Revised as of:
30 Jan 2017
CAUTION: This post on points-of-view will be forever changing and is intended to note the glut of terminology that writers, editors, and publishers feel the need to promote. You may ask why I’d bother…and it’s simply because I figure if I’m confused by the possibilities, others may be as well.
In a nutshell, point-of-view and perspective come under the aegis of narrative mode, one of the literary elements:
- Point-of-view is the pronoun used for the character “speaking” or narrating the story and providing tone
- Perspective is how that character perceives what is happening
The Important Points-of-View (POVs)
There’s a “cast of thousands” of points-of-view, or so it seems. The most common ones are
first person and third person with the multiples — multiple first and multiple third — followed by the third person omniscient and objective. The less common ones, including second person, are perfectly usable.
Choosing a Point-of-View
What is the Purpose of Your Story
Choosing a POV character (POV) is actually the second step. First you want to determine how you want to tell the story. What’s the message you want to send your reader? For which genre are you writing? Do you want to build suspense? Is there a romantic angle? Whose is the dominant viewpoint? What is the tone you want to set in your story? The atmosphere?
Why are you telling this story? Even if your reason never makes its way into the text, you need to know this as it will affect how you write it.
Once we know why you want to write this, why is your narrator telling this story now? What’s their motivation? Are they just trying to clear up events for their own peace of mind? Make a confession about a wrong they did? Tell a good adventure tale to their beer-guzzling friends? What happened that is causing him or her to speak out?
Who is Telling the Story?
Obviously, the storyteller is telling the story. But who is the storyteller? Even if the author is directly addressing the reader, s/he is still a “character”. Who must use a POV.
You need to identify your storytelling character by how you want your reader to react.
His/her POV will be the lens through which your reader sees the story and how the story relates to the other characters and events. Think about it. If your narrator is a child, you’ll see the world through the interpretation of the world as that child. If your narrator is an old lady, you’ll see how she sees the world. A mean-spirited (or goodhearted) character will provide their perspective.
Narrative voice, a.k.a., point-of-view, is the voice of the one who tells the story, or simply, the narrator.
What Kind of Character
What kind of character will help convey the story’s intent? Now build that character’s, er, character. His/her personality, sense of values, quirks, attitude, mental and/or emotional state. How do you want him/her to react to the various situations you have planned for your story?
How much time has gone by from when the character experienced the events of the story and when s/he decided to tell them — this will affect your tense. Will you use humor? How?
Keep in mind that whichever POV you choose, you MUST use it throughout your story — the reader MUST always know who is speaking and thinking.
More Choices That Help Flesh Out Your Character
Your choice of character will affect that narrator’s manner of speaking, word choice, dialect, syntax, and more. Those choices will convey emotion, manipulate the five senses, affect the mood of the story, and reveal the relationship between characters as well as the voices, personalities, and dispositions of these other characters.
These same choices will influence how the reader understands the story.
So, who do you want to be telling your story? Is it one character? Are there multiple perspectives? Other characters “speaking”? Do you want your narrator to know what is “in the minds and hearts of men”? Do you want the reader to see into the character’s thoughts? Or does the narrator (or reader) only know what s/he knows because of the other characters’ actions, responses, mannerisms, or dialogue?
Is the narrator the author?? Will the narrator directly address the reader? Do you want to influence the reader towards your way of thinking? Do you want them to interpret the story in their own way?
Take an Attitude with Your POV
The POV is also about attitude and focus — what does the narrator point out and what is ignored? Is the narrator distant from the characters or up close?
The attitude of the narrator can also affect the scene or event. How the narrator responds to events and other characters.
As Beth Hill says in her post, “Tone, Mood, & Style — The Feel of Fiction“:
“Don’t you take that tone with me, young man.”
It’s a familiar comment I’m sure we’ve all heard as kids (or said as parents, lol), as this mother takes her son to task for his sassy attitude.
An attitude conveyed by his remarks, actions, and facial expressions, i.e., word choices and their order, how the sentences are constructed, and what the narrator has focused on.
“No!” he cried out.
“I don’t think so,” he said with a smile.
“Don’ wanna,” he mumbled and pouted.
“You fuckin’ bitch!” he screamed.
“No. You won’t,” Mary said in a very bossy tone.
What the narrator sees, smells, hears, tastes, or touches contributes as well by how these senses affect the narrator.
the smell of fresh bread coming out of the oven
freshly cut grass
the creamy smoothness of a chocolate pudding
the sound of uneven footsteps tottering down the hall as ol’ granny makes her way from her bedroom
the rustling of a bush on a dark night
The Most Common Mistakes Using Any POV
The most common problems are:
- The narrative suddenly coming from another character’s POV
- Hopping from head to head too frequently
- When changing a character, you must change his/her perspective, diction, syntax, etc. AND maintain the POV
Adrienne Giordano has a great suggestion: “Re-read your favorite books with the aim of examining the points-of-view used.
“Find a few great passages and start analyzing them for POV. Whose head are you in, for how long, and how do you know? What effect does that have on you? If there’s a shift to another POV, why did that happen, and how did you know that it happened? What words tipped you off? (Mastering POV).”
Yes, it’ll be a lot of work, but it will help you master POV.
Sudden Switch in POV
It can be hard to keep track of who is allowed to know or talk about what’s happening. For instance, if using John with a first-person POV, you can’t write about the accident Mark had…unless John was there to see it (or heard about it).
If You’re Still Not Sure…
If you’re not sure which point-of-view to use, write a chunk of your story. Then try different POVs to see which one best suits your story.
