Point of view is the essentially the narrator’s position, how the story is told. Ideally, you should decide this before you start writing, though I’ve been known to switch partway through a book. In fact, when I first wrote Fatal Impulse, it was in first person. I got all done and my editor suggested third person. I changed the manuscript (a HUGE undertaking!), but think it was a better book for the change.
Here is a brief overview of each common POV, along with my bewares and tips:
This is the “I” version. The story is told from the viewpoint character’s point of view. That person must be able to see, hear, taste, smell and feel everything that you write.
Beware: it is very difficult to really get into your character’s head, and to avoid telling the story.
Tip: Get closer. For instance, instead of saying, “I heard the boom of thunder,” say “The window glass vibrated with the boom of thunder.”
Third person is the he/she version. The story is still told from a character’s point of view, but through the filter of the author. Again, the person must be able to see, hear, taste, smell and feel everything that you write.
Beware: Headhopping is a common mistake. Remain in one character’s head per scene or, better yet, per chapter.
Tip: Add internalization. Much can be said by what the character thinks as opposed to what he/she says. Sharing your POV character’s thoughts is a way to put your reader in the characters head. There’s no need for italics or saying he/she thought. Simply write the character’s thought. The reader will get it. Trust me.
Second person is you did this, you did that. The story is told from the reader’s point of view. The narrator tells the reader what is happening to him.
Beware: This should be used sparingly. It can be jarring to the reader, and is tricky to pull off.
Tip: In short bursts, this can be useful because it truly does put the reader in the character’s shoes. Read the first chapter of Harlen Coben’s The Innocent for an example of how this can be used effectively.