A Make or Break Decision: What POV is Best for Your Novel?
One of the most important decisions you can make regarding your novel is deciding what point of view you choose to tell it in. In fact, it might be considered the most important decision you make, second only to perhaps picking whose points of views you’re going to tell your story through.
The reasons for this are many, but mainly, the POV you choose for your story is something that will shape the entire tone of your novel. It will determine how deep you get into your character’s heads and how the story unfolds.
Of course, the “best” POV for your novel is something only you can answer, because like many things in writing, it depends. If you’re brand new to writing a book, then you might have to experiment a bit with what feels right for you.
If I’m being honest, it’s happened more than once where I wrote half a book and then decided I wanted to change the POV. Let me tell you—switching every instance of one pronoun to another was a giant pain in the…neck. But it was better for the story in the end. No question.
Now that I’ve got numerous novels under my belt, I know first person is where my heart lives and would need a very good reason to switch to another POV. But this is something that you’ll figure out the more you write. Hopefully, this article can help you narrow it down so you’re not spending countless hours hunting down every instance of ‘she’ in your novel to change it to ‘I’.
With that in mind, we’ll cover the following in this article:
• What are the various types of POV?
• Strengths and weaknesses of each POV type
• Using single- vs. multi-POV
What are the various types of POV?
To figure out what POV you’d like to use for your novel, it’s helpful to know which POVs exist. I’ve summarized them all here, but click on any of the headers to jump over to articles that explain them in more detail.
You’re probably pretty familiar with this POV, which is told solely through the eyes of your narrator. You can only see, hear, and think what they’re thinking. This POV uses “I” as its main pronoun. You can write first person in past or present tense. You can also write first person in multi-POV.
This POV is also one you’re likely very familiar with reading, and it’s the closest you’ll get to first person. Third-person limited uses the pronouns “she”, “he”, or “they” and is the story told from a slight distance. We’re still in your narrator’s head, so you’re still limited to the things that they hear, see, feel, and think.
This POV allows for a “god-like” narrator that knows all (well, maybe they know all—that’s up to you to decide). They’re sometimes known as “the narrator” and the biggest difference between this POV and the one above is that you aren’t limited to the thoughts and feelings of only the characters. An omniscient narrator has the ability to get into everyone’s head when it suits your purposes.
This is a much less common form of narration. Epistolary refers to a storytelling technique where the story is told through pieces of communication like letters, journal entries, blogs, text messages, social media posts, ship logs, or interview transcripts, to name a few examples. It’s used alone or in combination with a more traditional POV style.
Finally, we have second person POV, which is told using the “you” pronoun. This style is unique because it puts the reader themselves into the action and the story is told as though they’re the one experiencing it. This POV isn’t all that common as it's tricky to pull off and can get annoying to read after a while. You’ll usually see it used for sections of a novel, rather than the entire thing, and combined with one of the styles listed above.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Each POV Type
Okay, so now you know all the different POV types. What are you going to do with that information? Just knowing doesn’t tell you what the best option for your novel is.
You might already be leaning in a certain direction simply because it’s what you’re used to reading, and that instinct might be the correct one and all you need to decide. This isn’t an exact science. But let’s look at this a bit further.
Advantages and Disadvantages of First-Person POV
First-person POV’s main advantage is that it brings the reader closest to your character. It gets inside their head and allows you the freedom to dig into their thoughts. This POV is perfect for a funny or sarcastic main character, for example, because you can include all those wry comments they might not say out loud in their internal dialogue. It can make for a fun, in-depth story and help give your writing a lot of voice, which is sometimes an intangible quality that’s hard to define.
That immediacy and closeness is why you’ll see a lot of romance and young adult books written in first person. In the case of a romance book, you want to hear and see all those things people feel and think about when they’re meeting and falling for ‘the one’. For young adult books, teenagers are often kind of self-absorbed and live inside their heads, making first person a good choice for these stories.
One of the characteristics of first person (I hesitate to call it an advantage or disadvantage since it can be a benefit when used properly) is that you only know what the narrator is thinking. That means all their thoughts are filtered through their own world view and the way they perceive a situation could be entirely different from how another character might.
This feature of first person might be useful, though. Take a murder mystery where your main character is the one solving the crime. In that case, you want the reader to know only what the main character (MC) knows so they can uncover the killer along with your MC.