Listen to an audiobook or listen after you’ve read it and see if you can distinguish between authorial voice and another POV.
Now Add in Perspective
To repeat myself, perspective is how the narrator perceives what’s happening within the story while point-of-view determines the pronoun you’ll use for the narrator.
Whichever point-of-view you use, everyone’s perspective, their particular thoughts about the event, will be different. You may have four people at one event, but each person comes away with a unique set of experiences or observations. Consider how witnesses to a crime all have a perception of what happened.
What it comes down to is that readers “observe the story” through the character’s POV who is telling the story. Depending on which POV is chosen, the narrator can see-all, know-all or know only what s/he observes or hears. And, yes, this is the simple answer.
|Focuses on how this narrator perceives what’s happening within the story.||Focuses on the pronouns used to tell the story.|
|Changes within the story depending on which character is talking about what’s going on.||The character speaking throughout the story.|
|“Belongs” to whichever character is speaking. Think of it as being witness to a crime — and how each “witness” sees that crime from their own perspective. And you must keep in mind how much each “witness” can actually say, depending upon the chosen POV.||Once a point-of-view is chosen for a character, it stays with that character.|
Writing Tips involve…
…the mechanics of writing. What’s involved in the structure of creating your book. If you found this post on “Point-of-View and Perspective are Intertwined Yet Distinct” interesting, consider tweeting it to your friends. Subscribe to KD Did It, if you’d like to track this post for future updates.
|Credit to: Virtual Lit; Rachel Sherman; Virtual Lit; Crof’s “Narrative Voice; New York Book Editors; The Editor’s Blog; “Mastering POV“|
|Part of Speech: Literary Element, Narrative Mode|
|Definition: Point-of-view is deciding what personal pronouns are going to “tell” the story, through which character’s eyes — first-person pronoun, second-person pronoun, or third-person pronoun — the conflict will unroll, like that of the eight-year-old boy watching his parents going through their divorce. It determines the angle and perception of the story unfolding and influences the tone in which the story takes place.
Choose carefully as you should stick to that point-of-view throughout the story. If you choose to use first person point-of-view, for example, you don’t want to switch into third person limited half way through. Changing it can really screw with your readers, get them annoyed.
Rule: Point-of-view focuses on who — 1st, 2nd, or 3rd-person:
A.k.a., narrative voice, voice, narrative mode, viewpoint, narrator, viewpoint character, narrator’s tone of voice
This is not the same as Active versus Passive Voice.
|1st Person||Definition: Using I, me, my, mine, we, our, or ours, a major or minor character (often the protagonist) in the story is telling the story, as if the perspective character is telling it directly to the reader.|
|First person is considered the least formal POV.
Rule: There is only ONE perspective:
Using fixed perspective works particularly well.
Breaking the fourth wall, a.k.a., metafiction, is an option, but not a necessity, of this format.
A.k.a., first person narration, first person limited???
|I love to climb trees.
I couldn’t convince myself to get out of bed. It was just too cozy under the comforter, with the cat curled up next to me. I was going to have to walk all the way to work.
Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn uses the title character as the narrator
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is primarily told from Watson’s perspective
Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun also Rises
Linda W. Yezak’s The Cat Lady’s Secret
|Pros of 1st Person POV|
|Useful when the writer wants the character to reflect upon an issue, although it is more common to use third person for reflections.
An excellent way to convincingly carry off multiple first person — deliberately changing the perspective from chapter to chapter so that you have several characters each telling their part of the story.
This can be really fun to do, but must be done with care, or you will run into the same problems third person omniscient can lead to.
The narrator can lie to the reader, either by commission or omission, because what can be told is limited to the character’s observation and thoughts, and any skewed perceptions s/he has will be passed on to the reader.
You only want readers to know the narrator’s motives.
Allows for a very tight reader identification with the narrator, as well as a more distinctive voice.
|Cons of 1st Person POV|
|EVERYTHING the reader learns is through the narrator, the I character chooses:
There is no possible way for one character to know the thoughts of another, to know about things that happen when s/he is not around, or to know what s/he looks like.
You don’t know if the narrator is telling the truth.
You may want to look at unreliable narrator as well.
|1st Person Protagonist||Definition: The main character, I, relates events that occurred to him/her, telling his or her own story.|
|A.k.a., first person central|
|Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird
Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre
J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye
|Pros of 1st Person Protagonist POV|
|See Pros of 1st Person POV|
|Cons of 1st Person Protagonist POV|
|See Cons of 1st Person POV|
|1st Person Limited||Definition: I only sees and hears (and reveals) what your character actually can see and hear and know. If something happens someplace the character is not, I can’t be aware of it.|
|The differences are so minute, that I have to wonder if it isn’t the same thing but more a result of our penchant for inventing various names for the same thing.
Narration: First Person (Wikipedia)
|Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games|
|Pros of 1st Person Limited POV|
|Gives the reader a greater insight into the mind and personality of the narrating character.
Allows you to hide thoughts and actions and create greater suspense.
Can be more powerful as a story, as it concentrates all the emotion and action into the experience of one person.
|Cons of 1st Person Limited POV|
|Characters can be too self-centered.|
|1st Person Direct Speech||Definition: Dialogue or thought in its original form phrased by the original speaker and enclosed in quotation marks.|
|The cited speaker is either mentioned in the he/she says format or implied.
NOTE: Although this is associated with POV, it’s not actually a POV used throughout a novel, but a formatting style that indicates a direct quote.
A.k.a., reported direct speech
|Pros of 1st Person Direct Speech POV|
|Quickly and clearly indicates the exact words “spoken” by a character.
