Obstacle #2: P.O.V, 1st vs 3rd person

Second post of my Obstacle Series. I think I’ll post them on Fridays, that way I have a weekend and the week to mull over the topic… IF I can find more topics. (Hint hint: give me suggestions!)

Today’s topic is point of view! Whether you’re writing for your high school/college English class with a carte blanche topic or writing a story you want to submit to a contest, you probably wonder sometimes about which P.O.V to use. (Oh you don’t? Great, see you next week!)

Let’s look at our most common options: 1st and 3rd person. Unless you’re writing a “choose your own adventure” book (and/or fanfiction), I don’t think you use 2nd person P.O.V.

Please note I made ‘protagonist’ plural for simplicity’s sake (no “his/her” thing, it gets old).

1st person P.O.V

You write from the protagonists’ P.O.V’s (most commonly, from what I’ve read anyway), and unless your protagonists refer to themselves in 3rd person, you’ll be writing with “I.”

Everything is from the protagonists’ perspectives, so you don’t need to – and it’d be rather hard to – describe them (physically, personality, etc) in great lengths. Their actions, thoughts and observations do it for you. You can, and probably will anyway, use other characters/rumors/remarks/etc to give your readers a broad overview of their appearance, social status and the likes. (The Hunger Games come to mind.)

It can also be easier to relate to the protagonists and really get familiar and comfortable with them – unless you’re writing characters readers aren’t meant to relate to at all, then by all means.

Every P.O.V has a downside, and of course there are many styles including different narration (omniscient vs limited), but bias comes to mind. After all, everything is from your protagonist’s eyes, so usually readers will side with her/him. (Or is that just me? I feel like half of my friends are more– opinionated when they read than I am, but to each his/her their own.) Then there’s the downside of not being able to describe what ‘s happening at the same time in another town, etc, without breaking away from 1st person P.O.V because it’s limited to your protagonists’ here-and-now (or in the past) moments.

There are ways to get around it, of course, especially the more you write and read. (I should really be taking my own advice half the time.) I don’t know if for some writers it requires cunning or it’s just normal. Hmm.

3rd person P.O.V

You thought of a character, and you want to follow them in their adventure(s). Great. You’ll be using s/he and their names. (Harry Potter comes to mind.)

Unlike 1st person P.O.V, you’ll probably end up describing them to some degree, either as an introduction or still via other characters. Their actions and thoughts will still provide glimpses into their minds, but since you (or someone) are narrating, you can offer suggestions or raise questions the protagonists can’t or don’t see at the moment. (See note.)

Other events (aka plot) might be mentioned in a brief interlude or description in relation to X, but it can be woven in, sometimes so subtly readers might miss it if they blink. Readers can pick which character they like most without the protagonists’ P.O.V’s biases getting in the way.

So, 3rd person P.O.V’s downside? For some, it can be harder to relate to the protagonists without reading “I” or “me,” and it might not feel as if the readers were in the story themselves. (But that might also depend on how good the writer is?) Depending on preferences, there might be too much or too little narrator ‘interference.’

Note: There’s still the question of omniscient vs limited, but either I’ll get to that in a later post or completely bypass it.

It’s a hard choice to make as it affects the entirety of your story! Both of my posted short stories are 1st person P.O.V for some reason. If you’ve read them, do you think they would’ve read the same had they been in 3rd person?

  • Which P.O.V do you prefer?
  • Which P.O.V is your default when you write?
  • Why?
Work in Progress Feedback

What do you think about alternating P.O.V chapter? It’s not uncommon for chapters to be narrated (either 1st or 3rd) by alternating character, so how would you feel if one chapter was 1st person and the next 3rd person? I’m debating this option for my short story, but I haven’t really read it… If you have suggestions, please let me know!

That’s all from me this week, I might’ve inspired myself for next week’s topic. Stay tuned!

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