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Author Topic: POV Question
Member # 2034

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When is it a good idea to use each type of POV and what would be a good example of each.

I know of a great example of 1st person and that's from my favorite author, Laurell K. Hamilton. (BTW, she's finished her latest 'Anita Blake' novel. It'll be released in January or Feburary. It has 1045 pages, by far the biggest novel of the series.)

She writes in 1st person and is very good at it. I've been toying with the idea of rerwiting one of my WIP's as 1st person.

I'm just curious as to when it's right to use which POV. And I know that either Survivor or Pantros will answer this, as well as Robyn_Hood and a few others.

I know that I can be a bit more open with the MC but much more tighter on the other characters, but that's the drawback of 1st person.

Just rambling now. Sorry.


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Member # 2267

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I use 1P when I want a particular voice that would be strange in an invisible narrator.

I also used it once so I could use diary entries.

I don't know what the right reasons are!

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Member # 3237

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First person, can make use of attitude, as LKH will show you, far better than the other PoVs. Easy to write, but lacks the immersion of third person limited. Also limits the story to just from the PoV of the narrator.

Mystery is a good genre for first person so the reader can unravel things as the Narrator does.

Second person, um, I'm sure there are some very good literary examples out there, but I can't think of anything other than the Choose Your Own Adventure books from when I was a kid.

Third Person No Omniscience: Think from the perspective of a movie or TV camera.

Third Person Limited Omniscience. This is the most immersive, it lets the reader bond with one character (at a time). There is a freedom to change the PoV Character between sections or chapters. Harder to write than the others. Has some limitations with attitude, but a good writer can usually work around them.

Third Person Full Omniscient. Almost no use for this in modern writing. It is difficult to read and follow. Suitible for non-fiction.

EDIT: There are successful modern writers who will use 3rd person full omniscient. I know I've seen it in Tom Clancy Novels.

[This message has been edited by pantros (edited November 07, 2005).]

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Member # 2311

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I only do what feels right for my story's voice. Only you can answer this question for your story, I think.

Ask yourself some stuff about your characters and the story.

Will it limit the plot to only see from one person's eyes (ie. how many times is the mc going to have to "overhear" something or "happen upon" someone doing something to move the story forward without gaps)? Is your main character really interesting enough to carry the whole ms on his/her shoulders? First person is very limiting, and I think more difficult to pull off smoothly. I really like reading fist person POV, but I'm not very comfortable writing in it for more then a short story.

Third person, deep penitration, in my opinion is just as close to the main character as first, but you can span out and switch POV every now and then--getting a broader scope of the story.

Really Tolkin is the only one I've read that could pull off OMNI without a hitch. Most of the time it just sounds and feels like the writer hasn't picked his/her POV character and is just skipping around at random.

MY 2 cents...

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Member # 2109

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I was getting confused by the POVs as well, so did a bit of research and made myself a cheat sheet. You're welcome to use it if you'd like: http://www.munsil.net/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?p=22494 It is in .pdf file format.

It's number 6 in the list of Writer's Aids.

By the way, everyone has access to and is welcome to use the writer's resources at Liberty Hall. Just click on the following link:

[This message has been edited by mikemunsil (edited November 07, 2005).]

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Member # 2083

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I started giving some feedback on this and clicked on the wrong link and lost it all. Now I don't entirely feel like writing it out again -- for now.

I will have another go at it a little later.

My short answer is to say ditto to pixydust:

I only do what feels right for my story's voice. Only you can answer this question for your story, I think.

Long answer will appear when I have the energy to think it through again.

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Member # 2083

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Now for the long answer.

When should you use a particular POV?

Like I said above, I second pixydust. I’m very “seat of my pants” when it comes to choosing POV. Whatever feels right when I finally start writing, is what I tend to go with.

Rule #1: Do not mix POV.

As I mentioned in the other POV thread, do not mix different types of POV. This rule should almost never be broken (I have some ideas on how to do it effectively, something akin to the movie “Momento”, but I have more skills to develop before I attempt it). That said, change viewpoints as often as you need to or want to. You can do this from ANY POV except second (but second person POV is a special case). First person, third person limited, omni, light penetration, deep penetration...whatever!

You can change viewpoint characters (VC) to suit your needs. Every chapter a different VC, hand it off from one to the next...Whatever fits the needs of your scene.

Now, if you find you’re changing VC every paragraph or so, you may need to re-evaluate how effective your prose is.

This session from Uncle Orson’s writing class is about beginnings, but it also touches on viewpoint to a degree: http://www.hatrack.com/writingclass/lessons/1998-10-29.shtml.