More subjective and emotional than indirect speech.
Encourages the reader to become emotionally involved with the characters.
|Cons of 1st Person Direct Speech POV|
|Can give the impression of hectoring, as if the writer/speaker is trying to control the reader/listener, closing his options and depriving him of independent judgement.|
|1st Person Dual POV||Definition: Two characters who each have their own first-person point-of-view.|
Love stories and detective novels where the detective and the criminal are equal protagonists and the chapters are shared between them.
|“I love to climb trees.”
“I hate to climb trees,” I retorted.
“I missed the bus that morning because Joan didn’t wake me up.”
“I couldn’t help it. I was so cozy under the comforter, with the cat curled up next to me, that I didn’t want to get out of bed to wake Marian. She’s going to have to walk all the way to work.”
Martin Amis’ Success
Donna Gephart’s Lily and Dunkin
Huntley Fitzpatrick’s The Boy Most Likely To
Robin Talley’s What We Left Behind
|Pros of 1st Person Dual POV|
|Cons of 1st Person Dual POV|
|The voices need to be very distinct or obvious, so the reader knows who is speaking.
Harder to do well than dual 3rd person.
Restricts the plotline.
An almost automatic rejection slip from the publisher.
|1st Person Objective||Definition: The narrator may be the reliable main character, who guides the reader, often reflecting on a past “self” or s/he may be a bystander or minor character.|
|Rule: Narrates the story after the action has finished, and so uses mostly a past tense verb.
A.k.a., observer narrator, detached autobiography, detached narrator
|I used to climb trees.
I was so cozy under the comforter, with the cat curled up next to me, that I hadn’t thought to wake Marian. I had to walk all the way to work.
Henry Bushkin’s A Hard Act to Follow
Anthony Russell’s Outrageous Fortune: Growing Up at Leeds Castle
|Pros of 1st Person Objective POV|
|You want the narrator to seem trustworthy, but you don’t want the reader to connect strongly to him or her.|
|Cons of 1st Person Objective POV|
|May lose some of the excitement associated with a first-person subjective.|
|1st Person Omniscient||Definition: A rare form, the narrator is a character in the story, but also knows the thoughts and feelings of all the other characters.|
|Events are restricted to those that could reasonably be known.
It can seem like third person omniscient at times.
|Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, where the narrator is Death.
Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, where a young girl, having been killed, observes her family struggling to cope with her disappearance.
The adult character in Marisa de los Santos’ Love Walked In
|Pros of 1st Person Omniscient POV|
|You have the option of providing a reasonable (or inferred) explanation about the story’s world or leave it as a glaring absence as a major plot point.|
|Cons of 1st Person Omniscient POV|
|You must remember that the I telling the story must have been a witness or
or participant in the events.
|1st Person Plural||Definition: The character, and the story, is told from a we point-of-view.|
|We love to climb trees.
We missed the bus that morning because we couldn’t convince ourselves to get out of bed. It was just too cozy under the comforter, with the cat curled up between us. We were going to have to walk all the way to work.
Frank Gilbreth’s Cheaper by the Dozen
Joshua Ferris’ Then We Came to an End
Jon McGregor’s Even the Dogs
Kate Walbert’s Our Kind
William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”
|Pros of 1st Person Plural POV|
|Can be used effectively to increase the concentration on the character or characters the story is about.
Can give a sense of inclusion with the group.
|Cons of 1st Person Plural POV|
|It’s hard for readers to relate to a group of people.
A group very rarely feels the same things and thinks the same things.
Very tricky to pull off.
No individual speaker is identified.
|1st Person Multiple||Definition: Deliberately changing the perspective from chapter to chapter so that several characters are each telling their part of the story.|
A.k.a., revolving 1st person
|I love to climb trees.
I was so cozy under the comforter, with the cat curled up next to me, that I didn’t think to wake Marian. She’s going to have to walk all the way to work.
Iain M. Banks’ Transition
Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude
Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible
Jane Hamilton’s A Map Of The World
|Pros of 1st Person Multiple POV|
|Handy if you need several points-of-view to tell the story, but keep it to the minimum necessary to do the job.|
|Cons of 1st Person Multiple POV|
|It can be difficult for readers to empathize with a viewpoint character if there are too many of them.
Keeping track of when and how to switch multiple narrators can be complicated.
Each POV narrator needs his/her own subplot.
|1st Person Memoir||Definition: The narrator reflects on the events of his/her life and usually, draws certain conclusions, typically from certain incidents in a person’s life.|
|The narrator can be confident, an eye-witness or the “chorus” (providing offstage or background information).
Narrator may be reliable or unreliable.
A.k.a., first person observer
|I love to climb trees.
I love to dig holes, unlike Helen.
I missed the bus that morning because Joan didn’t wake me up.
I was so cozy under the comforter, with the cat curled up next to me, that I didn’t think to wake Marian. I going to have to walk all the way to work.
Shirlee Taylor Haizlip’s The Sweeter the Juice: A Family Memoir in Black and White
Josh Kilmer-Purcell’s Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites became Gentlemen Farmers: An Unconventional Memoir
Hari Daoud’s Translator: A Tribesman’s Memoir of Darfur
Larry McMurtry’s Books
|Pros of 1st Person Memoir POV|
|Creates the most intimate possible experience for the reader.
Makes your reader feel like they’re in the room with you — or sitting next to you in the cockpit, or huddled against you in the storm cellar.
|Cons of 1st Person Memoir POV|
|1st Person Peripheral||Definition: The narrator is another character in the story, one who witnesses the main character’s story and conveys it to the reader.|
|The peripheral narrator may be a part of the action but he is not the focus.
|That Helen sure loved to climb trees.
Joan looked so cozy under the comforter, with the cat curled up next to her, that she didn’t think to wake Marian, who going to have to walk all the way to work.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby with Nick Carraway
Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
|Pros of 1st Person Peripheral POV|
|The main character is dead at the end of the story, but someone needs to be alive to tell the story.
You want to keep the reader wondering what the character is thinking, or the character has a secret the author wants to keep from the readers.
You don’t want the main character to be aware of what is going on, but need a narrator who does have a good perspective.
|Cons of 1st Person Peripheral POV|
|The narrator’s observations and interpretations are colored by how s/he sees things.
There is no personal growth for the narrator.
Major focus is on the main character, not the narrator, even though the narrator has the POV
Narrator observes, participates, and reactions to action in which s/he is a part.
May confuse the reader as to who the real main character is and/or may make the narrator more difficult for the reader to relate to.
Events are more significant than the narrator
|1st Person Witness||Definition: The story of the main character is told by a character observing the events using I, me, mine and has limited or no participation in the story.|
|It is closely related to third person limited, but chooses to add personal pronouns (I, me, myself) to inject commentary.
A.k.a., first person observer
|I saw her climb that tree. She sure looked happy about it.
She missed the bus. She’d probably spent an hour arguing with herself that she really should get up. I could picture her there, curled up in bed with the cat next to her. Now she was going to have to walk to work.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes with Dr. Watson
|Pros of 1st Person Witness POV|
|Using a down-to-earth observer can help tone down a protagonist who is larger than life.
By not having access to the protagonist’s thoughts and feelings, makes the protagonist more mysterious.
Allows you to hold information back from the reader, against all first-person rules.
|Cons of 1st Person Witness POV|
|Seeing through a main character who is too superior can make it uncomfortable for the reader.|
|1st Person Secondary Character||Definition: A variation on first person witness, it uses a character who may not be who the story is about, but can relate his/her experiences within the context of the story and usually has a relationship with the protagonist.
Terri Main’s “Point of View: First Person – Secondary Character“
|I’ve noticed that my friend James loves to climb trees.
That Joan. My sister does love how cozy it is under her new comforter, with the cat curled up next to her. It’s so warm and snuggly under there that she tends to get lost in it. This morning, she forgot to wake Marian up, and she had to walk all the way to work.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes with Dr. Watson
Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Rodger Ackroyd, is told by Dr. Shepherd and those Hercule Poirots that are told by Captain Hastings.
|Pros of 1st Person Secondary Character POV|
|Useful in humanizing main characters who are too, too brilliant, making the narrator someone with whom the reader can identify.|
|Cons of 1st Person Secondary Character POV|
|Anything that happens outside the POV character’s presence has to be inferred from other evidence or that reported to him/her by the main character.
The narrator doesn’t know the thoughts of the main character except through dialogue or inference based on their mutual relationship.
|1st Person Immersive||Definition: Requires the reader to not only see through a character’s eyes, but to pay attention and become that character, to completely submerge into that character.|
Donald Maass’ “Immersive POV“
|I love the visceral sense of trees, the roughness of their bark, the cool brush of its leaves against my skin. There’s a freedom and a challenge in climbing trees. That sense of accomplishment when you get to the top. I’m not as good climbing down. It’s such a long way and no way to see the next branch. My stomach churns and my head gets all dizzy that I have to look straight at that tree trunk until I can settle.
I woke that morning to frost on the inside of the window and my nose feeling as if Jack Frost had touched me, my cheeks cool, but it was so cozy under the comforter, with the warmth and weight of cat curled up next to me, that I didn’t think to wake Marian. I didn’t envy her having to walk all the way to work in the freezing chill of that wind as I snuggled deeper into my bed.
Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch pulls us into Theo Decker’s concerns.
|Pros of 1st Person Immersive POV|
|Enables the reader to feel every small idea, tiny feeling, minute distraction, random observation, little memory, idle speculation, momentary worry, and more.
Nuances and nothings become elevated in importance.
Aids in building anticipation, apprehension, dread, disconnect, cognitive dissonance, foreshadowing, fresh worry, unsettling ideas, faint hope, etc.
|Cons of 1st Person Immersive POV|
|Wandering through a character’s mental and emotional state uses up a lot of words as well as room in the reader’s imagination. Give the reader too much and they may tune out. The ideal is to trigger the reader’s own experiences.
Authors can forget to come back up to the story.
|1st Person Dramatic Monologue||Definition: Narrator speaking to someone else and the reader “overhears”.|
Used in novels to tell stories.
|I hate to climb trees. All those splinters from the bark, the debris getting in my hair.
I love how cozy it is under the comforter, with the cat curled up next to me. It never occurred to me that I should wake Marian up. Poor girl, she’s going to have to walk all the way to work.
Albert Camus’ The Fall with Jean-Baptiste
William Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey“
Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Mont Blanc“
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist
|Pros of 1st Person Dramatic Monologue POV|
|Expresses the views of a character and offers the audience greater insight into that character’s feelings.|
|Cons of 1st Person Dramatic Monologue POV|
|There’s a danger of too much telling.
There is a danger of the writer putting too much of him-/herself into the novel.
|1st Person Interior Monologue||Definition: The narrator (can also use 3rd person BUT with first-person pronouns) justifies his/her actions and tries to convince the reader of his/her views or values.|
|The narrator may or may not be trustworthy.
A.k.a., train of thought, stream of consciousness, internal monologue
|I love climbing trees and ladders…oops, look at the skirt on that girl…and I love picking flowers and using her… He’s a cute one…
I love digging holes, unlike Helen who never likes to get her hands dirty…then there’s Peterkins, some days he okay and other days he shouldn’t get out of bed. I wonder if I turned the stove off…oh, there it goes. I wonder where…
Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground
Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked in a short interior monologue between a father and son
Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files finds Dresden snarking away at himself in short bursts.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet with Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” speech
James Joyce’s Ulysses
|Pros of 1st Person: Interior Monologue POV|
|You want the reader to connect to the narrator, to understand the main character’s emotions, motivations, and concerns.
Shows strong emotions and is deeply involved in the story.
Resembles natural thought patterns with all the order and chaos of a character’s state of mind.
|Cons of 1st Person: Interior Monologue POV|
|Don’t have any lengthy thoughts during an action scene; save it for the calm in between scenes.
Demands more involvement of the reader in understanding a character’s traits and motivations.
|1st Person Re-teller||Definition: The story is told by someone who has heard the story from yet another person, but is not a witness to the events.|
|She must love to climb trees. I’ve seen her climb that big ol’ oak in Farmer Brown’s pasture.
She missed the bus. I don’t know why; probably couldn’t get out of bed. You know how warm it gets when you’re all curled up in the blankets. She had a cat, too, and somehow a cat makes it harder to get up in the morning. So she missed the bus, and would have to walk all the way to work (Ohio University).
C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
|Pros of 1st Person Re-teller POV|
|Cons of 1st Person Re-teller POV|
|1st Person Diary POV||Definition: Narrator writing diary entries.|
Epistolary genres, fiction or nonfiction.
| 28 July. I went climbing that old oak in the field again today.
20 November. It was so hard to get up this morning. I was so cozy under my new down comforter, with the cat curled up next to me. I was so lost in the warmth that I didn’t think to wake Marian up. She ended up having to walk all the way to work on those icy sidewalks.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones series
Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole series
Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl
|Pros of 1st Person Diary POV|
|Adds realism, as it imitates real life thoughts.
Provides readers with an intimate view of the character’s feelings and thoughts and develops a direct connection with the events without the interjection of the author.
|Cons of 1st Person Diary POV|
|1st Person Letter||Definition: Narrator writing a letter.|
Epistolary genres, fiction or nonfiction.
I climbed that old oak in the field again today. Naturally Mama fussed about how unladylike that was. That that sort of tomboyish activity was fine when I was but a child.
Helene Hanff’s 84, Charing Cross Road
Aphra Behn’s Love Letters of a Nobleman to His Sister
Alice Walker’s The Color Purple
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
|Pros of 1st Person Letter POV|
|Add realism, as it imitates the real life workings and allows it to describe different points-of-view.
Provides readers with an intimate view of characters’ feelings and thoughts and develops a direct connection with the events through letters without interference of the author.
Presenting events from different viewpoints gives the story verisimilitude and dimensions.
|Cons of 1st Person Letter POV|
|Unreliable Narrator||Definition: A narrator who cannot be trusted to accurately convey the story. S/he may be insincere, innocent, or inexperienced and unable to understand the truth behind events correctly, may hide or lie about events, may invent or twist events, may make mistakes, be biased or judgmental, may be ignorant of the truth, could be nuts (psychopathic or sociopathic), etc.|
|All of this may also apply to motivations or characters. Think of the fisherman who exaggerates the size of that fish he caught or the murderer who justifies his actions.
It is also a plot type.
|My dog loves to climb trees.
I’m sure she didn’t want to get out of bed. I couldn’t say if the cat is the attraction or if she had company. She surely wasn’t thinking of Marian missing that bus. I don’t know how Marian’ll get to work now.
Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
Vladimir Nabakov’s Lolita misleads readers
Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange
Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club has an unnamed narrator who eventually makes the reader question everything s/he has read
Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado‘s Montresor never does explain why he feels so insulted by Fortunado
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby hypocritical Nick Carraway only knows what unreliable others tell him and his own inner conflicts affects his judgement
Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn‘s innocence causes him to misinterpret events
C.S. Lewis’ narrator in The Screwtape Letters is simply not someone I’d trust
In Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights the maid, Nelly Dean, loves to embellish what she sees, and when she tells Lockwood her stories, he believes they’re the truth which causes him to misinterpret.
|Pros of Unreliable Narrator POV|
|It can create very powerful mysteries, especially if, in lying to the reader, the narrator is really attempting to lie to him or herself. If your story demands a large, surprising reversal somewhere along the line, it is an effective way to do it (Plot to Punctuation).
Can give readers a chance to offer their own interpretations.
You only want to build tension, suspense, fear.
|Cons of Unreliable Narrator POV|
|Naive Narrator POV||Definition: The inexperienced and innocent narrator, usually first-person, demonstrates the flaws in the worlds and systems in which they operate through ironic observation.|
|The naive narrator does not objectively understand the events happening around him, who are clueless about the greater context of their experiences. This inexperience causes a distorted perspective that the author uses to communicate satire or another important point.
|That boy, what’s his name? Edmund Hilary? He can’t even climb a tree. I doubt me that he’ll ever be able to climb anything lessen it has a staircase.
You know how those hobbits are, always drinking and eating. Totally averse to adventure. Why I suspect that Frodo would never get up out of bed unless it were to eat and drink.
In Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights with the maid, Nelly Dean
J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye with Holden Caulfield
Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels
Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales series
Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler
|Pros of Naive Narrator POV|
|Does not require the author to communicate directly through the narrator.|
|Cons of Naive Narrator POV|
|1st Person Subjective||Definition: Narrator seems unreliable, tries to get us to share their side or assume values or views we don’t share.|
|Rule: Narrates during or close to the time of action, and so it mostly uses the present tense verb.|
|That Helen sure loves climbing trees, such an unladylike pastime.
Such a lazy thing, that Joan. Just lying there under her comforter, the cat curled up next to her. She was too caught up in her own contentment to think of waking Marian who was going to have to walk all the way to work just because Joan didn’t think.
Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground
|Pros of 1st Person Subjective POV|
|Allows you to create whatever “facts” you like.
Can intensify action and suspense.
|Cons of 1st Person Subjective POV|
|Story elements are filtered through one person’s subjective opinions.
May be unreliable as s/he has not had time to reflect on the conflict.
|2nd Person||Definition: Uses you (but NOT the generic you) and yours.
You can also be plural, meaning you can be about one person or more than one.
| The story is told as if it is happening to the reader — in the style of a direct address — and is the least used point-of-view in mainstream fiction.
In some cases the word you is not actually there, but is understood. Very occasionally, a writer will use second person to give a sense of immediacy.
Using fixed perspective works particularly well.
Rule: There is only ONE perspective:
Often, this kind of story has the narrator speaking to a younger version of their self.
A.k.a., second person narration, second-person narration
|You love to climb trees.
You couldn’t convince yourself to get out of bed. The comforter made a cozy nest around you, with the cat curled up next to you. Now you’re going to have to walk all the way to work.
Joyce Carol Oates’ Rape: A Love Story
Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City
Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Misty Copeland’s Firebird
Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveller
Charles Stross’ Halting State
|Pros of 2nd Person POV|
|Makes the reader part of the story.|
|Cons of 2nd Person POV|
|This point-of-view is very rare because it is extremely difficult to pull off. The reader may feel that they are the one spoken to, and will find it difficult to accept that they are doing the things the narrator tells them they are doing.
Nor can that character know about things that happen when s/he is not around or know the thoughts of another. You can’t convincingly include scenes that don’t include your perspective character — no matter how important they are.
If you choose to tell a story in second person, it is very important to make it clear to the reader who is being addressed, so they can trust in the teller and accept the story as given.
|2nd Person Direct Address||Definition: A gentler version of second-person, which sometimes refers to you in asides or letters.|
A.k.a., direct discourse
|“But you love to climb trees!”
“Just because you couldn’t convince yourself to get out of bed with that comforter making such a cozy nest around you, that cat curled up next to you. Well think again, for you’re going to have to walk all the way to work.”
Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me sometimes speaks directly to a mysterious you
|Pros of 2nd Person Direct Address POV|
|Allows reader to draw inferences about characters.
Supports or refutes narrative commentary.
Often quickens the narrative pace.
|Cons of 2nd Person Direct Address POV|
|3rd Person||Definition: Uses he, she, his, her, it, they, their, or a name where the writer or speaker is describing someone else, and not their own personal experience.|
|Text in the third person can include direct speech in the first or second person. The text is still said to be in the third person.
Rule: The narrator (who may be the author) is not a character in the story.
Rule: The perspective is:
A.k.a., third person narration
|She loves to climb trees.
I’m sure she couldn’t convince herself to get out of bed. It was just too cozy under the comforter, with that cat curled up next to her. She’s going to have to walk all the way to work.
George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s Paul Clifford
|Pros of 3rd Person POV|
|Third person narration is very flexible and the most used.
It’s easier to write in third person when writing one’s own personal experiences as it lets the writer distance him/herself from the events. This distance can also help the writer change the events to make them more dramatic.
Allows more description and observation of the characters.
|Cons of 3rd Person POV|
|The reader is required to accept the narrator’s authority, to identify with them, which they may be hesitant to do. Just because a narrator sounds like they know it all, doesn’t mean they do.|
|3rd Person Dual||Definition: The story is told with two third-person points-of-view.
Most romance novels which provide the heroine’s and hero’s individual points-of-view.
|She loves to climb trees, although George is always chopping them down.
He’s concerned about having enough firewood for the winter. Fortunately, George is always chopping trees down.
In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen presents two leading characters, Jane and Elizabeth, using the third person point-of-view and then shows us that the two characters are talking about Bingley from their own third person point-of-view (also see third person limited).
|Pros of 3rd Person Dual POV|
|Cons of 3rd Person Dual POV|
|3rd Person Multiple||Definition: Uses the techniques of first-person or third-person limited writing, but applies them to multiple characters in the same book.|
|Multiple point-of-view hops from one person’s head to the next, which means you MUST be very careful with transitions between heads. Each character has his/her own scene, and you must stay in that character’s head for the entire scene and maintain proper POV rules — do not relay to the reader what the thoughts of the opposite character(s) are.
|She loves to climb trees.
He loves to chop trees down.
Henry loves to stack the logs and arrange them his way.
Tom Leveen’s Party
Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife
Rabindranath Tagore’s The Home and the World: Modern Essays in Criticism
Rick Riordan’s The Heroes of Olympus series
Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace
|Pros of 3rd Person Multiple POV|
|Keeps up tension, pace, and keeps us from being bored with the character. Your reader learns what drives each of your characters to do things they may do. It offers the reader the variety of watching the antagonist plot his crimes while still letting them see what drives the hero or heroine.
