You’ve probably read books in first-person and third-person. But have you ever heard of second-person? Continue reading to find out the difference between first, second, and third-person and past/present tense.
The point of view you choose for your story should work for you and the characters. Genre can also influence what POV you utilize. For example, detective novels are more likely to be in third-person and YA novels tend to be in first-person.
First-person POV basically allows you to take on the role of the main character. The narrative reads as, “I did this, and we did that.”
This POV is great if you want your reader to immediately connect with the main character. It fosters a sense of intimacy that you can’t really get with second and third-person.
Generally, YA books are written in first-person. However, if the book is fantasy-based, it’s more likely to be in third-person (refer to the list in that section for examples). Thriller novels are also great for first-person POV, as are romance and some fantasy/sci-fi.
Examples of First-Person:
- Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
- Paper Princess by Erin Watt
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
- To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Second-person is where the narrator speaks to you (you do this, you do that). It feels very much like an instruction manual to me.
Personally, I can’t stand this POV. However, I’ve only managed to get my hands on one book written this way. I haven’t heard great things about Caroline Kepnes’s book You in general, so maybe this wasn’t the best choice to get acquainted with second-person.
It seems that you’re more likely to find second-person in children’s books than adult, but it can be used effectively in thriller novels! There are also “choose your own adventure” books, which I find to be a ton of fun.
Examples of Second-Person:
- You by Carolina Kepnes
- How to Raise a Dinosaur by Natasha Wing
- The Beginner’s Guide to Running Away from Home by Jennifer LaRue Huget
- Romeo and/or Juliet by Ryan North
Third-person is the most common POV in fiction. All third-person novels fall into two categories, limited and omniscient.
Limited third-person is still in the typical fashion (he said this and they thought that), but you only have access to the thoughts of a single character (usually the protagonist). Omniscient is more broad, allowing you into the heads of multiple characters.
I’ve found that this POV works best for works with a lot of different storylines. Fantasy and sci-fi novels as well as a lot of classic novels are told in third-person.
Examples of Third-Person
- The Last Girl by Joe Hart
- City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
- Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
- Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Once you have decided on your POV, you need to decide if you’re going to write in the past or present tense. Past tense is like a retelling of a story (I had done this, she wrote that) while present tense is in the moment (I did this, she writes that).
Choose a tense that works for you and your story. There are no real guidelines. I prefer to write in past tense, but you may like present tense. Go with what feels natural for your story.
Which POV and tense do you like? Which will work best for you? Let me know in the comments!