TUESDAY WRITING TIP – Pondering Point of View

Jessica had  a great question for us at the DeeScribewriting blog. She said:

I’d be interested in knowing a little more about choosing point of view in a young adult novel. Are there different considerations for YA as compared to adult novels? Are omniscient and third person possibilities or do the younger readers need the immediacy of first person?”

This is a really interesting question, Jessica and there is no right or wrong answer – it’s what works for you. Third person and first person are both fine for YA novels – it depends on you and your story. Young readers can cope with either.

My early drafts of Letters to Leonardo were in first person because I felt that it helped me to get closer to my main character, Matt – and seeing he was writing letters to Leonardo da Vinci, it seemed kind of essential.

I was awarded a mentorship to work on the manuscript with an experienced writer, and she recommended that I change the point of view to third person. She felt that this would allow for more description and scene setting. I tried, I really did – it just didn’t work for me. It made me feel too distant from my main character.

The publishers must have agreed because nobody was interested in publishing Space, the version that was written in third person. Then again, there were plenty of other things wrong with that manuscript too – but that’s a story for another day.

One of the strengths of writing YA in first person is that it allows you to establish a unique voice for your main character. This isn’t impossible in third person, it’s just that it’s harder to do – and I think, requires great skill as a writer.

I have read some stunning YA books written in third person. They work because they are so beautifully written that the author still manages to make you feel that you are right there with the main character, and the setting description draws you into their world.  I can’t list all of the great YA third person books here, but if you are looking for a place to start you could try:

  • Dodger by Libby Gleeson
  • Marty’s Shadow by John Heffernan
  • Ganglands by Maureen McCarthy
  • The Singer of all Songs by Kate Constable
  • Feral Kid by Libby Hathorn

Third person allows for more physical description of the main character – it lets you see them through someone else’s eyes. It also allows you to keep secrets from your main character which another character knows – and the reader knows that they know – and wonders what will happen when the main character finds out. This is a great suspense builder and such secrets can be an important part of the character’s journey.

When Choosing Point of View – Ask yourself this:

“Who do I want to tell my character’s story? –How much does that person know?” The answers to these questions will help you make your decision.

It’s also a question of your writing style. If you’re not happy with how something is turning out, try writing it from a different point of view – this could be changing from first to third person or vice versa – or it could even require you to get a different character to tell your story.

My novel, Shadows of Silence (yet to be published) started out as a kid’s book. It’s about a child with selective mutism who can’t talk outside his home. It’s based on a true story and has powerful themes, but I soon realized it was too heavy going for kids. I rewrote it as an adult novel from the mother’s point of view and it works so much better.

For me, first person seems to be my natural voice, but maybe that’s because it’s the one I grew up using. I think if you are using first person, you need to make sure that you maintain your action, description and dialogue and try where possible to minimize the use of ‘I’.

So I suppose my final piece of advice is to see what comes naturally to you – and don’t be afraid to try rewriting your story in a different point of view if it doesn’t seem to be working.

I hope this helps. Thanks for sharing your question with us Jessica.

Happy writing


If you have a writing question you’d like answered, leave it as a comment on this post, and I’ll schedule it in as a Tuesday Writing Tip.

Next Tuesday we’ll be looking at networking opportunities for authors. Hope you can join us then.

*    *    *    Stay tuned for more about point of view. We’ll be discussing First person and Third person POV in more detail on 2nd March, and looking at how to hop from head to head.

13 thoughts on “TUESDAY WRITING TIP – Pondering Point of View

  1. Thanks for dropping in, Kat. Always good to see you here. And you’re right; I definitely feel closer to the ‘new’ Leroy.


  2. Great tips. I’m sending this link to my crit group. Some are having trouble with point of view and head hopping. How do you explain that clearly to someone?


  3. I am intrigued by this topic as I am writing a story in what I thought was third person omniscient which should have allowed me inside the head of all the characters but someone in a critique group felt I’d chaged POV when I let another character share his thoughts. It took me a while to understand the comment. But when I studied the way I was letting the story unfold. Everything that had happened so far is told (though in 3rd person) as the MC is viewing it. The four lines picked up by the critiqer are the only ones in which another character has thoughts the MC doesn’t know about. So my question: Is it OK to have MC point of view told in the third person?
    Hope that makes sense in the absene of the actual text!!!

  4. To Angela and Mabel,

    It might help to think of the twin positions of being ‘in’ one character and being ‘with’ another.

    The character you are ‘in’ is the POV. You can deal with the thoughts of another character by being ‘with’ them but not ‘in’ them.

    Angela, perhaps you might think about why the reader needs to know the thoughts of the other character, and whether there is another way (there always is) of getting to them. You can escape the head hopping charge by setting up a scene or chapter where the MC is not present, so the POV is necessarily from another character. You can chuck it all into dialogue. You can ….

    Omniscience is a strange thing, just because you are all powerful doesn’t mean you can do anything, or everything. Oh dear, that’s just the sort of comment that used to get me into trouble in Theology I. 🙂

  5. Hi Dee,

    Thank you so much for your answer! I’m definitely going to take a look at those books you mentioned.

    My main character is deaf and so that limits some of the information she can describe in first person. I also want to follow her teacher’s journey as she finds new ways to teach her deaf student about music and dancing. I’m leaning towards third person for these two reasons, but I’m going to read through a couple of those books to ‘research’ it a little more.

    It’s been a while since I’ve read YA so I’m interested to get back into it and pick up points I’ve missed.

    I have one more little question. In your experience, are Young Adult readers interested in seeing part of the story through an adult’s viewpoint? Or do they begin to turn off when the story turns towards the adult’s journey?

  6. Thanks for your insightful comments, Kim.

    This is a great way to summarise the two POV’s. First person is ‘in’ character and third person is being ‘with’ your main character. You’re right, omniscience does have its restrictions. I’m going to discuss this in a future tip.


  7. Hi Jessica,

    Thanks for your question/s – I think Point of view (POV) is something that many YA writers ponder. To be honest, I don’t think that YA readers want to know the adult’s pov. I think the only way to show what’s happening with the adults is through the eyes of the main character, who needs to be a young adult. Like I said in my post, you really need to think about who you want to tell the story. If you want it to be from the young adults point of view, you don’t have to do this through straight narrative – it could be in diary form or in text messages to friends. If you want the teacher’s pov to come across then perhaps this is an adult not a young adult story. It’s who YOU want to tell the story that’s important. Another device I use in YA is to write in first person but alternate POV by chapter. The YA novel I am working on now is from two character’s POV. They both speak from an “I” perspective, but I have given them very different voices. As I said, there are no hard and fast rules on this…it’s your decision…who do you want to tell the story and how do you want them to tell it?

    Hope you have found this discussion useful, Jessica.


  8. Hi Dee,

    I came across your blog from ‘Pass it On’ e-newsletter. I’ve browsed a bit and like what you’re doing. I’ve added a link to here from my blog (‘Links’ page).
    Will visit again.


  9. Thanks Lisa,

    I’m going to be doing another post on POV in a few week’s time. I find that if I listen to my instinct it usually tells me which point of view to use. Good luck with your decision.


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