Friday, October 8, 2010

Editing Tip #48: Point of View Options

Kathy Ide’s Editing Tips
© Kathy Ide, 2010

In this column, freelance author, editor, and speaker Kathy Ide shares tips on self-editing your manuscript.


Though third-person point of view is the most common for novels, and the easiest to write well, some authors like to try other alternatives.

First Person

The story is told by a narrator using first-person statements ("I said this,” “We did that"). All events are observed through the narrator's perspective and must be consistent with what he/she thinks, knows, and believes. Detective novels are often in first person, with the narrative written in the voice of the main character.

People who write autobiographical fiction tend to lean toward this option. Unfortunately, this usually makes it difficult for the author to break out of what "really happened" and include only what should happen to make the story interesting.

In certain circumstances, first-person POV can create a natural, conversational style. It may also make a story more personal and seem more real. However, it carries some definite challenges and limitations:

• The reader only gets to know one character directly (unless you include some third-person POV characters as well).
• The narrator must be present, awake, and conscious in all scenes.
• It is difficult to attribute negative aspects to a narrator's personality. Since people do not typically see their own faults, narrators often end up appearing temperate, friendly, kind, helpful, thoughtful, considerate—and just plain boring.
• You can't conceal information from the reader that the narrator knows.
• First-person narration, especially in a long novel, can become monotonous.
• Excessive repetition of “I” can distract the reader from the story.
• A narrator relates events that have already happened. Therefore, dangers to the narrator do not concern the readers, because they know that if anything really bad happened to him, he wouldn't have lived to talk about it.

Seasoned authors can sometimes make first-person narration work. (See Francine Rivers's The Last Sin Eater for an excellent example.) However, it is not recommended for new writers.


In this alternative, the story is addressed to a third party or an anonymous character referred to as "you." This style is often seen in romantic poetry ("I love you more than life itself"). Second-person POV can scold, inform, inquire, argue, or reassure. It is most commonly used when describing a process, giving instructions or advice, or in personal correspondence. In fiction, it usually comes across as intrusive and irritating, so it is not generally an acceptable option.


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Kathy Ide has written books, articles, play and movie scripts, short stories, devotionals, and curriculum. Her books include Polishing the PUGS and Fiction and Truth. Kathy is a full-time freelance editor, offering a wide range of editorial services for authors and publishers. She also speaks at writers’ conferences across the country. She is the founder and coordinator of The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network ( and the Christian Editor Network ( To find out more, please visit

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