According to Wikipedia, narrative point-of-view “determines through whose perspective the story is viewed.” (Source)
Narrative voice “determines a set of consistent features regarding the way through which the story is communicated to the audience.” (Source)
There are many different ways to tell your story, but point-of-view is going to be the best way your reader is going to get into the heads of your characters.
Anecdotally, it seems like most YA is written in first person point of view. In other words, the story reads like someone is telling you the story from their own perspective. I couldn’t find any stats on it, but a quick Google search (“first person pov in young adult”) popped up a bunch of bloggers and articles that agree with my observation.
First Person. You can be very informal; you can know things about the main character s/he wouldn’t say out loud. You can be deep into the psyche of your main character. But you need to be careful, you’ve got to get the voice right. The reader can’t know anything that the narrator doesn’t know. You can’t slip into someone else’s head. You can’t know anything about anyone else’s emotions, except what is observable. Sometimes, writers will shift POV intentionally, in order to get deeper in another character for this reason. You’ve got to be good to get a POV shift right. Beth Revis does a good job of shifting first person POV (chapter by chapter) in ACROSS THE UNIVERSE.
Second Person. This is rare in literature, though, as Wikipedia reminded me, common in song lyrics. (source) The narrator pulls the reader into the story, making “you” a character. I haven’t read the aptly titled YOU by Charles Benoit, but reviews indicate it’s an excellent example of second person narrative. Here’s one review.
Third Person. The story is told from a distance, using pronouns “he” and “she.” There are a couple of subsets of third person—limited and omniscient. (source). There’s a deep form of third, that resembles first person. Third person deep is told in third person, but it’s from the perspective of one main character, with little knowledge of the emotions of other characters. Most of the Harry Potter series is told in deep third, from Harry’s perspective.
Recently, I rewrote my Young Adult novel from third person past tense to first person present tense. Even though the manuscript was in deep third from my main character’s perspective, the shift to first person was significant. I had to touch every single word—all 82,000 of them. But making the change to first person gave me insight into the voice of my character that third person didn’t. It ended up being a lot different than I expected when I started the rewrite.
I can’t tell you how long I stalled. In fact, I started the book (or short story as it had been) in first. But since some of the experiences in the book were based on real experiences, it felt too personal; too close. And I realized that was the exact reason it needed to go back to first person.
Tips for writing in first person:
1. The narrative has to be in words, phrases, sentences the character would use. The voice needs to be spot-on to be believable. Read the MS out loud, if you have to.
2. Ask yourself, would my character know this? In other words, she can’t see behind walls, she can’t see into someone’s head. Unless, of course, she’s a superhero.
3. Most people can’t interpret emotion by looking at someone else’s eyes. Make sure your character’s observations are realistic.
4. Have fun.
What POV is your favorite? Have you tried different points of view?