One of the decisions you’ll have to make as a writer is which point of view to use in your story. There are many Points of View (POV) to choose from, and each one will influence your writing in different ways.
To help you pick the right POV for your stories, here is a quick rundown of what the options are, how to use them, and some ways they might change your writing.
What Is Point of View?
Point Of View is your narrator’s position when telling the story, and it comes from a Latin term (punctum visus) that means “point sight.”
I’ve heard POV referred to as the camera lens of the story- some POVs zoom out to show you the big picture, others will zoom in to give you the details, and they all direct your attention in the direction it needs to go.
However, choosing a point of view isn’t easy because every part of your story will be affected by it. For example, if the POV is inside the mind of a minister in an abbey, it’s going to be vastly different than something written from the POV of an omniscient god.
Point of View affects everything, and everything affects the POV. It’s a vicious cycle that we authors have to navigate to make our stories complete.
The Four POVs
When writing, you generally have four points of view to decide between. They are:
- First Person
- Second Person
- Third Person Limited
- Third Person Omniscient
First-person is anecdotal, “I was there” type of storytelling, giving you a first-hand account of the events from someone close to it. You can always tell if something is written in the first person by the “I” statements.
As an example, here’s an excerpt from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, a gothic novel written in first person POV.
“It WAS an incident of no moment, no romance, no interest in a sense; yet it marked with change one single hour of a monotonous life. My help had been needed and claimed; I had given it: I was pleased to have done something; trivial, transitory though the deed was, it was yet an active thing, and I was weary of an existence all passive.”
See how she’s telling us the story? That’s first-person narration.
The first-person POV is limited, biased, incomplete, and uses the internal workings of the narrator to filter the story. It also lends itself to mystery and intrigue, and you can use it to craft everything from empowering actions to delicate betrayals, as long as you know the character’s mind.
The second-person POV uses “you” statements to pull you into the story and make you feel like you’re part of the action.
The second-person POV is rare in the fiction world because it’s bes non-fiction and self-help. However, some have used it to create fiction, as shown in the Choose Your Own Adventure books.
It’s also great for blog posts and articles, and I prefer to write in the second person when I’m breaking down information because it makes the experience more intimate. Thus, this entire article is an example of the second-person POV.
Third Person Limited
Remember how I said the POV was like a camera lens? Well, third-person limited is one of the zoomed-in examples. It uses “he,” “she,” and “they” statements to put the narrator outside of the events, but we’ve zoomed the lens in just enough that the narrator only knows what the character knows.
Third-Person limited is the most common POV in writing today, and you can find it nearly everywhere. Still, we need an example for this article, so here’s an excerpt from 1984 by George Orwell.
“Winston turned round abruptly. He had set his features into the expression of quiet optimism which it was advisable to wear when facing the telescreen. He crossed the room into the tiny kitchen. By leaving the Ministry at this time of day he had sacrificed his lunch in the canteen, and he was aware that there was no food in the kitchen except a hunk of dark-coloured bread which had got to be saved for tomorrow’s breakfast.”
See how we experience Winston’s thoughts and feelings without being directly inside his head? That’s the advantage of third-person limited.
Third Person Omniscient
Have you ever wanted to feel like a diety? Then write in the third person omniscient. With this POV, you can experience every character’s thoughts, actions, feelings, and motivations. You see the world as a whole instead of through the eyes of one character. It also allows you to create whatever story you like with reckless abandon.
Take, for example, this section from Neil Gaiman’s fantastical story Stardust.
“Dunstan walked on, through the thronged market. It was bustling with people; all the strangers who had come to Wall in the previous weeks were there, and many of the inhabitants of the town of Wall as well. Mr. Bromios had set up a wine-tent and was selling wines and pasties to the village folk, who were often tempted by the foods being sold by the folk from Beyond the Wall but had been told by their grandparents, who had got it from their grandparents, that it was deeply, utterly wrong to eat fairy food, to eat fairy fruit, to drink fairy water and sip fairy wine.”
In this excerpt, we get the thoughts and feelings of several generations- none of which Dunstan would have known.
Third-person omniscient is fun to play with when creating new worlds from scratch because, as the deity in charge, you can do anything!
Which POV is right for you?
Well, that depends on what you want to write. My advice is to play around with different POVs and see which one feels right. Then, you can turn the camera on and start the action!