Friday, July 15, 2011

Reasons for different POV choices

In my last post I asked if anyone had any questions about writing, publishing, or social media. I got a lot of wonderful responses and fantastic questions. Today I will address Bethany Elizabeth’s question: Could it work to have two different POVs in a story, one third person, one first person?

The simple answer is yes. I have read a book with this kind of double POV with one first person and the other third. I wish I could remember the name of the book, but I do remember it worked well. However, having said that, it’s not a common method. For this reason you may find you’ll have to justify your decision to editors if you decide to go this way.

There are no absolute rules about how to write point of views (POV). Story will often determine how it’s presented. It’s important to ask yourself who is telling the story and why.

First Person:
Example: I am hot. So hot, I sizzle.
First person POV is common in Young Adult fiction because of its sense of immediacy. It gives the readers a chance to get into the head of the main character and experience the story through their eyes. First person can also be limiting because the writer is trapped in the single point of view. Some writers get around that, such as Maggie Stiefvater who wrote SHIVER with two different first person POV’s. She separated the POVs via chapters labelled with the character’s name to remove the confusion.

Second person:
Example: You think you are hot. You strut down the street.
This method is not seen often. It can give the reader a feel of being told what to do. The only time I’ve seen this method is in children’s picture books and in choose your own adventure MG books.

Third person:
Example: Bob thinks he is hot. Hotter than Bertha.
Third person is less personal and can be omniscient or, in some cases, it can be written as if it were first person. Because of this flexibility it’s a lot easier to write in third person. Epics will almost always be written in third person since that kind of story is often bigger than a single character’s experience.

Whatever method you decide to use, just make sure you avoid head jumping where the POV changes mid-paragraph or even mid-sentence. It’s best to separate POVs by sections or chapters.

What POV do you most enjoy writing in? Is there a POV you don’t like reading? Do you have any pet hates regarding POV?


  1. I read a book that was brillian and it was done by 3 points of view. I, You, Him. "The Death of Artemio Cruz" by Carlos Fuentes. I read it in Spanish, but it is translated, and of course he is a MAJOR award winning author that I studied in college. It's worth reading!
    S.B. Niccum
    Author Website

  2. I definitely prefer third person. I like my characters, but I don't want to BE them! Writing in first person would be too challenging.

  3. I prefer third person too, first person makes thing complicated for us translators :)

  4. I prefer first person. Unlike Alex, I do want to be my characters. For a while, at least.

  5. I write in both first person and third person. Some stories just feel more 'right' in one POV rather than the other. I wish I knew why!

  6. I'm like Sarah - I totally think it depends on the story I'm telling. Great thoughts ^_^

  7. I've come across a couple of YA books written in Second Person, actually--Blink and Caution by Tim Wynne-Jones and You by Charles Benoit. I can't say it's my favorite POV (third and first are tied) but it's interesting to see how authors do it.

  8. I read a story with two POVs and didn't care for the switch, disagreed with it, but acclimated. If the writing is there, it can certainly be pulled off. The important thing, I believe, is to have a solid reason for the choice.

  9. I tend to just write in either first or third person. I'm not confident to try in the second person! I like books with long long chapters if using different POVs. I like to be able to get under the skin of the character and having short sharp chaps per character would not allow me to wallow in their psyche for long enough to appreciate them. I'm racking my brains for book title samples but it's bed time for me! LOL!

    Great post!! Take care

  10. Great post, as usual, Lynda. I personally love first. I adore that closeness, that feeling you've actually become the character, seeing and acting through his/her eyes.

  11. I wroted my first story in first person. I ended up rewriting the whole thing in third person and I found it flowed far better.
    Now I don't think I'd try writing in anything but third.

  12. I am struggling to learn to write better in 2nd person, but, I know that I can conquer this. I appreciate your post on the matter.