Finally, you can use the unreliability of a first-person narrative to create an unreliable narrator. You only have to tell the audience as much as you want. A first-person narrative allows you the freedom to withhold or dole out information as your main character sees fit.
As you can see, there are a lot of considerations when you’re thinking of using first person.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Third-Person Limited POV
Third-person limited isn’t all that different from first person, however, you’ll maintain a bit more distance using this POV. While the story is still told from the viewpoint and thoughts of the main character (and possibly other characters), there is a bit more space between the narrator and their story. This can make this POV feel a little more reliable and honest than first person, because you aren’t just relying on what the main character is telling you.
Third-person limited has less room for your character’s own biases and preconceived notions. This style of narration also feels more like someone is telling you the story without any sort of positive or negative connotation attached to it. This gives your reader more room to decide on their own how they feel about the events and actions of your characters.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Third-Person Omniscient POV
Third-person omniscient is a POV that distances your reader from the characters a little more. In this case, because the narrator is a kind of disembodied entity, it serves an entirely different purpose. But don’t let that fool you into thinking you can’t still have a charismatic narrator. You can make your omniscient being as whole and real as an actual character by allowing them the freedom to foist their own commentary and thoughts on the narrative.
This POV is useful when you want your readers to know more about the characters and events than a more limited POV will allow. Perhaps you want to drag your poor MC through the story, but you want your audience to know more than they do—like who the killer is. This technique can help build tension in your story.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Epistolary POV
The epistolary format is a very unique one that requires some finesse to pull off. You might opt for this style if you’ve got a lot of background information to convey. Perhaps it’s a murder mystery with numerous pieces of evidence to present. Maybe it’s a time shift dual narrative and you’re revealing the past through a series of letters or journal entries.
The advantages of this POV type is you can move between tenses, past and present, and different narrators with ease. It allows for bits and pieces of information to be trickled out at your will.
The challenges with this narration style include ensuring that your characters still feel like real people with thoughts and hopes and motivations and the dreaded “telling instead of showing.”
Advantages and Disadvantages of Second-Person POV
Second-person POV is another less-common choice, but the main advantage of using this POV is giving your reader the chance to feel like they’re the ones in charge of the story. It can create an intimacy you might not get from the third-person POV or even first person, since the reader is, in essence, the main character.
Conversely, you can also use the second POV to create distance from one of your main characters. Say your main character has done something a little morally questionable. You might choose to narrate this section in second-person POV to help distance your main character from the action, while also making your reader a part of it, thereby creating a bond between your protagonist and your reader. Nothing brings two people closer like burying a dead body together. Am I right?
Another decision you’ll need to make is whether you choose to tell your novel in single POV or multi-POV. Multi means two or more perspectives, and while technically you can go as high as you want, you probably want to limit those points of view to a few or handful of key characters.
As with the specific POV you select, there is no right or wrong when it comes to how many POVs you might want to use. Do you want to stick with a first person story where everything is revealed through your main character? If your story relies heavily on the personal growth of your protagonist, then this might be the right choice.
However, maybe your story needs to show the growth of two characters. This is a common format in romance novels where we see the POVs of both sides of the potential relationship.
If your story is an epic fantasy, you might need to tell your tale through the eyes of multiple people spanning different locations, time periods, or subplots. That’s when a multi-POV story might be your best option.
Once you’ve decided on your POV, it’s time to get writing your story. I encourage you to dig further into each of the POV listed above, using the links provided. These articles will give you some more in-depth examples, tips for using them, and reasons to opt for each of these POVs.
After you’re absolutely sure you’ve got it, start putting words to paper. See how it feels. Does the narrative flow for you with this POV? Since the two most common POVs are first person and third-person limited, it might be good to start with one of those for your first book. Once you’re more comfortable with writing, you can try adding in some of the other types to keep those creative juices flowing.
And remember that it’s okay if you’ve written 50,000 words and suddenly decide this book would be so much better if it was written in the first person instead. Like we said at the beginning, the POV you choose to tell your story is one of the most important decisions you can make about your book. Make sure it’s the right one.
In case you didn’t know, Dabble makes it easy to start that first draft, giving you the ability to create notes about each character, so you can keep track of all those points of view—regardless of what POV you’re using.
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Essentially, a beta reader is an (hopefully) objective third party who will read your novel or story and provide (hopefully) constructive feedback. A beta reader is not an editor, and often they’re not writers either, though there’s a good chance a lot of your beta readers are going to be authors as well.
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