When you start writing a book, you have a number (okay a plethora) of things to consider. But one important consideration, is the number of character perspectives your book will have.
Perspectives and POV are often used interchangeably. For the purpose of this article:
Perspective = who (as in the character)
POV = how (style of showing the character)
What are the options when it comes to perspectives ?
We can write from a single persons perspective, two peoples, or many. Here are the main options:
- Single – 1 protagonist
- Double – combination of 2 protagonists (romantic)
- Double – 1 protagonist v 1 antagonist
- Double – combination of 2 protagonists e.g. friends or colleagues or family members (platonic)
- Triple – 2 protagonists (usually working together), and 1 antagonist
- Anything more than 3 – The cast of thousands…enough said
I use the term protagonist / antagonist loosely here because I personally love blurry lines between the ‘good’ guys and the ‘bad’ guys, and books certainly don’t need to have a stereotypical representative of either type. But generally, there is one character you root for more than the others, and the reader does need to feel some level of warmth or compassion toward them, and be able to identify with them.
How many perspectives is right?
It’s very much a matter of personal taste, but some pros v cons:
- Single is simple, but it can be constricting because it has such a narrow focus on events.
- Movies and TV shows often focus on multiple perspective and we are often presented with details of ‘stuff’ that is going on outside the MC’s (main character) field of view or knowledge. This hidden knowledge that we (the reader or viewer) knows about, but our MC doesn’t, often drives story tension. It provokes questions such as… What will they do when they realise? How will they react?
- With single perspective, the tension is all in real time. You get the events (and shocks) at the same time as the character does, and so this might arguably submerge the reader to a greater extent.
- Multiple perspectives, in any combination, allow greater freedom for the writer to build the world and add dimension. Possibly at the cost of depth for your MC, since the more character perspectives you have, the less time you can spend in any single person’s head.
The antagonist perspective?
- No book needs an antagonist, but it does need a source of conflict, which could be a person, but might equally be a disease, a war, a natural disaster, or even a financial or emotional concern.
- If you do have a main antagonist in the story it can be nice to get inside their head and find out what their motivation is, and all antagonists should have a powerful motivation. Of course, there are plenty of ways you can reveal this information without giving them book realestate in terms of their own perspective, but it can add an interesting dimension, and it’s something to consider.
What are the styles for writing the character POV?
The Point of view is how we show that characters perspective.
- First person – I walked along the path.
- Third person – She walked along the path.
- Close third person (Internal dialog for third person) – Damn it, I don’t have my umbrella!
- Third person cinematic – Draws the reader in from a distance i.e. describe the room or scene.
- Narrator / Omniscient – Knows everything. (unusual)
Whether you write in the first or third person, and no matter how many perspectives your novel may have, it’s essential to see all the character’s feelings. First person and close third person use internal thoughts to jump right behind the eyes of the character.
One of my favourite writing styles is using a scene transition from third person cinematic to close third person. I love the way that it spirals in, closer and closer, until you are sitting in the character’s skin.
There’s a great write up here on character POV [3rd person point-of-view].
Selecting a POV.
- Most people can cope with third person (most commonly used style).
- Some people are put off by first person (second most commonly used style).
- First person is generally used for a single protagonist, and occasionally for two perspectives. I can’t think of any books that I have read from first person POV that use more than two perspectives (but happy for examples if you have read one!)
My writing style. I use a number of perspectives (more than 3), and I couldn’t write any other way. Movies and TV rarely focus on a single person, and I enjoy the flexibility of this style when writing myself (And If Stephen King, Michael Crichton, and George RR Martin can get away with it, as far as I am concerned so can I) But it’s definitely not for everyone. Many books do have more than one perspective. Two is certainly not unusual. Three or more is less common. I write in third person POV, but I use both cinematic and close 3rd person to zoom in and out.
I would love to hear what your preferred perspectives and POV for writing and reading is! And why you like it.