Or why POV can be tricky
Written back in August 2015 for a group on deviantArt
When I get the time, I love reading through comments on written pieces/journals. One such comment was asking about which point of view to use when there is more than one protagonist in your story. My immediate thought was third person. But which type of third person perspective? And how different is third person to first person when writing a novel? Curiosity got the better of me, so I created this:
Help! I’ve got more than one protagonist! How do I write from all my characters’ points of view?
Let’s get started!
What is point of view?
Point of view [POV] is the angle from which a narrative is being told, and how the author conveys to the audience what is happening.
This is a good source for getting to grips with POV.
How does third person compare to others?
Third person POV is the most commonly used, relying on the “he/she/it” pronouns to tell the story. As we’ll find out later, it’s a little more complex than just straight third person, but as a whole it has more freedom and fluidity as it allows the writer to witch between POVs more readily. This compares to first and second person POV: the first person POV sticks the reader to the protagonist [unless multiple first person POVs are used across chapters which would just be confusing I think!] or second person which sticks the story to the reader [you did WHAT now?!]
Which form is best for writing?
Third person can give additional insight which can’t be achieved with first person. With first person, sentence structures can become stilted, and you can end up doing a lot more telling than showing. By this, I mean focusing on what is being done, or using “I did…” while forgetting to focus on description and emotion.
I know that I was guilty of that when I was first starting out: I spent an entire 3 pages talking about my character’s waking up and eating breakfast. The plot hadn’t been advanced, we hadn’t learnt much more about the character, and reading it back now it seems incredibly dull! In this sense, third person would’ve suited me much better because I could’ve unfolded plot using different characters.
In simple terms, first person is from only one person’s perspective, whereas third person allows you to get into the minds of multiple characters. This is advantageous as it allows plot and motivation to be revealed from lots of viewpoints: the reader ends up holding all the information, and watching as it’s slowly revealed to characters in the book. Really, it’s like reading the spoilers for your favourite sitcom, then watching the characters play it out.
Which third person to use?
Third person may be more complex as, instead of working with just one character’s mindset as you would in first person, third person means you’ve got most or all of your characters at your disposal. This does depend whether you use the third person omniscient limited or if you decide to head-hop. Definitions can be found here , and I’ve added some below, too:
limited: still using he/she/they pronouns, but more like the first person as it closely follows one character, and uses the characters voice. This is typically the main character.
omniscient: thoughts, feelings of most/all characters, using the he/she/they pronouns, told more in the author’s voice/voice of god/from the perspective of a ‘magic camera’
head hopping the voice of each character comes through clearly, and this happens from sentence to sentence, for example. Personally, head hopping is the one I and many find the most difficult to achieve, so here are some extra resources:
- Advanced Fiction Writing: Head Hopping
- Head Hopping Gives Readers Whiplash Unless Done Properly
- Head Hopping and Hemmingway
- Example comparing first person, limited [also called close], omniscient and head hopping: What Makes Omniscient POV Different from Head-Hopping?
- Example of Head-Hopping?
Personally, I find the third person easier to write from, as it allows you to develop a character by simply switching to their perspective, whereas with first person you must give depth and development to all characters through one characters perspective. Specifically, I like the third person limited, though head hopping is something I want to work on.
For the writer, this means thinking about how characters will uncover information, and how they’ll react to it when they do. This involves learning how to effectively switch viewpoints, and making sure you plan out your piece to make sure the transitions and delivery are effective.
To answer the original question [which third person to use for multiple protagonists?] I’d say it’s down to your personal preference, but I’d go for third person limited, but across different chapters. This makes it the third person limited omniscient, which we see deployed in Game of Thrones. All events come from the character’s POV, but as if looking over their shoulders. The narration is in the author’s voice, with the dialogue, actions and reactions providing the source of sense of character.
Overall, it depends what you want from your story: do you want wider viewpoint on the story as a whole, and be able to develop characters from their perspective, but perhaps lose out on readers engaging fully with all characters? Third person is the one!
Examples: Game of Thrones (George RR Martin), Harry Potter (JK Rowling), The Mortal Instruments (Cassandra Clare), His Dark Materials (Phillip Paulman), The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings (J RR Tolkien).
Or, do you want a single characters’ perspective narrating the entire story, allowing the audience to engage and sympathise fully with them? First person it is then!
Examples:The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins), Divergent (Veronica Roth), The Fault in Our Stars (John Green), The Princess Diaries (Meg Cabot), Confessions of Georgia Nicolson (Louise Rennison)
I hope this has been a useful guide/discussion piece: please do let me know below your thoughts on the matter! Which POV do you usually write from? Which do you find most difficult? Let me know!
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Aside from those linked above, the other sources used were: