Something I’ve found myself wrestling with a lot lately is which perspective to write from. I’m not just talking about when I start new pieces either, but some of my long-standing WIPs have fallen into this speculation as well. I find myself wondering, often to the point of not writing, whether or not a story would be more impactful from a different POV, whether information shared would be more or less obvious, whether readers will connect with characters well enough with the current setup.
I never used to have these kinds of questions. I used to make a choice and run with it, and while I might second guess plot points, character development and sentence structure… Some parts of my writing simply were. I choose to look at this change as a positive though – I know more, therefore I contemplate more, in an effort to make more informed choices, and therefore create more masterful pieces.
In response to this, I’ve developed steps to help identify which perspective is best for any given story. But first, as a refresher, here are your POV options:
- 1st person perspective – “I told him he couldn’t go that way.”
- 2nd person perspective – “You decided the course of nations.”
- 3rd person perspective – “She was headed for trouble.”
- 3rd person limited – POV is limited to a single character. This POV can be further broken down by narration directly from within the character or narration from outside the character.
- 3rd person multiple – narration follows multiple characters in the third person with changing of character often identified with chapter or page breaks
- 3rd person omniscient – narrator knows everything in third person, where narration isn’t limited to a single character, literally an omni-point of view
And here are the questions I’ve been asking myself to narrow down my formatting options:
- What level of knowledge do I want readers to have? Do I want them to stay with one or two characters, or will it be beneficial at some point for them to have access to information outside of those individuals?
- What level of emotion do I want readers to have? Further, how connected do I want readers to be to a single character’s emotions, and what kinds of feelings do I want the overall story to inspire?
- How exposed are my characters going to be? Should readers have unrestricted access to even the ugliest inner workings?
- How do I want the story to feel overall? Do I want someone’s adventure to be told, or does the story encompass more? Each POV lends itself to different kinds of stories.
I ask myself these four questions while utilizing scene determination – that is, choosing an important scene and writing it in all five voices. This is usually a fairly quick process, literally just running through to change nouns, pronouns and sometimes sentence structures. None of this exercise needs to be grammatically corrected. You just need to actually go through each option, envisioning what the rest of the story could look like.
Ultimately though, once you’ve played with all of this you need to return to writing. And don’t fret if you end up changing your mind part way through. If you’ve done your prep work well, all of the material is already there to switch to a different person.