It’s All a Matter of Perspective

Let me assure you that, despite being stuffed and mounted, this buffalo is very much alive and performing at Walt Disney World. Photo from

When it comes to point of view in a story, you don’t have a lot of choices.

You can go first person — “I ran naked through poison ivy and got a rash on my butt.”

Second person, engaging the reader directly — “You opened the door, shrieked when you saw the dead buffalo bleeding on the carpet, and dialed 911.”

Or third person — “He wept when he discovered there was no more cheese in the house, for cheese was now illegal in the state of Alabama.”

There are variations, of course, mostly a little weird. I once wrote a short story in first person plural.  I did it because I had an assignment in a writing class to write in a PoV I’d never tried before. It was sort of a hive-mind kind of thing, effective in this one instance, but not something that should be done often. Really, first, second, and third person are your big choices.

So, what’s my favorite? That’s today’s question, right?

I don’t play favorites. When I start writing a story, I choose what I think is going to be best for it.

Sometimes, mistakes are made.

I started writing Monster in My Closet in third person. I don’t know why. Maybe I didn’t think it through. But it’s an urban fantasy, and almost all urban fantasies are written in first person. About 20,000 words into the story, I realized my egregious marketing error. Because that’s really all it was: a marketing error. It didn’t matter too much to the story whether it was in first or third, but it would matter when it came time to sell it. Strive to be different enough to stand out, but not so different that your audience won’t recognize your work as their favorite genre.

I went back and changed it, all 20k words. Six drafts later I was still finding spots where the PoV was off because I’d missed something.

I will say, I’m not a fan of second person, where the reader is addressed as the main character. I don’t see it very often, but when I do, it makes me uncomfortable. I like to be immersed in a story and feel like I’m there. I don’t like to be told what I did.

I haven’t written much where there are multiple points of view in a single story. A little, but not much. I have a book on the backburner right now that’s alternating chapters of the husband and wife. Mostly, I stay firmly put in one person’s head. Or I narrate completely from the outside.  (It’s very rare that I go all omniscient-narrator on my characters. It’s okay for some short stories, but most of the time, I think it’s cheating.)

So, I guess that narrows the question down to first person vs. third. I do both. It depends how deeply I need to get into the head of the main character.

But I decide before I start. Twenty thousand words in is no place to change your mind.

Rachel is the author of the urban fantasy Monster Haven series from Carina Press. She believes in magic, the power of love, good cheese, lucky socks, and putting things off until stress gets them done faster at the last minute. Her home is Disneyland, despite her current location in Kansas.

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