One of the things that always gives me pause when I start a new book is viewpoint. I don't have a favorite, so it usually takes me a little bit to decide whether first or third person is the way to go.
Viewpoint is something that doesn't seem like it should be that important, right? It's just first or third, past or present, whatever floats your boat. Um...sorry. No. Viewpoint is the lens through which the reader sees your story. That makes it pretty darn important!
You should always be INTENTIONAL, not accidental with your viewpoint.
Here's a quick look at the differences between different viewpoints, and what the advantages and disadvantages are.
Third person - This viewpoint is good for when you can't tell the story through one narrator. I've used it before in stories where the reader needs to know things the main character just wouldn't know. It's also good for deeper characterization of more than one protagonist (or even antagonist).
Third person limited-- where you are telling the story strictly through one character's head at a time-- generally gives you a stronger story than third person omniscient (where you view everything from "above" the story). It's stronger because the reader is more closely connected to the character. Third person omniscient disconnects the reader from the characters, though if that's what you're going for, it might be a good choice.
First person - In this viewpoint, you have the ability to characterize one person really, really well. It creates a character your reader immediately identifies with. This viewpoint is popular in YA for just that reason. It doesn't lend itself as easily to viewpoint switches, however, and it can be limiting to tell things only from one person's head.
Tense - While past tense is the generally used form in literature, present tense is becoming popular (a la The Hunger Games). Be very careful if you choose present tense; it's difficult to manage. It gives the feeling of immediacy, but that can backfire if you don't keep your narrative flowing with your character's situation. I'm going to go out on a limb and say by and large, past tense should be your default unless you have a really good reason to write in present tense.
Viewpoint is an excellent way to ensure strong characterization. When you color EVERYTHING through your character's eyes-- whether in first, third, past, or present-- your reader gets to know the character. The way they look down the street can tell us mountains about them. Are they looking for a specific person? Are they studying the artsy window displays? Are they calculating the ratio of colored cars to black and white ones? Are they unconsciously judging the people walking past by their clothing?
So be conscious about your viewpoint-- when you pick it, and throughout your story. Polish that lens until the reader sees exactly what you want them to, and in the manner you want them to see it.
So, my friends, do you have a favorite viewpoint? Why? What makes you choose one over the other?