Point of View: How to Decide?
Point of view (POV) is whose eyes the story is told through. There are four different POVs – first person, second person, third person, and omniscient.
First person POV is the most intimate. This POV has its advantages and disadvantages. Through it you experience the story from only one person’s perspective. Since you are seeing, hearing, and experiencing only what your viewpoint character does, your reader will not be told about any events that aren’t personally known by this character.
My heart pounded as the growling dog, saliva dripping from its black tongue, viciously stalked toward me.
You are subject to the world view of this character. If he or she is self-centered, mentally unstable, scared to death of dogs, or thinks everyone is out to get him, you will experience the events the way he sees them. This is great for mysteries or thrillers where you don’t want the reader to know everything. Watson could not reveal everything to us that Sherlock Holmes knew, nor was Hastings able to reveal the secrets only Hercule Poirot knew. In this way the reader is kept in suspense. The author cannot include anything not witnessed or heard by the narrator. Everything is seen and understood from their view of the way things happen.
Second person is told from the perspective of “you.” This is not commonly used, except in instructional writings.
When you give someone directions, you normally use second person.
“You go three blocks down Main Street. Then you take a left turn onto Bloom Avenue. The house you are looking for is at the end of the road.”
Your heart pounds as the growling dog, saliva dripping from its black tongue, stalks toward you.
There are some fiction writers who are talented enough to write a story in the second person POV and keep it interesting. Ruth Nestvold is one of them. In her book of short stories, Never Ever After, the story “King Orfeigh” is written in the second person. I normally do not like stories written in this point of view, but the author did such a fantastic job that it was actually a pleasure to read. King Orfeigh is a human king whose wife is seduced and whisked away from him by a faerie king. In this beautiful story, King Orfeigh tells of his love and longing for his missing wife, his search for her, and his desire to reclaim her, if only she will have him back.
In the omniscient point of view everything is seen, everything is known. This technique, frequently used in the nineteenth century, is still used some today. With it you read about things all of the different characters experience. Whether or not you experience what the characters do depends upon how caught up you are in the story.
Maya’s heart pounded as the growling dog , saliva dripping from its black tongue, stalked towards her. From underneath a bush, ten little puppy eyes, never letting their mama out of sight, anxiously watched.
Using omniscient POV, the reason the dog is growling at Maya is seen. She is only protecting her puppies. If Maya could see these puppies, she would know to turn and go the other direction, away from the bush.
Third person POV is a compromise between omniscient POV and first person POV. This point of view allows you to switch back and forth between different characters and the unique way they each see things. There can be multiple lead characters when the story is written in third person POV. This is now the one that most writers use today.
Just be sure to not make the story confusing for your reader. There should not be too much head-hopping and it should always be clear when the point of view character is switched. If you confuse the reader, chances are your story will be cast aside and not finished.
How does one decide which character has the point of view for each scene? Whichever character has the most to lose should be the one you select.
In two of the prior example sentences, Maya is the human with the most to lose. When you consider that the dog is a mother protecting her young, the dog is the one with the most to lose. Are you good enough to write a scene from a dog’s point of view? Although I’ve never attempted to write from an animal’s point of view, it has successfully been done before.
No matter what your story is about, realize that which point of view you choose to write in determines how your story will be told, and how much the reader will be kept in suspense.