Thursday, April 30, 2015

Point of View in YA Fiction: First or Third Person?

Once upon a time you could pick up most books of fiction and find that the point of view (POV) was third person. Now young adult (YA) novels across many genres including dystopian, fantasy, and contemporary are frequently written in first person. The Hunger Games, Twilight, and The Fault in Our Stars, all in first person, represent bestsellers in their respective genres. The choice of which POV to use, with its overwhelming influence on the voice and mood of a novel,  is an important one for an author to make.

If you are fairly new to writing craft, third person is narrated with the main character as "he" or "she" while in first person the protagonist and/or narrator refers to themselves as "I."

Even if you are an experienced writer, picking a POV should be done thoughtfully. Do you want to be inside your protagonist's head and limited to his or her experiences during the course of your narration? Although this limited POV can bring the reader deep into the conflict, it can be a challenge to plot the narration only from what that character can possibly know. Third person POV, on the other hand, creates more distance from the protagonist's head and can allow other characters to contribute to the narrative. When the story involves many characters and multiple POV's, distance might be preferable (think epic fantasy, like Throne of Glass), but the author has to be more skilled at conveying the thoughts and feelings of the protagonist to keep the reader engaged.

So, how do you decide for sure which tense to use?

A good explanation of when to use which tense is here, but I would love to have a conversation about how writers make their choice. When I wrote my YA fantasy, using first person seemed natural-I wanted the reader to experience immediately what my protagonist was thinking and feeling while she negotiated a strange new world. But when I started my current novel, a YA contemporary, I decided that because the protagonist is in denial about certain facts important to the plot, a bit of distance from her thoughts would work better.

So, writer friends, please share your experiences with choosing POV in the comments.

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