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Storytelling: Second Person POV

Second person point of view is the least most commonly used point of view in fiction.

Second person POV is written in present tense and addresses the reader directly, using the address of “You.”

This POV makes the reader the protagonist. The narrator often uses detailed description, shares psychological insights, and tries to anticipate reader reactions.

This in uncommon in teen or adult fiction and is mainly used, though there have been authors who have used it successfully.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Second Person POV

Advantages of second person are limited. It is very difficult to do well and most readers find it jarring and difficult to connect with while reading.

One advantage is that you can create a different feel to a story, and can speak to the reader directly. This story has to be a good fit for this type of narration.

The disadvantages are more prevalent, partly because this style of narration can feel too personal. It can give a juvenile feel to a story if not done well.

Second Person POV Considerations

Before committing to a whole novel in second person, try writing a single scene and getting feedback from other writers and target readers.

Study those few examples of well written second person POV stories, such as “Bright Lights, Big City” by Jay McInerney.

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Storytelling: Third Person POV

Third person point of view has four variations.

Third person omniscient has an all-knowing narrator who tells the story. The narrator can share the thoughts and feelings of all characters at any point in a scene and knows information that the characters do not.

Third person objective has a narrator who can only tell the reader things which could be recorded by a camera or microphone. The narrator cannot share thoughts or feelings of the characters, and cannot reveal information to the reader that is not communicated, discovered, or shown directly by a character.

Third person limited has a narrator who tells the story from the perspective of a single character at a time. The perspective can switch to another character in a different scene. The narrator is limited to sharing what the character sees, hears, experiences, etc.

Third person deep tells the story in the hero’s voice, rather than the author’s voice. The narrator can share internal thoughts and feelings of the character, but if limited to only that character’s experiences.

Advantages of Third Person Omniscient

The story can be written as an onlooker watching the full story unfold.

You can add contrasting viewpoints with other characters, but you cannot “head hop,” or bounce between characters’ thoughts and experiences within the same scene. This can give a reprieve to the reader and allow them to see another side of the story.

You can expand the scope of the story by moving between settings and viewpoints.

You aren’t limited to characters in the story when choosing a narrator, which can provide a unique perspective.

It allows the narrator to share his or her own views, but don’t slip into second person to do so.

Disadvantages of Third Person Omniscient

Disadvantages center around the confusion this POV can create when not done with attention to detail. If narrators don’t have a distinct voice, readers may be confused on who is narrating or which character knows what.

Switching to other characters can diffuse the tension or excitement when not planned well.

It’s easy to write as the author instead of the narrator.

It can be more difficult to forge a connection with readers if it comes off as too distant or impersonal.

Advantages of Third Person Limited/Objective

It attempts to combine the best of first and third person omniscient.

The limited/objective POVs allow writers to more deeply explore the narrator and forge a stronger connection with the reader without asking them to live out a story with the narrator.

Disadvantages of Third Person Limited/Objective

It limits you to choosing a character as a narrator and limits you to the narrator’s thoughts and experiences.

The distance third person creates between the story and the reader can be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on the story. Some stories may be too raw or personal and distance is needed to allow the reader to remain at a certain comfort level. However, if in order to fully understand or experience a story, the reader needs to be enveloped in it, the distance of third person may prevent that.

Advantages of Third Person Deep

The biggest advantage of the deep perspective is that is attempts to remove distance between narrator and reader by getting inside the character’s head and experiences.

The reader can experience more fully what the narrator is thinking and feeling.

It feels more like first person to a reader, but uses third person pronouns, which can be important in following genre conventions.

Disadvantages of Third Person Deep

The main disadvantage is that this is a challenging POV to write and is still gaining traction in some genres.

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Storytelling: First Person POV

Narrative point of view is the perspective through which a story is communicated. If you want to tell the story from the direct perspective of the main character or an observer, first person might be the right POV.

First Person POV

There are two variations of first person POV.

First person protagonist is when the character narrates his or her own story. This is very common in popular fiction. This allows the reader a close, personal look into the character’s experience, thoughts, and emotions.

First person observer is when a secondary character tells the main character’s story, such as Dr. Watson narrating Sherlock’s Holmes cases. This is less common in modern popular fiction, but is still used by some writers. This is a useful style when you don’t want the reader to be directly inside the main character’s mind and when the story is better served being told by someone who can somewhat objectively tell the main character’s story.

Advantages of First Person

It feels natural to the reader, because it’s how we speak about our world and experiences to others in real life.

Dealing with only one narrator’s mind can also be easier for the writer than writing multiple narrators. It is also usually easier for the reader to follow the story and keep track of events.

It also creates a unique and distinctive internal voice. Being in only in one character’s mind at a time makes it easier to “stay in character” as well. This is a popular POV for new or young writers for that reason.

Readers also get to experience the story vicariously more easily in first person, which may or may not be a benefit to the story and should be a factor in considering what POV to use.

There is also opportunity to create an unreliable narrator, however, this is a very challenging character to write and must be well planned from the beginning to be successful.

It is much more intimate and can fully immerse a reader in a story, which might be too much for some stories that have triggers or are highly intense or emotional.

Disadvantages of First Person POV

Writers are limited to writing only about what the character can see, know, or hear. This makes it difficult to hide things from the main character, or to reveal information to the reader without the main character knowing as well.

The narrator must be in every scene, observing and participating in the story. This limits what scenes the reader can observe and what information the reader is privy to.

Minds of other characters are off limits, as is their knowledge about the story, unless directly shared with the narrator in some way.

