5 Tips on Choosing Point of View

The Ghost HostThis is a guest post by DelSheree Gladden, author of “The Ghost Host“.

DelSheree Gladden was one of those shy, quiet kids who spent more time reading than talking. Literally. She didn’t speak a single word for the first three months of preschool, but she had already taught herself to read. Her fascination with reading led to many hours spent in the library and bookstores, and eventually to writing.

Native to New Mexico, DelSheree and her husband spent several years in Colorado for college and work before moving back home to be near family again. Their two children love having their cousins close by. When not writing, you can find DelSheree reading, painting, sewing working as a dental hygienist. DelSheree has several bestselling young adult series, and has expanded her writing interests to include romance, mystery, and new adult.

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DelSheree Gladden

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Point of view isn’t a simple decision between first and third person. What point of view and whose point of view a story is told from impacts how the story is told and whether or not the point of the story will be convincingly communicated to the reader. There are several keys aspects to consider when choosing point of view.

Person

This is mainly a discussion between first and third person, as second person isn’t commonly used in fiction, but the differences between the two are important. First person implies a closeness to the experience while third gives a certain amount of distance. Many current young adult and romantic comedies are written in first person, because readers want to be directly involved in the stories to experience the full emotion and impact. Third person is more common in literary, commercial, and adult fiction because many readers who enjoy these genres want to view someone else’s life rather than experience it themselves. Of course, there are many instances where you’ll see the opposite, but consider how close your reader wants to be to the story when considering point of view.

Topic

Some topics are more suited to first person than third. Difficult topics may be too emotionally impactful to experience from a first person perspective, and the distance of third person may be more appropriate. First person may also be the only way to fully communicate the emotional damage or enlightenment of a story. The choice may depend more on the writer than the reader, as well. If a subject is too difficult to write about in first person, third person can give the author room to explore troubling subjects more objectively.

Character’s Sex

Men and women experience the world differently. They experience and react to situations in unique ways. They will recount a story from their viewpoint, which may not match how someone else saw it. Without stereotyping all men or women, differences do exist and should be taken into account. Can the story you want to tell be fully communicated through the perspective of a man or woman? Do you need to alternate between the two in order to describe the full story? Consider the main aspects of your story and whether a male or female perspective would best capture what you are trying to communicate with your readers.

Age

Just as different sexes see the world differently, so do different age groups. Young children have a more innocent view of the world, so they may not understand complex social concepts, but they may be the perfect choice to show a burgeoning awakening of a social problem as they experience it and attempt to understand it. Teenagers tend to see the world as it relates to them, and don’t always see broader issues. Because of this, young adult and new adult fiction often deals with aspects of growing up and the pains that come along with moving from childhood to the wider, more complicated world. Adults offer a broader view of the world due to life experiences, which can make them a good age group to deal with wider social or cultural issues. These are generalizations, but it is important to consider how age impacts the way the character experiences the events of the story and whether it is best to tell is as it happened, or as a reflection on past events.

Economics/Class

How a person moves through the world changes the way they see it. Privilege, money, and status affect the opportunities a person is afforded, how much they struggle with day-to-day living, what they view as realistic, how much time or energy they have to pursue more than simple survival, and much more. Which viewpoint will best highlight the conflict of the story? Which point of view will help the reader understand the complex issues you’re trying to share with them? The struggling single mother of two presents opportunities to highlight the difficulty in getting ahead in a work culture that demands dedication to the company over family, but is the message clearer when someone else sees that struggle and is forced to decide between acting or perpetuating the situation? The answer may be different for every story.

Don’t simply fall into genre conventions when choosing who will tell your story. “To Kill a Mocking Bird” wouldn’t have been the same story if told from the lawyer Atticus’s point of view rather than his young daughter Scout’s innocent point of view. “Peter Pan” likely wouldn’t have been a likable character at all if the book had been written from his childish and petty point of view. Just as every witness to a crime has a different version of what happened, different characters will tell a story differently. Our job as authors is to find the version that will connect with readers the most.