Annnd I’m back *finally* with another of my “differences in style” pieces. The point of this series is largely to talk about different techniques/styles, while acknowledging a lot of these choices come down to different tastes. Since this is such a common topic, I’m going to be specifically talking about my personal views on viewpoints, some of the ways it can work well and some of the pitfalls of each POV. Let’s get into it!
First Person Point of View
Kinda what it says on the tin. The benefit of First Person is you get to see the inner workings of one character (usually the mc). There is also “first person peripheral”, which means it’s not the narrator is not the protagonist, instead forcing the reader to view the story through a prism of someone else’s experience. As with The Great Gatsby, it can be used to great effect.
Second Person Point of View
This can be interesting. Okay, I can’t lie, I don’t much like the use of second person for an entire book. Still, I will admit it can be intriguing for certain concepts, like Stolen, where it’s used to address a kidnapper. And I know a lot of people love how unique that is- so again, yay for personal taste!
However, there are lots of pitfalls. It can feel quite gimmicky, especially if there’s no clear reason for it. Also, one mistake I’ve seen is making it unclear who is being addressed. Also, unless it is a “choose your own adventure” book, it doesn’t really make sense to address the protagonist, who is a particular character, as “you” (I saw this in Half Bad and wasn’t a fan).
On the other hand, I love occasional uses, like the effect it has in Night Circus to make readers feel like the audience. Even better is when it’s used by a narrator to break the forth wall (gotta love Deadpool!)
Third Person Limited
This is basically narration limited to one character (and largely encompasses the “deep pov” perspective as well). It’s great for writing more intense close ups of a single character.
Third Person Multiple
Basically as above, just with more than one character. Usually this switch is between chapters. The part where this can get tricky is when it comes to *DANGER UP AHEAD* head hopping territory. I’m going to say something controversial now: I don’t think it’s guaranteed to be bad. I think even this can be done well, in a way that’s not noticeable or makes sense. The biggest issue that can arise is that it can be confusing. However, I’ve seen people critique authors like Maas for this, and personally I think she sometimes uses it to great effect or for a reason (like a very intense romantic scene). Obviously I can’t argue with individuals who didn’t like it or found it disorientating, but I have to point out, since this is the whole point of this series, that this is a personal taste thing and I don’t always see it as a problem. Unless it’s unclear to me who is thinking what, or someone has knowledge of thoughts they can’t possibly know, then chances are I won’t bat an eye. I mean, there are exceptions to every rule (even when it comes to “not being able to read minds”, you can have a telepathic character in fantasy, so…)
On this POV, the only question that remains to be asked is: can a book have too many POVs? The answer is, well, yeah. Apart from the issue of character soup, if there’s no real differentiation between characters, all of them can blur together and become disorientating. Not to mention how unnecessary it can be. Even with books I like, there can be additions that feel superfluous to the plot (*coughs* the later GOT books #sorrynotsorry). That said, the question of “how many is too many?” is entirely personal- what may not work for me, may work for someone else and so on. The only thing I’d advise is to make sure all the characters are relevant/add something to the story and it’s easy to tell them apart.
Third Person Omniscient
The *I SEE EVERYTHING* narrator. I’ve seen people argue that this cannot be mixed with Third Person Limited- I personally view this as poppycock, given a blend of the two types of point of view make up the likes of many a-great novel (I’m thinking of Hardy as a fantastic example, though there would be far too many for me to list). Yes, sometimes an omniscient narrator can see inside a character’s head- they’re all-knowing, it’s not implausible!
Accounting for Personal Taste
When it comes to my own choices, I’ve used most of these at different times- so I really don’t have a strong preference. I think the most important choice is what kind of story do you want to tell? When the focus is on “coming of age” for instance, I prefer first person. And when it’s an epic, I feel like it’s got to be omniscient to have that extra *oomph this shit’s important*. But that’s just me, everyone makes different choices, and they all work in their own way.
Other posts in this series:
Pared down vs Purple prose – Differences in Style #1
The art of Intertextuality vs Innovation – Differences in Style #2
And that’s all for now! Do you have a personal preference? Disagree or agree with anything I’ve said here? Let me know in the comments!
108 thoughts on “*ALL the Viewpoints* – Differences in Style Series #3”
Second person can be so cool. Welcome to the Goon Squad has a great chapter from 2nd person. When done well it’s very good. Oh and Deadpool. Um…yes…love those movies so much!!!
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Ah fair enough. I think that it can be done well on occasion- and I have read books with the odd chapter in second person that were good. hehe me too! 😀
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I’ve never read anything in 2nd person, aside from CYOA books lol. I don’t think I’d like it in other uses. My favorite POV is a close 3rd person limited. When done right, it can put you just as deep in a character’s head as 1st person, but it reads smoother, in my opinion, unless the author is really good. It just seems like 1st person is harder to get right. But I can enjoy either when they’re written well. I hate head hopping though! It ALWAYS distracts me and takes me out of the story. I’ve still enjoyed some books that had it, but I’d have enjoyed them more if not for the head hopping lol.
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Ah fair enough- it’s not a common pov. And yes that makes a lot of sense! Fair enough!