The Choice of Point of View
When I tormented myself with Facebook fiction writing groups, POV consistently formed contentious conversations. Assuming preference and need drove the POV choice proved wrong when reading the ludicrous social media opinions, specifically about first-person, which the most brilliant critics referred to as “lazy writing.” Such stupidity compels questioning of the accuser’s writing skill.
If any writing perspective deserves the “lazy” indictment, third-person POV should bear the guilt. The accusation of first-person allowing an easy lens into the protagonist’s mind is laughable compared to third-person POV’s theater of character actions and thoughts. Oh, the difficulty describing a secondary character’s emotional state or building suspense around the protagonist in the third person’s free reign over time, thoughts, and plot. Most critics would not accuse Stephen King of lazy writing, yet hopping from character to character is exactly what he does. There goes that lazy King, chapter after chapter, bouncing between character actions in Salem’s Lot, using the omnipotent narrator to build suspense around a mystery (vampire) plaguing the town. More puzzling are the writers, many King fans, who arbitrarily declared first-person “lazy” despite the third-person POV providing instant access to all character and story elements.
Beyond lazy, the third person lacks realness, begging the question of how anyone could become emotionally invested reading this POV. Consider how often people converse in third-person POV. How often do you tell a story using the third person? Never, especially when discussing yourself for fear of sounding pretentious or insane. Coupled with this lack of natural voice, the narrative distance widens from reading an objective point of view. Third-person, especially omniscient, is artificial and should make you question the story, but you don’t.
People who qualify POV exercise a shallow writing perception or don’t understand the topic. Most of these critics developed a limited comprehension of POV from reading genre fiction exclusively, which is written often in the third person. (This should tell you a great deal about genre fiction.) These amateur writers base ideas on limited knowledge and often just a few famous writers’ opinions. Their arguments are patently stupid and lack a critical understanding of POV’s complex need for appropriate conveyance, easily seen in their qualifying POV without knowing the author or story’s purpose. More importantly, the POV-opinionated lack an understanding of the most crucial aspect of POV: the reader.
Fiction enjoyment stems from an ability to suspend disbelief. All stories are fiction, even nonfiction. If you ask a right-wing conservative about the Capital Attack of January 6th, he’ll likely describe a protest or civil disobedience while liberals describe an insurrection or coup. Interpreting reality clearly shows fiction holds only the credibility assigned by the reader. That favorite fantasy or horror book entertains you because you allow your mind to believe; therefore, any POV works if the reader is willing or doesn’t hold irrational biases against POVs. Many horror and sci-fi writers use the third person, not because they are lazy, but because they prefer to tell stories this way, or the POV works for what they are trying to accomplish. King isn’t writing lazy using the third person; he uses a writing method that works the same way Lovecraft uses the first person. POV is a choice based on the need of the story or the author’s desire, and though seeming fantastical, multiple POV use sometimes occurs.
This short list of factors will help you choose POV:
- Narrative Distance: Consider how close you want the readers to be to the story. First-person POV brings them into the character's mind, while third-person offers more objectivity.
- Character Development: Think about how important it is to delve into the inner thoughts and emotions of your main character. First-person POV allows for a deep exploration, whereas third-person can provide a broader perspective.
- Multiple Perspectives: If you have multiple main characters or want to showcase different viewpoints, consider using third-person omniscient or limited POV.
- Reader Engagement: Reflect on how you want readers to connect with your story. First-person POV often creates a more intimate and immediate connection, while third-person can be more detached but allows for a wider scope.
- Genre and Tone: Some genres naturally lend themselves to specific POVs. For example, thrillers and mysteries often use first-person to build suspense, while epic fantasies often employ third-person to capture a vast world.
- Plot Complexity: If your story involves intricate plot twists or multiple layers of narration, third-person may be more suitable to maintain clarity and avoid confusion.
- Author's Voice: Consider your writing style and how it aligns with different POVs. First-person allows for a distinct, individual voice, while third-person can showcase a more objective or authoritative tone.
- Reader Familiarity: Think about your target audience and what they might be accustomed to. Some readers may prefer first-person, while others may favor third-person.
- Narrative Control: Reflect on the level of control you want over the reader's access to information. First-person can limit what the reader knows to only what the protagonist knows, creating suspense, while third-person offers more flexibility.
- Experimental Purposes: If you're looking to push creative boundaries, consider using unconventional POVs like second-person or multiple first-person narrators.
Remember, there is no "one-size-fits-all" approach. Each story is unique, so it's important to weigh these factors and choose the POV that best serves your narrative and engages your readers.
Perhaps the internet combined with genre fiction’s popularity made POV a seemingly controversial idea. I am uncertain but cannot remember these arguments before the internet’s inception. It is easy to see the wealth of books written in the third person and assume this qualifies the POV, but this assumption is the same assumption driving other stupid writing advice and rules, such as the standard number of pages or words for novels. POV is not merely a function of storytelling but also a rhetorical device that adds meaningfulness to the story. Authors write in a particular POV for a reason and judging writing by this choice limits writing skills. Consider these points in the company of some lazy writers and their first-person books.
HP Lovecraft The Call of Cthulhu
Chuck Palahniuk Fight Club
Alice Walker The Color Purple
Gore Vidal Myra Breckinridge
Bram Stoker Dracula
Mary Shelley Frankenstein
Charles Bukowski Factotum
William Faulkner The Town, The Mansion, The Reivers.