Jeff Jackson shares his take on Point of View
1st person POV:
Sometimes, it’s interesting to have your story narrated by the character who knows the least about what’s happening. You see this in Terrence Malick’s movie Days of Heaven, a love triangle narrated by a young girl who stand outside it and doesn’t entirely understand it. This can create an interesting tension and take a very familiar situation and make it fresh.
Advantages of 1st person POV:
- Intimate voice: direct connection to the reader
- Full access to a character’s thoughts and consciousness
- Personality: If narrator is particularly chatty and observant, that gives your story its texture and appeal
- Limited by what your character knows and see
- No access to inner worlds of other characters
- Narration can start to feel claustrophobic or annoying
2nd person POV:
The “You” POV can initially feel very compelling and it’s an energetic way to launch into the action of a story. You’re as close to the reader as possible in many ways.
It’s hard to sustain and calls attention to itself. Often it’s best used in small doses.
3rd person POV:
- Omniscient narrator that knows everything and can have access to everyone’s thoughts; sometimes this sort of narrator shares a lot of information and offer opinions, and sometimes is more of an observer.
- Limited third person – doesn’t know everything, has access to some characters thoughts but not all.
- Close third person – generally tracks one character’s thoughts, as if they’re hovering right over the character’s shoulder, more objective than first person but tints the story with the character’s personality.
Sometimes these narrators have a distinct personality that comes through and sometimes they’re more transparent and you barely notice they’re there.
Where to be careful: Sometimes the objectivity of 3rd person can leech the energy and personality from the story.
There are no hard-and-fast rules about POV outside of the specific work. Each work creates its own narrative rules, including point of view.
* POV is clay for you to mold, not steel to imprison you.
If there’s an internal logic to what you’re doing and you handle it smoothly, readers will give you a lot of latitude – and often barely notice that you’re warping POV to your purposes.
If you use multiple POVs, it’s important to note how every POV switch is an emotional switch. In "Sarah Cole: A Love Story" by Russell Banks, the short story that switches between 1st person and 3rd person; narrator talking about a failing romantic relationship, when he hits a memory that’s too painful he narrates it in 3rd person. Masterful showcase of how each POV operates in different ways.
My new novel “Destroy All Monsters” includes 1st person, 2nd person, and 3rd person POVs - each used at key points in the story to dramatize different types of scenes, share different types of information, and create distinct emotional landscapes