Very useful for cliffhanger scenes: just as a character falls into a dangerous situation, SCENE CUT. Leave that character hanging on the edge of a pit, while you explore another character’s side of the story, until that character is in danger and…SCENE CUT, back to the first character, where you left him about to fall onto a shrub that breaks his fall before he finds himself in some other danger (Darcy Pattison).
|Cons of 3rd Person Multiple POV|
|Remember that each chapter will have multiple scenes, which means you can switch from head to head within that chapter, a.k.a., headhopping, but you MUST be sure that the reason you are switching is a good one, one that will make sense to your reader. And don’t head-hop in the middle of a scene.
Make sure each of your characters is different enough so that the reader doesn’t confuse him or her with a different character, each with original and distinct traits, very different backgrounds, jobs, ages, personalities, etc.
Do not use this technique to recap the same scene by using a different character. An extreme example of this is Todd McCaffrey’s Dragon’s Kin, Dragon’s Fire, and Dragon’s Time in which he has written entire books that do this.
|3rd Person Objective||Definition: Uses a narrator, an uninvolved onlooker, who tells the story in a neutral, objective, unbiased manner without relating any of the character’s thoughts, opinions, or feelings — just the facts, ma’am — only what is seen or heard.|
|These can only be understood through the character’s actions or dialogue.
This narrative mode can be described as a fly-on-the-wall or camera lens approach that can only record the observable actions, but does not interpret these actions or relay what thoughts are going through the minds of the characters.
A good writer can tell a completely objective story in such a way that the reader is able to determine the feelings and sometimes even the thoughts of the characters through what those characters say and do, even though the thoughts and feelings are never described.
A.k.a., third-person dramatic, detached observer, removed, cinematic POV
|She often climbs trees.
She arrived panting at the bus stop when the bus was already long gone. She looked at her watch and swore. “Damn warm blankets,” she said. “Damn warm, purring cat.” She sighed and walked along the sidewalk in the direction of her office building.
Ernest Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants.
|Pros of 3rd Person Objective POV|
|Allows the author to reveal information that not all or any of the characters may be aware of.
Provide explicit, observable details.
Emphasizes characters acting out their feelings observably through their actions and dialogue.
Internal thoughts, if expressed, are given voice through an aside or soliloquy.
|Cons of 3rd Person Objective POV|
|Does not allow the author to reveal the unexpressed thoughts and feelings of the characters.
The narrator can:
Can come across as cold.
|3rd Person Subjective||Definition: The narrator conveys the thoughts, feelings, opinions, etc., through the perceptions and knowledge of one or more characters:|
It is very similar to first person as it allows in-depth revelation of the protagonist’s personality, BUT using third person pronouns.
This style became the most popular narrative perspective during the 20th century.
A.k.a., over-the-shoulder perspective
|She loves to climb trees while George is always chopping them down. Fortunately, Henry always stacks the logs.
George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones is an example of global subjective.
|Pros of 3rd Person Subjective POV|
|Global can offer different perspectives of a story, and in this way, be almost as reliable as an omniscient narrator.
Is only sure about what is related to his chosen character.
Although the narrator is not a character in the story, his/her opinions and judgments are those of the character s/he’s representing and can create a bond of empathy between character and reader.
Always wiser than a first-person narrator as s/he can describe his/her chosen hero from both inside and outside perspectives.
|Cons of 3rd Person Subjective POV|
|Simple perspective is limited to one character and doesn’t know what any other character is thinking or feeling.
What the narrator can tell about the remaining characters is subjective and based on conjectures.
|Single 3rd Person||Definition: The narrator is limited to one character, but may use his/her own voice or that of the character.|
Romances and other fiction.
A.k.a., third person single
|Helen is well aware that her love for climbing trees is considered hoydenish, but she doesn’t care. She loves the freedom that comes from looking out over the countryside.
Joan was so cozy under her comforter, with the cat curled up next to her, that she didn’t think to wake Marian. Nor did she much care that Marian was going to have to walk all the way to work.
The scene in which Harry is being described for the first time in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Lee Benoit’s Someplace in This World stories
Claire Davis’ Labors of the Heart
George Orwell’s 1984
Richard Wright’s Native Son
Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses
|Pros of Single 3rd Person POV|
|Has most of the advantages of deep third, but is easier to control.
Retains the intimacy and focus of first person POV.
The narrator can provide insight that is out of the character’s reach.
The narrator can use a voice or style of writing different from or similar to the POV character.
|Cons of Single 3rd Person POV|
|Can only relate the thoughts and observations of that one character.
Inherits the limitations of first person POV.
|Deep Third Person||Definition: Allows the writer to go very deeply into one character’s mind and show how it worked and how the person felt in an active sense. In fact, it’s the ultimate in showing the reader.|
|Restricts itself entirely to the perspective of a single character within any given scene, usually the protagonist.
It is imperative that the reader feel the emotions of the character, about being so into the character that you feel with her body, think with her mind, and write with her voice.
“Rules”: There are a few tips that can help keep you focused:
A.k.a., single-focused, deep-immersion, single-third??, tight, tight-third, close, close third, tight third, intimate
Alicia Rasley’s “A Historical Perspective on Point of View“; “Tips on Writing Deep POV” by Barbara Wallace; Karen Traviss’ “Understanding character and tight third person POV“
|As Helen looked down from the height of the old oak, her stomach churned at the distance to the ground.
Joan was so cozy under the comforter, with the cat curled up next to her, that Joan didn’t think to wake Marian. Marian was going to have to walk all the way to work.
Octavia E. Butler’s Dawn
Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files series
|Pros of Deep Third Person POV|
|Provides a tight focus on the perspective of one character throughout an entire
scene, chapter, or even book.
