by: Joelle Charbonneau
Growing up, I wasn’t a writer. Oh, I could write (my mother will tell you I wrote really well, because that is what Moms do) – but my dream was to sing and dance on stage. It never entered my mind that I could or should write a book. Which in retrospect is funny because I read all the time. I’m not joking about the all the time part. My friends from my grade and high school years can tell you I always had a non-school book at the ready. Next to singing, reading was my favorite hobby. Still is.
As a reader, I never really thought much about point of view. Sure, I understood the concept, but as I read I never thought about the point of view the story was told in. The story was written in the point of view it was supposed to be written in. End of discussion.
Or is it?
Point of view can make or break a great story idea. Should you use first person or third person? (I’m told there are novels out there in second person, but I can’t say that I’ve read any that didn’t involve choosing my own adventure. Have you?) The point of view a story is told in can change everything. I started writing in third person because a great number of books I read are in third. After several manuscripts in third, I switched to first. This was not a conscious decision either. It just kind of happened. I opened up my computer, started typing and realized – huh, this is in first person. Cool!
Both points of view have pros and cons. In third, the reader gets to see the story unfold from multiple points of view. The writer can also give the reader information that the main character is not privy to. This automatically ups the tension and the pacing. Awesome, right?
But like all good things, third person has drawbacks – at least for me. Third person sometimes gives my story too many options. With so many character points of view to choose from, it’s easy to lose track of whose story I’m telling. Also, the word choice in third person can make the point of view almost omniscient which distances the reader.
In first person, I get to tell the story from only one point of view. That eliminates pesky decisions about changing into another character’s point of view! It also allows me to look deeper into a character’s head. Yay!
Alas, this point of view also has pitfalls. Because first person is telling the story through one character’s eyes, the reader receives only the information that the main character has. Yep – challenging. On top of that, it’s easy to fall into the trap of starting ever sentence with the word “I” which makes a character feel self-centered. Sigh!
So what is a writer to do?
I decided to write in both. No, not in the same story. I admit that while there are books that mesh first person and third person in between the same covers, I am not one who can perform such a feat. However, I have learned really important things about my own writing from practicing with both sets of points of view. First person helps me go deep into a character’s head. Third person shows me every character needs to have their own personality and way of looking at a scene. I try to keep the lessons of both in my head no matter what POV my story is in.
What do you think? Do you favor one point of view over another when you write? If so, do you stick with one point of view while writing or do you sometimes switch just to see where the story will go or if it can be told better?