One of the first things that you have to decide when writing a story is the narrative point of view. If you’re unfamiliar with this concept, you can think of point of view as the narrator’s relationship to the story. For instance, a narrator can be a part of the story, relating its events to readers as he or she sees and experiences them (we call this a first-person narration); a narrator can be detached from the story, relating its events while not taking part in it himself or herself (we call this a third-person narration); or a narrator can impart events of a story in which you, the reader, take part (we call this a second-person narration). You can (and should) experiment with these options—each has its pros and cons—but you’ll need to decide early on what will best fit your story. Is it the first person? Third person limited? A mixture? If you’re still trying to decide, I’ve detailed some of your options below.
The first-person point of view (POV) is easy to spot, because the narrator will refer to himself or herself as “I.”
Example 1: I press myself against the wall, creeping down the hallway as quietly as I can, afraid that a single creak of the wooden floor will announce my escape.
First person, my personal favorite, is the most intimate. Reading something in the first person can help the reader to really engage in the story, feeling as if they are the character in the story. Reading The Hunger Games feels especially intense because it’s written in the first person. First person also reveals exactly what the main character is thinking and feeling, meaning that the main character can’t easily have any secrets from the reader.
Since the first person is from one character’s POV at a time, it limits you from the thoughts and feelings of other characters—unless, of course, the main character is a mind reader. This limitation isn’t a bad thing, but it may not be the point of view that will work best for the story you want to tell. Consider your genre; first person is most popular for young adult and romance novels.
Writing a story in the second person is a rare practice. I can only recall reading one or two stories in the second person. It will certainly make the story personal with “you” being the character, but unless you’re writing nonfiction (like this article!) and talking directly to the reader, “you” probably isn’t the best way to go, but it might just be the POV you need.
Example 2: “By unclosing your eyes so suddenly, you seem to have surprised the personages of your dream in full convocation round your bed, and catch one broad glance at them before they can flit into obscurity.” (Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Haunted Mind”)
It is an odd reading, is it not? Though second person is rare, it is used most often in short stories, like “The Haunted Mind.”
The most common of viewpoints, third person presents multiple options in terms of narration. You can echo first person by having a third-person limited POV. Instead of using “I” and “me,” third person uses “he” and “him” or “she” and “her,” but it still limits itself to only giving one character’s thoughts and feelings at a time.
Example 3: He tapped on the glass impatiently, waiting for her to open the window. He wondered if she would ever come and had determined she would not when the curtains finally fluttered in time with his heart as she was suddenly standing in front of him.
But the third person doesn’t have to be limited to one character. Third person omniscient allows you the freedom to follow any number of characters throughout the story rather than focusing mainly on one, but this isn’t an easy style to master. You have to make use of a narrator telling the reader what the characters are feeling and thinking rather than the characters expressing themselves.
Example 4: She wasn’t sure what to do and neither was he. She wanted to go home, but he wanted to stay and wait. She couldn’t understand why he didn’t see that waiting for nothing was pointless; he couldn’t comprehend why she didn’t have any faith.
I recommend researching third person omniscient before you attempt it as it has a lot of potential to be very confusing not only to you as you’re writing it but also to your reader as they’re reading it.
Feel free to experiment with POV in your writing. If you’re having trouble getting into a story, try writing it from a different POV. There are endless possibilities when it comes to writing, so don’t limit yourself. You can write in the first person but switch between characters with each chapter; you can write from the third person limited and do the same. You could even employ a POV from someone other than the main character à la Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote his Sherlock Holmes series from John Watson’s first-person perspective, giving intimacy without spoiling the ingenious deductions of Mr. Holmes. Find the POV that’s right for you and your story and write!