Choosing your point of view can be one of the most important parts in writing your story, but don’t let it stress you out. Unless you already have a specific idea of what point of view will work best and why, I say just sit down and see which point of view flows out of you first. Later you can see where your story is going and ask two basic questions to help you decide which point of view might serve you better:
1. What’s the scope of my story?
2. Can something special be said about this story from a particular type of character’s point of view?
When I say scope, I’m not talking about whether your story takes place in a small town or is about a global alien takeover. If it’s in a small town, your story could focus on what’s happening to the town as a whole, which would be a larger scope. If aliens are enslaving the human race, your story might focus on a particular person or family and what happens to them and only them, making it smaller in scope.
Larger scope stories may benefit from more omniscient points of views, where the reader can see the story unfold from multiple perspectives and settings. For example, I recently started a novel taking place in a small town from the perspective of a young boy. Soon, however, the things happening in the town were affecting a lot of people and I was finding it boring and a little weird to have to constantly update my main character through word of mouth about what was happening with the different families. I’m going to rewrite the story (for other reasons concerning plot, but point of view is one main thing I’m going to change), and make the goal more learning about the town as a whole, the relationships people have, and how the conflict is affecting them. The young boy will still be a central part, but I won’t be as limited in filtering a whole town’s troubles through his perspective.
On the flip side, take Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. In my opinion, the story would have still been awesome if it had been in third person. The concept of children being forced to fight to the death every year as a way of suppression was already interesting, and one could argue that seeing all of the different battles take place would have been cool. But the author chose to limit our perception through Katniss Everdeen. It was her story, and it was framed in a very specific way. Katniss was from a district which notoriously lost, she had a (seemingly) sucky mentor, and she came to care about another person she would have to eventually kill (as per the rules). While learning about the culture in which Katniss exists, we are also constantly apart of her mental struggles. Also, seeing the faces of those who died every night projected into the sky let’s us wonder right along with Katniss. There’s a lot at stake in the story’s world, but at the end of the day the scope is small, because it’s really about how the games affect Katniss and how she deals with it.
So you have to ask yourself: is there a unique perspective that would make the story more interesting? This can be showing grown-up problems through the eyes of a child like in To Kill A Mockingbird, or discussing the problems of Jim Crow laws from different races like in The Help, or solving a mystery with a detective detective (how fun would it be if the narrator let you in on all the behind the scenes stuff?). Or if there’s some big unknown that the main character doesn’t realize until the end. I know it’s not a book, but take The Sixth Sense for example. That movie would have been totally different if we got a peek into other peoples’ head throughout.
And it’s okay if the answer to the aforementioned question is no. Third person is my personal favorite point of view to write in because of the flexibility it allows with the story you want to tell. I don’t advise trying to force a ‘special’ point of view if you don’t have a specific reason for it. An alien invasion through the eyes of a child might not be as fun if you want to go into the scientific implications behind it all.
I don’t think that there is a right or wrong in picking point of view based on the type of plot you have. The important part is utilizing the point of view you DO pick to the fullest to enrich your story, and recognizing if your story is turning into something where a different kind of point of view makes sense. If you’re going the first person route, make sure your main character has a unique, interesting outlook or situation, otherwise the reader will be left wondering what’s happening on the other side of town. If you go third person, switch focuses with purpose and be careful that the information you give isn’t too revealing. You still want the suspense!
So what are your thoughts on point of view? Which is your favorite to you?