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Storytelling: Narrative Mode and Point of View

This writing craft series will focus on choosing the right Narrative Mode and Point of View.

Telling the right story means telling it from the best POV and with the best narrative modes.

What is Narrative Mode?

Narrative Mode and Narration are easy to confuse.

Narration is the use of commentary to convey a story to an audience.

Narrative Modes in fiction are the methods used to tell a story. Methods that are commonly used include narrative point of view, narrative tense, and narrative voice. This series will delve into each mode, beginning with the one that writers and readers or most familiar with, Point of View.

Narrative Point of View

Narrative POV links the narrator to the story. It reveals who is telling the story and what their relationship is to the story events and characters.

The narrator is often a character, but can also be an unknown observer who conveys thoughts or opinion, or a completely unknown observer who only relates the events without additional commentary.

Writing from the point of view of a character is very common in modern popular fiction, but telling a story from an observer’s perspective is still used, though it is seen more often in literary fiction. It is not often a reader comes across a contemporary book written from the perspective of an observer who offers no commentary.

Point of View

When we talk about point of view, what we’re really discussing is how and by whom the story is being told. Narrative point of view is the perspective through which a story is communicated to the reader, and it can great affect how a story is told and how a reader connects with the story and its players.

There are multiple point of views through which to tell a story, including first person (protagonist or observer), second person (the reader is the character and is addressed directly), and third person (omniscient, objective, limited, and deep).

Each type will have a different impact on the story, including how close a reader can get to the characters, what limitations a particular POV places on storytelling, and what the reader can know through the character.

In the next several posts, I’ll break down each of these point of views and their advantages and disadvantages.

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Understanding and choosing the right point of view

When we talk about point of view, what we’re really discussing is the narrative point of view, or how and by whom the story is being told. Let’s review the basics before diving deeper.

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First Person POV has two variations:

First person protagonist where the character narrates his or her own story.

First person observer where a secondary character tells the main character’s story (i.e. Watson narrating Sherlock’s Holmes cases.)

Third Person POV is not told by a character but by an invisible author and has four variations:

Third person omniscient is where an all-knowing narrator tells the story.

Third person dramatic/objective is where the narrator only tells the reader things which could be recorded by a camera or microphone (i.e. no thoughts).

Third person limited is where a narrator tells the story from the perspective of a single character at a time.

Third person deep is where the story is told in the hero’s voice, rather than the author’s voice.

Second person POV is written in present tense and addresses the reader directly:

Second person POV makes the reader the protagonist. The narrator often uses detailed description, shares psychological insights, and tries to anticipate reader reactions.

This in uncommon in teen or adult fiction and is mainly used for young children’s literature.

It’s important to understand why some POVs work better for certain genres or storylines and make changes when something isn’t working. Let’s review points to consider when choosing POV.

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First Person

There are several advantages of writing in first person. It feels natural to many writers, because it’s how we speak about our world and experiences. Dealing with only one narrator’s mind can be easier than writing multiple narrators. It’s an opportunity to create a unique and distinctive internal voice. Because you’re only in one character’s mind at a time, it’s easier to “stay in character.” Readers also get to experience the story vicariously through the character more easily. There is also an opportunity to create an unreliable narrator. First person is also much more intimate than other POVs and can fully immerse a reader in a story.

There are disadvantages as well. You are limited to writing only about what the character can see, know, or hear. The narrator must be in every scene, observing and participating in the story. Minds of other characters are off limits, as is their knowledge about the story unless directly shared with the narrator in some way.

 Second Person

Advantages of this POV are limited. You can create a different feel to a story, and can speak to the reader directly.

The disadvantages are more prevalent, partly because this “uniqueness” often doesn’t sit well with readers and feels too personal. It often gives a juvenile feel to a story.

 Third Person Omniscient

Advantages of this POV include being able write the story as an onlooker watching the full story unfold. You can also add contrasting viewpoints with other characters (NO head hopping, though!). This can give a reprieve to the reader and allow them to see another side of the story. You can expand the scope of the story by moving between settings and viewpoints. You aren’t limited to characters in the story when choosing a narrator, which can provide a unique perspective. This POV also allows the narrator to share his or her own views, but should NEVER slip into second person to do so.

Disadvantages center around the confusion this POV can create when not done with attention to detail. If narrators don’t have a distinct voice, readers may be confused on who is narrating. Switching to other characters can diffuse the tension or excitement when not planned well. It’s also easy to write as the author instead of the narrator. This POV can be more difficult to forge a connection with readers if it comes off as too distant or impersonal.

Third Person Limited

This POV attempts to combine the best of first and third person omniscient. The limited POV allows you to more deeply explore the narrator and forge a stronger connection with the reader without asking them to live out a story with the narrator.

For disadvantages, this POV does limit you to choosing a character as a narrator and limits you to the narrator’s thoughts and experiences.

The distance third person creates between the story and the reader can be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on the story. Some stories may be too raw or personal and distance is needed to allow the reader to remain at a certain comfort level. However, if in order to fully understand or experience a story, the reader needs to be enveloped in it, the distance of third person may prevent that.

 Third Person Deep

The biggest advantage of the deep perspective is that is attempts to remove distance between narrator and reader. The reader can experience more fully what the narrator is thinking and feeling. It feels more like third person to a reader, but uses third person pronouns, which can be important in following genre conventions.

The main disadvantage is that this is a challenging POV to write and is still gaining traction in some genres.

Consider the last book you read and how it would have changed if written from a different POV.

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