  13. This is weird. But I like writing my short stories in 3rd and my novels in 1st. Don't ask me why. It makes no sense.

  14. Thanks for the post! I always get nervous if I write in a way I haven't read much before. I mean, creativity is good when it's well done, I just like to make sure I'm not writing in an insane way. :)

  15. I struggle with this so much. So I am thrilled to read this post. I like to write first but love to read all.

  16. Decades ago I read a short story, very short story, by John Cheever that was in second person. It worked, but I wouldn't want to read anything longer than a short piece with that viewpoint. I prefer third for fiction, and past tense. First, of course, for memoir: except I'm thinking of doing some scenes in third person but I'm not in them. Anything can work if you can make it work!! This will be for my next memoir, and I'm going to just see what happens. I had been thinking about this before I read your post. I call this ironic!
    Ann Best, Memoir Author

  17. I'm using two main POV's in my WIP.

    A) I'm a glutton for punishment.
    B) It DOES feel right, for reasons I can't quite fathom. This is probably dangerous. Remains to be seen.

    My protagonist is in first person, but his "guide" (in using the hero's journey as a model) is told in third-person. Truth be known, there are three POV's, as the antagonist owns a couple of chapters.

    My God, I've lost my mind. Somebody help me.

  18. I think Faulkner's 'As I Lay Dying' is written in first person with chapters alternating perspective - it's pure genius and is one of my favorite novels.

    Another favorite of mine, which maybe isn't exactly fiction but is written very artfully is 'A Small Place' by Jamaica Kincaid - uses all three POVs.

    Since I love these, I can't wait to read Bryce's novel. :)

  19. I write in the 1st person POV and I prefer reading it, too, and I read mostly adult thrillers. Greg Iles does 1st person well in this genre, so does Michael Connelly.

    I recently read the YA novel, Stolen by Lucy Christopher, which was the written in the second person. First time for me and I found it interesting, but I don't think I would like to read that very often.

    Most stories seem to be written in 3rd person, which is okay, but, to me, it feels so distant and disconnected. Even in close third, it just doesn't have the immediacy of 1st person.

  20. I prefer to read and write in 3rd. It's tough to do 1st well & I've put down several books because it's not done well. If it is done well, it's awesome - Hunger Games anyone? :)

  21. I usually write in 1st person -- for me, it's much easier to connect with my characters. If a book's in 3rd person, I prefer for it to be limited, really personalized. Scott Westerfeld typically does a great job with that.

    James Patterson's Maximum Ride series uses the alternating 1st-to-3rd POV, and I think it works really well.

  22. "It’s important to ask yourself who is telling the story and why."

    100% agree! I think answering the "WHY" part is essential in making decisions on POV. Why does the story need to be told from a particular POV? Does it add to development of story or does it just make readers dizzy?

    Great post :D

  23. I wrote my last ms in first person, and I had so much fun with it! Not that I don't love third person or anything. :)

    Head jumping is my hugest POV pet peeve! Even if it is done purposefully / well, it takes me out of the story every time.

  24. S B Niccum, unusual POV can really work when the author has the skill.

    Alex, hehe and you do it well.

    Dezzy, I didn't realise first person was difficult for translators.

    Heidi, gotta love that escapism.

    Sarah, totally agree.

    Loralie, yep, definitely depends on the story.

    Golden, I don't think I could handle reading a whole book in 2nd person, but I guess like anything if the story is good enough then I'd adjust.

    Suze, yep, I have too. The switch in POVs can be jolting.

  25. Old Kitty, yep, totally agree. You said it well.

    Alyssia, I think that's exactly why first person is so popular.

    Aldrea, haha I did the same. lol.

    Jackie, hope it helps

    Angela, I think we get comfortable doing certain things certain ways :) Nothing wrong with that.

    Bethany, it certainly takes a brave writer to move away from what's considered the norm. It's a risk, but often it's worth it.

  26. Regina, so glad it helped :)

    Ann, exactly right: anything can work.

    Bryce, hahaha love your first reason. Sounds interesting.

    Tonja, 'A Small Place' sounds interesting.

    Nancy, I agree with you on the 2nd person POV. And that's exactly the problem with 3rd person.

    Jemi, I won't put a book down for 1st person, but I will for present tense. Hunger Games was the exception... and Divergent... and lol nvm.

    Jenna, I prefer the same limited version of 3rd person too.

    Sam, yes, exactly.

    Peggy, I will agree that writing in first person is a whole lot of fun.

