The Pros and Cons of the Various P.O.V.

Today I came across LitReactor’s excellent summary of the various points of view (P.O.V.) an author can use, and the pros and cons of each. Go ahead and take a moment to read it. It’s definitely worth your time. I’ll be here when you finish.

Welcome back. Learned a lot, right? Jon Gingerich has provided a useful and thought-provoking summary of P.O.V. I definitely enjoyed his warning about first-person P.O.V. (that beginning writers tend to underestimate the difficulty of writing consistently in a unique, interesting voice). From personal experience, I know that I tend to think of plot first, and then develop characters. Consequently, it’s usually only in revisions that I really make my characters pop. These revisions are well after I’ve decided to write in third-person P.O.V. This article had me thinking that I should do a writing exercise, and force myself to create a character with a unique voice and viewpoint. And befitting first-person P.O.V., I should try to write more of a character study than my traditional, more plot-heavy stories.

I also want to expand a bit on an idea Gingerich introduces. He uses the metaphor of thinking like a film director when you write: consider whether your story would be better served by more close-ups or fewer. I believe it’s better to think in terms of objective and subjective. Is your story better off being told from inside or outside your characters’ heads? With first-person P.O.V., you live inside a character’s head. You can play around with unreliable narrators, biases, and naivete, but it also means that you can’t do other things. For example, you must be very creative when describing what your character looks like. No cheating by having him or her look at a mirror. Not only is it a cliche, but also how often do you consider things like your eye color when you look in the mirror? Because the reader is trapped inside the character’s head, first-person P.O.V. also makes it hard, if not impossible, to tell certain types of stories. For example, you can’t show the villain’s preparations; instead, your character can only experience the consequences of those preparations.

With third-person P.O.V., the narrator can offer physical description of the characters, but you lose out on the unique perspective. Your character’s voice, even if unique, is reported from one step removed, possibly leading to a dilution of that voice. If you’re not careful, your characters can even blend together. Because third-person P.O.V. tends to be more objective, your characters can sometimes seem less deep or less real because readers don’t have that inner monologue. Your plot needs to carry a lot of the weight a character’s voice or viewpoint would in a first-person P.O.V. story. This isn’t to say you can’t write a story from the third-person P.O.V. and have a character change internally or grow emotionally. I’m just saying it will be difficult.

What did you think of Gingerich’s article? How do you decide which P.O.V. to use? Inspired to try writing something outside of your comfort zone? If you try a writing exercise, let me know how it goes.