Choosing the point of view for your story can be extremely difficult, or so easy you don’t even remember making the choice. The point of view can end up choosing you just as much as you can choose it: you just have to go with what feels right. For some stories (and you might not even realize this the first time around), more thought is required to do your narrative justice.
There are certain benefits to the different levels of POV. First person is intimate and allows not only the reader to connect to the character but also the author. Writing is a learning process. With each new story or novel, you’re learning more and more about the characters as you go along, no matter how much you planned beforehand. Being in third person is like having a barrier between you and your protagonist, even is that barrier is super thin.
But being that close isn’t always the best. If you’re a self-proclaimed 1st-person addict, consider this. I attended a reading and during the question and answer, the author stated that she writes all of her stories/novels in first person and then completely rewrites them in third. Interesting, huh? I propose an exercise. Write a short short story in first person, and then rewrite it in third. You might find the unintended changes in direction intriguing.
The choice of first person vs third person isn’t the only dilemma, however. No matter which way you choose, someone is most likely going to be the focus. The question is, does that focus stay on them for the whole story? Or can you switch from character to character? Is it even within the rules to switch? And writing has rules?
Not really, but there are always thoughts.
So why would you want to change up point of views? Your story could be big enough in scope that it would feel limited to have only one perspective. Take, for example, an apocalypse novel. While this can work well with sticking with one character if you are trying to tell an intimate tale of one man (or woman’s) survival, the audience may feel a little robbed if you don’t branch out the perspective a little. If the conflict is global, it would be near impossible for the main character to experience all the significant downfalls in the world.
It can also be effective in emphasizing a certain scene. For example, if your story is about a couple of bank robbers, switching to the perspective of an unsuspecting bank clerk leading right up to the robbery can create delightful suspense. You can also have fun tackling your main characters from a whole new frame.
I’m reading a Dean Koontz novel now, By the Light of the Moon, and the perspective changes between two characters every chapter, at times more often than that. Both characters so far are equally important and if Koontz had decided to give all the perspective to just one or the other, I would have immediately considered the ‘extra’ to be just that…an ‘extra.’ An expendable additional character, supporting cast at best. Now, I am invested in both of their well-beings because I know to lose one would mean drastic changes in the book.
If you’ve been writing for a while and receiving feedback from peers and non-peers a like, you’ve probably heard this: if the reader is confused,then you haven’t done a good job of translating your vision on to paper. If the reader didn’t find the switching of perspectives jarring or weird at all, then you’ve done it effectively. Oh, if things were just as easy as they sound.
One important thing to remember when experimenting is that rules have their place. For example, I was telling a friend today that although he is good at switching perspectives (from paragraphs to paragraphs, no less), he must be careful when trying to find an agent/publisher for his book. While he may know that the switching of perspectives has a deep purpose and works beautifully throughout, agents might stop reading after seeing the first POV skipping. They could think of it as a mistake on your part. Given how many queries they must go though a given agent’s office per day, anything that hints towards amatuerish skills (whether reality or not), will end a manuscript in the waste basket.
So this really was a ramble. I write about stuff that is relevant to me, and my writing group just had this conversation last night. I’d love to hear your thoughts as well, dear reader.