Consider the following section from “Ender’s Shadow”

But she was going to try his idea. It was audacious, but it was the first plan she'd ever heard that offered any hope of making things better, of changing something about their miserable life without her having to put on girl clothes and going into business. And since it was his idea, the crew had to see that she treated him fair. That's how you stay crew boss, they always see you be fair.

So she kept holding her hand out while he ate all six peanuts, one at a time.

After he swallowed the last one, he looked her in the eye for another long moment, and then said, "You better be ready to kill him."

"I want him alive."

"Be ready to kill him if he ain't the right one." With that, Bean toddled back across the street to his garbage can and laborious climbed on top again to watch.

"You ain't no four years old!" Sergeant shouted over to him.

"I'm four but I'm just little," he shouted back.

Poke hushed Sergeant up and they went looking for stones and bricks and cinderblocks. If they were going to have a little war, they'd best be armed.


Bean didn't like his new name, but it was a name, and having a name meant that somebody else knew who he was and needed something to call him, and that was a good thing. So were the six peanuts. His mouth hardly knew what to do with them. Chewing hurt.

Card starts out from Poke’s viewpoint (his reasons are explained in the link I provided), but then he passes it off to Bean. This is one example of how to pass viewpoint from one character to the next in THIRD PERSON. This approach will not work as well in first person. When passing viewpoint from one character to the next in first person, it is better to dedicate an entire chapter to each.

Why? It makes it easier for you to lead and for your reader to follow, imo.

I read an RPG Novel from White Wolf. It used first person and a different viewpoint character for each chapter – it worked. You got to see inside the head of each character and experience the world from each viewpoint. The author also used it as a method for moving through the timeline. At the end of each chapter, we saw things from a different character but we also moved ahead in time a week, a month, whatever. We moved to the next step in the story and saw from the viewpoint of the character most affected/involved in the events. This part of the story worked well, imo. What didn’t work was the fact that the author wrote the damn thing in present tense!

Which brings me to rule #2.

Rule #2: When using PRESENT TENSE, PLEEEEEEEEASE DO NOT USE FIRST PERSON!!!!!!!! (this one is more personal preference, but I’m not the only one who feels this way).

First and present almost always feels forced and unnatural – for me, reading it has the same effect on my nerves as fingernails on a chalkboard. It seems to be a popular trend these days, but to me, it is just wrong! (There have been one or two occasions when I have been able to read first and present prose with the chalkboard effect, but it doesn’t happen often).


I like third person. It is one of the most versatile POVs. You are not as limited as to when you can make a viewpoint change, and it allows you to fill in information around your characters. In first person, you have one person telling the story. I find this makes it more challenging to show what is happening rather than just tell it. I find third person forces you to show more.

Be careful about mixing third limited and third omni. Some readers will see it as a distinctive POV shift; they assume you are mixing third and first.

Usually you will only have one main viewpoint character, but sometimes you need the freedom to go into another one. IMO, third person allows for that the easiest.

But in the end, you have to decide based on your characters, plot needs and voice.

Sorry that is long, I just started typing and that's what came out.

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Member # 2983

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I have a set of books in my collection by Cate Tiernan and I like what she does with the POV.

The series is a teen one centering around identical twins seperated at birth. The twins meet in the first book. What she does is rotates which twin speaks each chapter and the title of each chaper has the name of the Twin at the top, in addition, when she has to involve the grown ups she uses third person and the chapers have just straight chapter titles.

My problem with POV is that I tend to go from present tense to past, like a ping pong ball and lots of times I won't know I am doing it, or I may need a word and not be sure what the proper past tense is for it.

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Member # 2883

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I think the rule to go with whatever works for you, is best.

I may not see this the same as other writers, but for me first-person often creates a distance from the POV character, in the sense that the author has trouble writing things like, "What he was doing" if the POV character is to find out later. I think it seems artificial, and forces the author to instead use, "I wondered what he was doing." It seems more distant to me.

In third person, "What was he doing?" works better. I think it is what many call Deep Penetration, but that term always bothered me.

On the other hand, in first person, you can use your character's voice my clearly. I think it helps establish the character better.

So, it seems to be a tradeoff, of sorts. At least, that is how I always see it. If I use first-person, I tend to do so when I think my character's voice is going to really impact the story. Otherwise, I really prefer the impact and intimacy you can get from third person limited (deep).

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Member # 2034

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Thanks Mike.

I think that'll help me out alot. But now, I have to think about which one I'm going to use. Looking like 3rd person omni, since I want to get into the head of each of the characters I have.

Of course, you're going to have to wait until I rewrite the danged thing.

But thanks for the link, I hope you don't mind that I put it in my documents as a reference tool.

Thanks again Mike.


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Member # 2109

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That's what it's for, Bryan. You're welcome to it. Everyone else, also.
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