- Person — First or third. Quite simply, first person means narrating with the “I” and “we” pronouns, while third uses “he”, “she” and “they”.
- Tense — Present or Past. Your narrator can speak in the present tense, as though the story were unfolding at precisely the moment the reader is hearing about it, or he can tell all or part of the story as though it happened in the past.
- Perspective — Limited or omnisicent. With limited perspective, the reader will be seeing only through the eyes of a single character for the duration of a given scene, chapter, or the whole book. In omniscient, the reader has approximately equal insight into all characters at all times, and may even see or hear things that no character has access to.
- Count — Single/Multi. You can tell the whole story from the perspective of just one character, or you can use multiple character/narrators, each in turn. Note the difference between count and perspective–you can have limited perspective (one person’s view), but have multiple narrators, by giving each character a “turn” at the helm. For example, many romance novels have as their narrators both members of the soon-to-be happy couple, each giving their perspective on events, perhaps in alternating chapters.
- Narrator — Are your POV characters major or minor actors in the story, or completely uninvolved observers? Most writers choose one or more major characters as narrators, since they are naturally present for the action, but it is possible and sometimes necessary or just fun to allow a minor character or even a non-character to tell the tale and offer their more objective insights into the events.
- Intimacy — A spectrum from very close to completely objective. Intimacy is not a 0/1, but rather a conscious decision on the author’s part about how far inside the head of the narrating character the reader will be taken. Will the reader hear a constant running monologue of every thought that passes through the narrator’s head, or will the narrator simply report objectively on what he is witnessing? Intimacy is something you can play around with, offering more or less, as parts of the story dictate, without completely alienating the reader. When the conversation or actions in a scene pretty clearly indicate what the narrator is thinking, inner dialogue is redundant and patronizing, but if your character is saying one thing and thinking the exact opposite, the reader needs that insight–unless you are deliberately keeping him in the dark!
- Fourth Wall — In either first or third person, you can allow the narrating character to speak directly to the reader. This isn’t common in fiction, but is a device some authors use to strengthen the bond between the reader and his narrating characters. In most cases, narrating characters speak as story-tellers without apparent awareness that anyone is “listening”, but if you want to break down the fourth wall, you can allow your narrator to acknowledge and directly address the reader through the use of the pronoun “you”.
Point-of-View Part 1: POV Styles
Point of view is second only to dialogue mechanics on the list of new writer trouble spots. It is one of the most common errors you’ll find in less polished works. If your reader can’t get through the first chapter without stumbling across major POV blunders, it is unlikely he’ll keep reading, no matter how much appeal the story or characters may otherwise have. He may not recognize what’s wrong; he only knows that the story “sounds funny” or that it’s hard to follow. Worse yet, POV errors instantly tear down the walls of your magical storyland. A sudden, jarring shift in perspective will rocket your reader from Victorian England or Planet Xenax right back into his living room, faster than the Starship Enterprise. Without revisiting fifth grade English, let’s look at the basics of point of view and how to avoid the POV slip-ups that can send your potential readers running for the hills…or at least the next e-book on their reader. Despite attempts to classify point of view into discrete categories, like first person, third person omniscient, third person limited, etc., there probably are as many variations on perspective as there are authors of fiction, and that’s one of the beautiful things about this art form. The key is to deliberately choose a perspective style that you are comfortable writing in and that will work with your story, and then stick to it. It is the sloppy shifts in perspective that you want to avoid. Flavors of POV From how many different points of view can a story be written? At least as many as the product of all these variations, plus all the ones I haven’t thought of.