  27. There are quite a few writers that use 1st and 3rd in the same book, in alternating chapters. Usually thriller writers where 1st is for the MC and 3rd is used to see what the bad guys are up to. Harlen Coben uses it a lot (e.g. Tell No One) and so does James Patterson (Alex Cross novels). It is a little odd at first just because of the lack of familiarity but you do get used to it.

  28. I've written two in single pov first person (both were YA), one in first person with alternating pov (ala Shiver, and that ms was YA as well), one in third person with alternating pov (that was an adult romance). You're right, which perspective you choose just depends on the story and how it needs to be told.

  29. I like deep third and first. And I've read some books with both in it, but I don't think it's easy!

  30. I usually write in the first person. I have been working on a YA Novel that involves more than one character. Each chapter is told in that Character's POV at the beginning of the story, mergin in the middle with one character finishing off the story. So far it seems to be working. I like the flow and how the story is going. It is taking a lot of work to keep in each character's voice, but I think I am actually pulling it off.

  31. I like both POVs as they serve different purposes. Doorways is written in 3rd, due to the fact that I have multiple main characters.

    Pet hates: Head hopping, using reflections to point out how 1st person POV character looks, "I frown angrily..." and... Shifting POV from 1st to 3rd for no apparent reason.

    Yes, the last can be done well, but if it isn't, it's terrible. There isn't a middle point.

  32. Seriously excellent entry to study on.! I am actually intrigued with this post. Searching forward for more information.

  33. I enjoy 1st person. I think I've read books with multiple POV's though.

  34. great rule of thumb! I find first person more natural to write in for me, but I've done some third. You're right, though. Don't switch midstream! :D <3

  35. I prefer the third person POV, so far I have never tried a first person POV in a full length book.

    I have read two books that move from the first person POV to third person POV, and they were done well, without confusion.

  36. I'm reading Left Neglected by Lisa Genova - possibly the best written 1st person present tense I've read.
    Usually 1st person gets monotonous.
    I prefer to read third person.

  37. Great Q & A. I would think it would be hard to keep going back and forth between the different POVs, but there are people who can do it successfully.

  38. I don't mind reading 1st person, but I haven't ever written it; I like third person. Maybe someday I'll experiment, but I prefer third. :) Have a great weekend, Lyn!

  39. I find first person to be very easy to write in, but difficult to bring myself to write in because I think that readers will think I am actually writing about myself.

    I usually write in third person from one point of view. I probably should try a more omniscient approach since I do sometimes have a tendency to slip into omniscience and more can be told from that POV.

    I don't like it if there is too much POV jumping in a story.

    Tossing It Out

  40. As a reader I like first person or third person, but as a writer I'm not yet sure. I used to love writing in first person but I think I write better in third.

    Personally, I dislike novels that mix first and third. I'm okay with multiple viewpoints i.e. several first person or third person. But I don't think mixing first and third works.

    Just my opinion, though!

    Ellie Garratt

  41. I have written stories with multiple POVs. It works well with mysteries (first person for the killer or victim, third for the rest of the story).
    Great post. Great question.

  42. Mooderino, thanks for the examples.

    Sarah, looks like you've tried a frew different styles which is great.

    Laura, definitely not easy.

    Maeve, sounds impressive. Capturing the voice would be difficult.

    Misha, so, so true.

    Emily, 1st person seems to be the popular one.

    LTM, exactly

  43. Rachna, oo, maybe you should give it a go? :)

    Michelle, that sounds like high praise.

    Susanne, it is exceptionally difficult to pull off well.

    Carol, oh, yes, you should experiment some time...and you may not get a choice if a publishing house wants you to change it ;)

    Lee, ha! Yes, I can relate to this. A single 3rd person POV works well.

    Ellie, it's good to know your strengths.

    Clarissa, yes, I can see it working exceptionally well for mysteries (I need to read more mysteries).

  44. I write YA and love first person pov (especially in present tense). But I'm not fussy. I won't NOT read a book because it's in third person. I actually like books that are written in first and third. I'm thinking of doing the same in an upcoming project.

    Great post, Lynda. :D


I'd love to hear your opinion. Thanks for leaving a comment.