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.