So now that I’ve got a better understanding of what POV is and the different options, it’s time to decide whose POV to share.
I don’t know this for sure, but I imagine that most authors already have some idea of who their main character is going to be. I guess it probably depends on how you get your inspiration—if it is character driven, then you may already have an answer to “Who’s telling the story?” But if your inspiration comes from situations or themes, then the answer may be harder to determine. If you’re wanting to write an epic, you will probably have a very large cast of characters, which can also make deciding who to follow difficult.
So how to choose if you don’t already know?
K.M. Weiland has some very good questions you can ask yourself to help you decide, starting with, “whose story is this?” If you don’t know the answer to this, she has more questions, such as “who has the most at stake?”, “who will undergo the most dramatic arc?”, and “who has the best narrative voice?” She also suggest you consider what can be gained or lost by including different POVs.
When it comes to deciding between first person and third, a number of sources suggest going with the POV that you either enjoy most as a reader yourself or the one that is the easiest for you to write. I can see the value in this advice, but for myself I didn’t find it helpful. I like both first and third pretty equally and have found some scenes easier to write in first but others easier in third, so I was still at a loss.
Another piece of advice given by multiple sources is to pick a scene and write it from both POVs—I did this, but this didn’t give me any clarity either. Since I enjoyed both versions of the scene, I asked my mom and my best friend which one they each liked best. The results? My mom liked the first person version and my BFF liked the third person version! Hiyiyi! Back to down the rabbit hole.
If the personal preference advice isn’t helping then Weiland’s post, “How to Choose the Right POV,” is, again, a good place to start. Here is where her distinction between multiple POVs and limited POV comes in handy. Do you want to have one POV character or ten? If one, you’re looking at first person or close third. If you want two to four POV characters, you could probably get a way with the same choices. But once you decide to follow more than four characters it becomes increasingly difficult to follow them closely without confusing the reader (or so just about every source I encountered assured me). So distant third person is probably a more logical choice.
In “6 Tips to Choosing the Right Point of View” by Nancy Kress, she suggests asking yourself how closely you want the readers to relate to your POV characters. If you want them to closely identify with them, then first or third is a good choice. If you want to be able to tell things about the character that the character wouldn’t say about themselves, then you’ll want either close or distant third. If you want the narrator to comment on the proceedings, go with omniscient third.
Janice Hardy suggests, among other things, to look at what’s common for the genre you’re writing in. This is what I finally did to decide.
I’m writing a romance, but I couldn’t find anything that just told me what the conventions were (maybe I didn’t have the right search question), so I did my own research. I looked at lists of the best romance novels ever, the best romantic comedy novels, and the best romance novels for 2015-2020, then used the search inside feature on Amazon to find out which POV they used. I kept a tally. Of course this isn’t a definitive study, but I found that out of 106 books, 61 were in first person and 45 were in third. So I decided to write my story in third person—go figure!
But that’s not all! I still have to decide between past and present tense.
So will it be “I hate to see a warm cookie go to waste,” “I hated to see a warm cookie go to waste,” “She hates to see a warm cookie go to waste,” or “She hated to see warm a cookie go to waste”?
In Diane Callahan’s videos on first and third person POV, she discusses how some authors like the immediacy that using present tense brings. Though less common with third person than with first person, some authors feel that using present tense helps the reader to feel that they are experiencing the story with the characters.
It’s funny because until recently, I hadn’t read very much in first person present tense, and now I feel as if it’s everywhere. I’m getting used to it, but I find it can make the voice a little stiff and awkward if not done right. It also makes the narration more conspicuous. Even in first person, somehow I’m more aware of the narrator as a storyteller when present tense is used. These are obviously my own feelings and reactions to present tense, so while I probably won’t be using the present tense in my own writing anytime soon, I don’t mean to discourage anyone else from trying it.
POV—who knew it’d be so complicated?
K.M. Weiland, “How to Choose the Right POV (What I Learned Writing Storming),” https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/how-to-choose-the-right-pov/
Nancy Kress, “6 Tips to Choosing the Right Point of View,” https://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/6-tips-to-choosing-the-right-point-of-view
Janice Hardy, this link has links to twenty-one of Hardy’s articles on POV: http://blog.janicehardy.com/2008/02/point-of-view-pov.html
Diane Callahan, “All About Writing in Third Person,” https://youtu.be/fp5ITwpllEw
—. “All About Writing in First Person,” https://youtu.be/0tmkHYz13UY