There are a lot of decisions we, as writers, need to make as we are preparing to write a story. One of the most important is which point of view to tell the story from. There are a lot of different options. Some of the most popular include: first person (told by the narrator using first-person “I”), second person (putting the reader into the story using the pronoun “you”), and third person, which uses a detached narrator who refers to the characters as “he”, “she”, “they”, “them”, etc. Within these categories there are multiple sub-categories, but I won’t get into all of those here.
When I find something that works for me, I tend to stick with it, so I can predictably say that most of my writing uses the third-person omniscient voice. I like that a lot because I feel it is just as effective as any of the other voices, and it seems simpler to me. With first person, I face the challenge of making sure my main character ends up at all the major events, or at least hears about them and is then able to portray them in an interesting way. Character consistency becomes all the more important, as well. I know for me, character inconsistencies stand out glaringly in the first person (far more so than in the third). And as far as second-person goes, I think stories really need to be specialized to make that narrative voice work, and my stories don’t tend to go in that direction. Second-person can be an effective voice, I know, but I think it is harder to make it work.
When thinking about this particular question I always think, why I would go to the trouble of writing a first-person narrator, and coming up with all the additional factors needed to make that work, when I could just use a narrative voice that already knows everything and can be everywhere as needed? That’s what the third-person omniscient means, in a nutshell. Of course, you can use a limited third-person voice, as well, based on how you want to write the story– but I prefer just having a narrator that knows all and is anywhere you need it to be– and yet is so subtle you don’t really notice the narrative voice, at all. That is always my goal.
That brings up one of the challenges that comes with third-person, however: writing it in a way that you feel like you are part of the story, not being told it by some unseen narrator. That is one way I can tell a good story; when the narrator is invisible and stays invisible. But sometimes there will be certain scenes where the author breaks the “third wall” and directly addresses the readers– a big no no in third-person. Oddly enough, one of the best examples of this that I have found is from Louisa May Alcott in Little Women, when she gives a “lecturette” on being kind to old maids! I was surprised the first time I read that, because Louisa May Alcott is in general a superb author.
Which point of view to tell a story from is one of the most important decisions to make as a writer– it changes the whole tone and effectiveness of the story. Some stories do cater to different voices, and I am willing to admit that it might not be right for me to pick third-person omniscient as often as I do. That’s just the one that works best for me.
All this to say, it is a momentous decision to pick a narrative voice and then stay consistent with that voice. Which voice do you prefer, and why?