Pistol: Why, then the world’s mine oyster.
Which I with sword will open.
William Shakespeare — The Merry Wives of Windsor, act 2, scene 2
There are no rules about POV. That’s right, there really aren’t any.
In this post about Starting NaNoWriMo, I said that I was struggling with third person narration in a book with lots of point of view (POV) switching. As I reread my words from what seemed like a long time ago, I realized that there was no reason I couldn’t use first person narration or even use a mix of both styles.
There are no rules about POV. There’s the writer, and there’s the story, and that’s it. Since stories need people to write them down, the writer gets the fun and enviable task of deciding which POV to use.
First person is a very “in the character’s head” kind of POV. It can make some things challenging, such as describing events that the character wouldn’t know about, or not being all that pleasant if the character is self-centered, but there are also advantages. You can really get to know a character from the inside, and transitions are easier because you don’t have to keep zooming the “point” of third person POV in and out to focus on different characters, settings, and action.
Third person narration lets the storyteller become omniscient, and who doesn’t enjoy knowing everything?! However, third person doesn’t always work well, and if used ineffectively, can make the story read very clumsily indeed. If used well, third person can make your fiction captivate your readers.
You might be wondering, since there aren’t any rules, how do you choose the best POV for your story? The one-word answer is: experimentation. I wrote an entire novel in the third person, only to realize that parts of it needed to be in the first. I went back and changed every single “he” to “I.” I also had to change a bunch of “him” to “me,” but it was worth it. The character experiences events in a very internal way, and third person just could not get me deep enough inside his head for that to capture properly. There’s also no problem if POV shifts, as long as the transitions are smooth and clear. When I tell that same story from other characters’ points of view, I switch to third person and it all benefits the story.
As for my science fiction novel with third person throughout, I’m now toying with the idea of changing some of it into first person POV or maybe even all of it. I can use scene or chapter breaks for the switches, and having a lot of characters really isn’t a problem like I originally thought.
POV is a tool. You can do whatever you want with POV. It’s flexible and you can shape it any way you like to create the story you want and need to tell. There really are no rules, and the (fictional) world is your oyster. So get your keyboard or pen, pick up your pages or open that file, and start thinking about POV and how it can work best for your stories.