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Beginnings: Person-ality

One of the more crucial decisions that needs to be made when starting out working on a novel is to choose what point of view you’re going to use for the work. There are many choices, each of them have strengths and weaknesses.

First Person always seems easiest and most natural for me. However, it does limit me in many ways. The reader can only experience other characters’ emotions and thoughts from the protagonist’s point of view, which isn’t always accurate, and it can be much harder to surprise the reader. If the protagonist does something “off screen,” the reader might rightfully feel cheated. This is especially true in genres in which readers expect to be able to either puzzle out the ending before it arrives, or enjoy looking back and seeing how the ending was inevitable from the first scene.

I never write in Second Person. It’s too weird for anything other than “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, and maybe porn.

In Third Person, there are technically several choices, but practically these days, there is only one, namely “Third Person Limited“. Third Person can lack the immediacy of First Person, but in my experience it’s less prone to telling instead of showing. It also allows you the ability to dive into the thoughts and feelings of multiple characters. However, to do it right, you need to limit it to a small number of characters (unless it’s one of those million-page epic fantasies), and they each need similar amounts of “screen time” to make it feel balanced. If your antagonist is one of your viewpoints, it can be hard to introduce him or her early and not give away too much of the plot.

(There is, of course, , but that’s really fallen out of favor lately. Books written in that point of view always seem quaint and old to me, like they were written in the time of Charles Dickens or F. Scott Fitzgerald. It’s worse when the author takes on a very personal narrative voice, addressing the audience as “Dear reader” and so forth.)

It’s important to give a lot of thought to this choice as you set out with novel planning. If you choose poorly, you could find yourself having to rewrite significant portions of the novel mid-stream. It’s a lot of work, and I’d rather avoid it if I can.

So, day one of a new work, and as I’m writing up my plot point cards, I’m thinking of how I’m going to tell the story. What to choose, what to choose….

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