with writers over time. Don’t expect it to be perfect the first time around.
I’m going to go ahead and skip over SECOND PERSON POV. Why? Well, I can’t even think of a book off the top of my head that uses this perspective besides instruction manuals for electronics or appliances. ALTHOUGH, Choose your own Adventure books are written this way, and we all know that those books are incredible. Yes. I admit. I cheated on them when I was younger. I DIDN’T WANT TO DIE BY THE OGRES IN THE DUNGEON! My finger held the page anyway. And that counts.
Let’s move on to the juiciest of perspectives. I’m of course talking about THIRD PERSON. The great thing about THIRD PERSON POV is its flexibility. There are three main variations. LIMITED, MULTIPLE, and OMNISCIENT.
LIMITED is the closest thing you’re going to get to FIRST PERSON, without being FIRST PERSON. It’s also one of the most common forms of POV you’ll encounter in novels. You’re focusing entirely on one character throughout the novel, which means that you only know what that character knows. I like to think of it as being the character’s shadow throughout the novel. Instead of reacting to events as if you ARE the character, you are witnessing this characters emotions and reactions. It’s your choice how you want to develop this sense of perspective. Either you want to be right in the character’s head, or you want to be floating a bit above. Almost an astral-projection in the writing world.
MULTIPLE is just like LIMITED but as you probably would have guessed already, you can follow multiple characters. The hard part about this POV is that you need to be really clear which characters you are “following.” If not done well, it will be confusing to readers. Many books have multiple main characters using this method, generally alternating viewpoints between chapters. It’s effective, and when done correctly it can be quite masterful and entertaining. But don’t take this POV lightly. It can be unforgiving.
OMNISCIENT is exactly what it sounds like. You’re an all-powerful, all-knowing GOD of your novel. You know what’s happening as it happens, no matter where it’s happening. You can pinpoint every emotion of every character despite what everyone around them is seeing. This POV , while quite challenging as well, is also a fun to write in. In fact my adult black comedy that I’m writing is written with a sarcastic narrator overlooking the characters of my book. You will have the power to know it all, which can be a bit overwhelming. You might find yourself dragging on situations, trying to milk developments from every piece of your surroundings in the novel. So be careful with this one. With great power, comes great responsibility.
Ultimately, choosing a POV for your novel comes down to what comes naturally as a writer. Don’t force a perspective on your characters if it isn’t working. The best thing to do is to let the ideas flow as you start to write. Typically you’ll discover what POV works best just by writing. Let the characters and the story decide. Above all though, use one that is enjoyable for you. After all, you’ll be taking care of this novel for a long while. The last thing you want is to end up hating it.
Tom is an IT whiz by day (just think of one of those guys from Office Space), and a comic book artist, video game buff, and middle-grade writer by night. After a few stints as colorist in the comic book industry, he completed his first major middle grade novel, COPERNICUS NERDICUS, which combines his love for video games and robotic warfare. He is now chugging away on final edits for his newest MG novel, LUCAS PEREGRINUS AND THE ESCAPE FROM MANUKI ISLAND, which combines the treasure hunting fancies of INDIANA JONES and the misfit styled adventure of THE GOONIES.
Now, when he isn’t locked away in his man-cave watching THE GOONIES for the 347th time, or catching up on some geek-news on Kotaku, he’s probably busy cooking up some chaotic food dishes for his wife and his 100 lb doberman named Braveheart’s Dantes Inferno. Yes…that’s his dog’s real name.