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Thanks to the many many questions about viewpoints on this site, along with added research, I know a lot about many different ways I could do things. First person, first person multiple povs, third person limited, third person omniscient, third person multiple povs. The list goes on. But despite knowing a lot about each, it doesn't help me decide which I want to use.

For the book I'm writing, some scenes seem to work well in first person, others are in my head as third person limited. At other points, it seems best to add extra detail by switching pov's; something I have gathered is incredibly difficult to do if writing in first person.
I have also gathered that people feel writing in first person as a beginner is tricky and switching povs is illadvised unless skilled and writing in third person or in first person but with a distint and clearly different voice. In short, I don't know which to pick.

Are there any specific methods, wbebsites or questions I should ask myself to determine which viewpoint fits best with my story?

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    Have you written a story/novel before, and if yes, which styles did you already use? Commented Mar 1 at 13:58
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    I have written a lot of short stories, varying between all possible povs and viewpoints (some have been a few chapters long some have been only a few pages) and I have only written 1 other novel. I never finished it but it was in third person limited. Commented Mar 1 at 15:51
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    I've read some stories that use first person and have multiple points of view. The ones where it works well all do it by restricting the use of first person to one specific character's point of view, so that first person in narration becomes shorthand for that character. Scenes from other points of view use third person instead. I don't have advice for choosing viewpoints in general, but if you decide to use first person at all, I do recommend tying first person to one specific character exclusively. Using first person for multiple viewpoints makes identifying the viewpoint awkward.
    – Douglas
    Commented Mar 1 at 19:45
  • What is 'third person limited' please? Commented Mar 2 at 20:57
  • Third person (he ran, she jumped, they shouted) is most commonly done in third person limited or omniscient. If omniscient it means it can be from the pov of multiple different people, the narrator giving knowledge that the main protagonist may not know yet. If in third person limited, it is only from the pov of a single person, meaning the narration is more biased and possibly inaccurate. Commented Mar 2 at 22:29

4 Answers 4

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Sometimes switching points of view is ill-advised and difficult to follow, but if you execute it correctly, it can be rewarding. (I also had the same problem with my previous drafts.)

  1. You can add breaks that separate the first-person point of view from the third in your narrative.
  2. You can put the strengths and weaknesses of both points of view side by side (which can determine what point of view helps tell your story the best).
  3. Think about what readers prefer in books.
  4. Look at your favourite novel(s). Which of the points of view do you like to read the most?
  5. Research which books have dual points of view.

I hope this helps!

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Your story determines your viewpoints.

There really is no reason why you shouldn't switch viewpoints as your narrative demands. Everything is possible in literature if it is well written. My only recommendation would be to begin a new chapter where the viewpoint switches.1

Nevertheless, I do recommend that you first think about the main storyline that you want to narrate and what viewpoint would fit that storyline. That is, don't begin to think from the many disparate details that you now think you want to include in the book, and which viewpoint would fit each of them best, but begin from a wide, general, overarching, overall view of the large movements of your story as expressed in its logline.2

When you have thus found the main viewpoint for the main storyline, begin to outline or to discovery-write your story from this viewpoint. In most cases you will find that the other viewpoints are unnecessary and disruptive. If not, as I said at the beginning of my answer, don't hesitate and switch the viewpoint as the narrative necessitates.


Notes

1 Chapters can be as short as you want them to be, there is no minimum chapter length. If necessary, a chapter can only be a sentence or a paragraph.

2 A logline is one sentence that summarizes what your book is about. Usually loglines are used to sell movies or movie scripts. A logline can also be the seed from which you develop your narrative using the snowflake method.

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Writing in first or third person doesn't depend on the skill of the writer. Some writers are more comfortable in one than the other. One method is to write your first chapters or first 30 pages in different POVs and see which you like better. You can experiment with voice too. Find your way into the story that way.

Analytically, in a first person POV, events area typically only be revealed when they revealed to the character. Third person narrations aren't constrained to the same degree. The use of past tense give a way around this because the narrator is telling the story from some time after the events being shared. If it is along time, lets say decades after the end of story, then a first person narrator can share information they didn't know at the time, but learned later on. But, it means the narrator saying something to the effect of, "What I didn't know was that there was bomb in the breadbasket and it was ready to blow."

It is easier to establish setting and timeframes in 3rd person narrations. The narrator can just describe the world the characters are moving around in. In first person narrations, the world and its appearance are filtered through the character. It can ring false when a character provides a detailed description of the clothes for example. Unless we are fashion models or extremely vain, we don't give it that much thought. Same thing for our surroundings -- its just our kitchen, we don't go on and on about places we are very familiar with. That makes establishing setting harder in first person narration.

One notion to keep in mind is that all writing is revision. Everything you've read or saw was written, then revised, and revised, and edited many times. If you pick a POV character or 1st v. 3rd and it doesn't work when you are done, you rewrite it. It's easier to read a story you've written and make it better than to create a near perfect story from scratch.

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  • I agree that establishing settings can be harder or seem contrived in first person narration... but at the same time it may be a good thing. It's a pitfall of new (and not-so new) writers to do an "info dump" or go in way too much details. Using a point of view which makes this unnatural can help trim things down and focusing on the essentials -- just a detail here and there to make things "pop", and leaving the rest to the reader's imagination. Commented Mar 1 at 14:04
  • @MatthieuM, I wouldn’t disagree with that observation. But, its seems to abe a matter of style. Some writers are vivid with details while others are sparse, but both styles create a strong sense of engagement when used effectively.
    – EDL
    Commented Mar 1 at 14:13
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Take one or two of the most and the least important passages, and write each both ways.

If you're making the decision yourself, leave them un-read for a few days before deciding which worked best…

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