A Crash Course on Point of View

Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr +

When we sit down to write, one of the first decisions we have to make is which point of view (POV) to use for our story. In a nutshell, here are the choices and a few thoughts on each:

First person is the “I” point of view. The narrator and main character are one in the same. The reader experiences everything up close and personal from inside that character’s head. There are some compelling reasons to write in the first person. The reader will feel intimately connected with the character. As a writer, you’ll be able to deeply develop the character’s voice. And the character’s motivations and actions will be clearly understood. However, this also means that the voice is restricted, limited only to the style and vocabulary of that character. The perspective is also limited and biased, based on that one character’s experiences and opinions.

Second person is the “you” point of view. This is a hard one. It generally feels unnatural and is difficult to pull off. This POV addresses readers directly and can be quite powerful, but also needs to be used deliberately. You are essentially breaking the fourth wall and addressing your reader directly. Ask yourself when and why this would be appropriate for your story.

Third person is the “he/she/they” point of view. The third person voice can either be omniscient or limited. With the limited perspective, a reader can only know what that particular character knows. If something is happening off scene, with another character, readers will find out about it as our POV character does. While immediate and tight, the third person limited POV gives writers more flexibility than first person.The narrator’s voice is not the same as the character’s and can therefore have a slightly broader perspective.

The third person omniscient point of view is the bird’s-eye view. The narrator of the story knows the thoughts and feelings of all the characters involved. While third person omniscient may feel tempting, in that we can deliver more information in a short amount of time, it can also be confusing if not done well. Head-hopping from character to character, especially within the same scene can feel jarring to the reader.

The omniscient point of view also creates more distance from the reader. Modern readers prefer intimacy with characters. We want to feel a connection, get inside a character’s head, and understand their motivations. It’s difficult to achieve this with third person omniscient. But the omniscient POV allows the writer to explore multiple characters and perhaps tell a more epic story.

When deciding on point of view, choose the best fit for your story. Ask yourself what kind of story you want to tell. Is it one focused intimately on a single character? Do you want to write only from that character’s perspective? Then choose first person or very limited third. If you want more scope in your action or need multiple perspectives to tell the tale, maybe third person limited or omniscient is the way to go. You can also use multiple POV’s. The NYT’s bestseller One of Us is Lying tells the story from the perspective of four main characters. The Outlander series tells part of the story from Claire’s first-person voice, and the rest from third-person.

Read. Pay attention to the stories that grab you and ask yourself why they do. How does one author write with such distinctive personality in first person, while another creates an epic tale from multiple POV’s? Know the story you want to tell and then decide on the best POV.

Do you have a topic you would like us to cover? Let us know about your suggestion. 


About Author

Tabitha Lord is the award-winning author of the HORIZON series. She lives in Rhode Island with her husband, four kids, two spoiled cats, and lovable black lab.

1 Comment

  1. Melanie Winrow on

    I agree with most of your comments – however, 9 times out of 10, if a book is in first person I will not read it because I (and many other people I know who are avid readers) am unable to suspend disbelief. For me, certainly, there is always a part of me saying, “No, I’m not riding into the sunset with Walt Disney’s castle glittering in the distance (I wish!) I am sat here, reading this book and that is what the character is doing.

    PERSONALLY, and I hope I offend nobody with this comment, I LOVE third person – and have no problem at all with third person omniscient. Maybe I’m lucky and have just read excellent stories. Actually, your comment about head hopping made me laugh because Enid Blyton even told us what Kiki the Parrot was thinking in one of her stories. My writing has been compared with Enid Blyton and Jacqueline Wilson (my proudest moment came when a newspaper wrote that I believed my “books would fly off the shelves faster than Harry Potter ever did on his Nimbus 2007 …” I never said that but it sounded great! The guy called me up and asked if I enjoyed JK Rowling. “I love all the Harry Potter books,” was my reply … that was all I said!), which is a huge compliment as I love both writers. I love Enid’s style but I’ve read most of Jacqueline’s too and have yet to find a weak point of view. I think if it’s done well, you can get away with third person omniscient.

    Amanda Prowse writes brilliantly in third person limited and her books totally suck me in. Two books I should hate on paper, I have loved – Me Before You (first person AND present tense!) and Theatre Land – the same … I hate the “I am doing this” style – have TOTALLY sucked me in and I love them.

    Personally, I think it’s down to the skill of the author – no matter what style they use, if it’s done well, they will be successful. Hope that makes sense. Incidentally, I have written a piece in first person, present tense but hate the way it flows (because, to me, it doesn’t). Maybe I need to read more stories written in that way so I can learn to write it successfully – or give up and use third person, which is where I feel most comfortable!

Leave A Reply