Every writer is guilty at one point or another of refusing to stray from their comfort zone. This is understandable; Trying out new things usually involves risk, and risk is scary. But that doesn’t make this okay. If you stay in a box all your life, you’ll never improve. You’ll never be that full-time writer you long to be. Experimentation is a vital part of the writing process.
It’s important to note that this is the second part of a three part series. You can find the first part here, where I go over the advantages and disadvantages of first person.
When deciding your pov, it’s important to not only look at your characters and their pasts, traits, and habits, but the messages you plan on telling. A reserved, hesitant protagonist might pair well with third person, while a forthcoming protagonist would be better in first. Think hard and experiment with different POVs.
Any time I start reading a story written in third person, it immediately gives me a vibe that changes the entire way I read the story. I expect something very soft, or quiet, with a serious centre topic.
This could be a good thing or a neutral thing; If this is what you’re going for, this very pretty way of storytelling, third person will immediately convey that. If it isn’t what you’re going for and you’re writing in third person anyway, it won’t take long for your readers to realize that and adjust the voice they read in.
I’d also like to note that third person usually pairs with past tense, as first person pairs with present tense. This is not a rule. It’s not even a suggestion. It’s just a trend you should be aware of.
Fluidity. In the novel I’m currently editing, The Finest Trick, there are five protagonists and five POVs. Now, this could be horribly confusing. But it’s not. Because everything is written in third person, so it doesn’t feel like it’s switching POVs. It feels more like head hopping.
A wider scope of knowledge. Now this isn’t necessary, especially if you’re like me and like to hide things about your characters for a while, but if your story calls for it, you can easily tell your readers things your protagonist doesn’t know.
It’s harder to establish a connection between your protagonist and your reader. If not written correctly, third person can put quite a bit of distance between them.
Some people discriminate against it. I’ve seen people straight-up refuse to read books because they’re in third person. But, then again, are those the readers you really want? They’re probably the same readers who pick on a character because they do something they deem as cliche, like get a haircut.
I know right, what the fuck? No, but here me out.
If you haven’t heard of second person, it’s replacing all the I’s with you’s. Like,
You’ve always liked the park. It’s often at sunset, on the marble bench, with the sun sparkles against the lake water.
Something like that.
I have two good examples of when it’s best to use second person. The first one is from a story- If I remember correctly, it’s a short story -written by Shaelin Bishop. I don’t think this is up for reads anywhere but I remember her talking about it in a video. Shae, please forgive me if this recollection is shaky.
Basically, how it went was that the main character was directing herself on what to do, thus the second person. Shae said that the situation was so painful that the MC had to detach herself from it.
If the situation is too painful, or something your MC is trying to block out, it might be best to experiment with second person.
My second example is actually one of my favourite books, Will Grayson, Will Grayson. If you’ve read the interview at the end of the book, you’d know that John Green and David Levithan were talking about how the story was really Tiny’s story, despite him not having a POV.
This was such a huge revelation that I had to reread the book, and they’re right: WGwg is totally about Tiny Cooper, even if the main plots and perspectives are with the Will Graysons. This is another, WAY more subtle version of second person. The protagonist is actually a supporting character.
It’s eye-catching. With the complete lack of cool second person stories, if you write it well, it’ll be sure to grab some attention.
It has a very specific, unique tone. This sort of goes hand in hand with third person; People expect a certain vibe from your story when it’s written in second person. It’s pretty easy to twist this to your advantage.
It sends a signal. When you write a story in second person, it basically tells the reader to pay close attention. First person and third person can be subconscious choices; Second person is very clearly intentional. If your story is one where small details are important, I urge you to try out second person.
Some people refuse to read it. Goddamn elitists ((Actually, I’ve been that person)). Because of that vibe it carries with it, some people will feel awkward or weird reading it, although I strongly believe this problem will be eliminated with good writing.
It’s harder to write. I’ve been experimenting with second person for the first time lately, and goddamn it’s so fucking hard. Okay, I’m overreacting. But, no, it’s awkward and takes a minute to get used to. Not to mention, if you write it wrong, you completely fuck over the connection between your reader and your MC. It’s also hard to keep good pacing.
It really only works in short pieces. If you want to try writing a novel in second person, I’m not going to stop you, but I really suggest you start out with a one shot or short story.
Alternating First Person
Alternating POVs is one of my favourite to write in. You get to play around with many different perspectives and see the story from different angles.
Replica by Lauren Oliver does this expertly. The book is split into two sides, Lyra and Gemma. They cross paths and their stories have to do with the same main idea, but their stories are also completely different and DAMN THE PLOT TWISTS. Yes, I recognize that I’m just fangirling now.
Alternating POVs work best with two or three characters. Any more, and you should probably consider third person.
Provides a large perspective without having to be universal. I, personally, hate writing stories where the readers learn things before the characters do. Not for any reason, I just like building the suspense. So when you use alternating POVs, you have more options to provide knowledge while still building suspense.
You can see into multiple characters’ heads. This is extra interesting, especially during drastic parts, to see how each character is reacting and what their pure opinions are. It also helps establish empathy between multiple protags.
It’s just goddamn fun to play around with. It’s really not as confusing as it seems ((I’ll go into that more in a second)). You get to play around with voices, motives, reactions, and emotions. And that’s just the beginning of the list.
If you do it wrong, it could be confusing. It isn’t really that easy to fuck up. I’ve found that it’s easier to get this right with longer sections, and only breaking at scene breaks or between chapters.
Sometimes it’s harder to avoid spoilers. If you have spoilers involving characters’ motives, and one of those characters has a POV, their narration is like a goddamn minefield. In one of the things I’m writing I have a character who is actually an antagonist, and it’s really hard to stay true to his actual thoughts without giving too much away.
It’s easier to add fluff. When you’re writing in multiple POVs and you’re having a good time just writing with the characters, it’s a lot easier to write useless scenes and narration. Be mindful of this.
That’s all I’ve got for this week! I’m sorry for the missing post last week, I was focusing so hard on my school work I honestly forgot all about it. Won’t happen again!
If you found this post helpful, be sure to check out my social medias and subscribe to my mailing list, where you can read my posts an entire week early and gain access to content I don’t share with anyone else.