Can start a scene in omniscient and descend into the deeper single-focused POV, or you can
Has the immediacy and intimacy of stream-of-consciousness, with the advantage of being much more readable and compatible with other POV choices.
Language is much more active:
Highlights more of your voice.
Easier to create three-dimensional characters.
|Cons of Deep Third Person POV|
|More difficult to control than single third-person.
Highly subjective with a narrow focus, as it is tightly confined to each character — what s/he sees, feels, thinks, or knows — and must be written in that character’s speaking style and language.
|3rd Person Omniscient||Definition: The story is told as though by an all-knowing narrator — the God’s eye view — who can describe the thoughts, feelings, and actions of all characters and events in an unbiased fashion, which allows the narrator to roam freely in the story’s setting and even beyond but is actually NOT a participant. It is considered a distant POV.|
|You have two choices with the omniscient narrator:
HOWEVER, you must decide if you want your readers to know these are your opinions. If not, use one of the characters — one at some distance from the main actions — to make this sort of editorial commentary.
Naturally, a commentator may also add in his/her own amusing commentary about events involving still other people.
Rule: Perspective becomes optional as it is so easy to switch from one character to another.
A.k.a., 3rd person anonymous
|Jane loves to climb trees while George loves to chop them down. Fortunately, Henry loves to stack logs.
She spent nearly an hour arguing with herself about getting up. You have to be awake now, it’s a work day. But it’s so warm. Just a few more minutes. You’ll be late. I don’t care. Yes you do. Curled up there with the cat, it was so hard to move, so warm and cozy. And so she missed the bus, and swore, and told herself how stupid she was. Then she started the long walk to work.
The sisters in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women
George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series
George Eliot’s Middle March
E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World
Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry
Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov
|Pros of 3rd Person Omniscient POV|
|Gives you the most freedom to develop the story.
Works especially well in stories with complex plots or large settings where we must use multiple viewpoints to tell the story, as you can easily switch from one character to another.
Readers learns about several characters from their actions, dialogue, AND internal thoughts, and so knows their motivations and agenda.
The reader chooses which character to trust more.
|Cons of 3rd Person Omniscient POV|
|More about telling than showing.
Be very careful when you switch perspective and how you handle it, or your readers will become very confused. There must be a reason for the change, and that it’s easy for your readers to follow that change.
As the emotionally coldest POV, it can be difficult for your readers to form any close emotional ties with the characters due to your jumping from character to character.
It can also be a very confusing POV to keep track of your characters’ points-of-view:
It can, however, cause the reader to feel uncertain about whom to identify with in the story. If you are going to skip from one point-of-view to another, start doing so early in the story, before the reader has fully identified with the original point-of-view.
Too easy to fall into telling the story, rather than showing.
Can slow the narrative pace.
|Authorial Intrusion||Definition: Establishes a one-to-one relationship between the writer and the reader where the reader is no longer a secondary player or an indirect audience to the progress of the story but is the main subject of the author’s attention.|
Older suspense novels, satire, parody.
Types of Authorial Intrusion:
|You’ll have noticed that Helen loves to climb trees.
Cozy under that comforter, Joan simply laid there with the cat curled up next to her, and because of that Joan never woke Marian up. Marian will be so angry that she’ll now have to walk to work.
William Goldman’s The Princess Bride
Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre
Karen Robards’ Sea Fire
|Pros of Authorial Intrusion|
|Often used to reveal some crucial elements of the story to the reader even though the protagonist might remain mystified within the story for the time being.|
|Cons of Authorial Intrusion|
|Apology||Definition: Often at the beginning or conclusion of a text, the term apology refers to an instance in which the author or narrator justifies his or her goals in producing the text.
|“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” – Shakespeare, Measure for Measure
“Oh, yes, well I am sorry. There only seem to be enough chairs for three.”
“And so we need not trouble ourselves any more either about the insertions or about the exordiums. They both please me; the second class has pleased persons much better worth pleasing than I can pretend to be.” (xx) – George Saintsbury, introduction to Joseph Andrews (1910)
|Irony||Definition: Typically refers to saying one thing and meaning the opposite, often to shock audiences and emphasize the importance of the truth.
You may want to read more about irony in the post on literary devices.
|“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife,” – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
“The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter
|Satire||Definition: A style of writing that mocks, ridicules, or pokes fun at a person, belief, or group of people in order to challenge them. Often, texts employing satire use sarcasm, irony, or exaggeration to assert their perspective.
You may want to read more about satire in the post on literary devices.
|Charles Merrill Smith’s How to Become a Bishop Without Being Religious|
|Stream of Consciousness||Definition: A mode of writing in which the author traces his or her thoughts verbatim into the text. Typically, this style offers a representation of the author’s exact thoughts throughout the writing process and can be used to convey a variety of different emotions or as a form of pre-writing.
You may want to read more about stream of consciousness in the post on literary devices.
|“Ah! Vanitas Vanitum! which of us is happy in this world?
Which of us has his desire? or, having it, is satisfied?” – William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair
|3rd Person Editorial||Definition: A variation on third person omniscient.
The author’s persona has a distinct attitude toward the story’s characters and events, and frequently comments on them, although s/he never physically enters the story.
|The editorial commentator is not always reliable; he or she may lie to us, or misunderstand the true significance of events.
A.k.a., commentator, editorial commentator, social commentator
|The silly girl loves to climb trees.
Charles Dickens‘ A Christmas Carol examines the middle and working classes and lashes out at workhouses.
Martin Luther’s and his Ninety-Five Theses is one of the earliest examples of social commentary in his protesting against the practices of the Catholic Church.
Jonathan Swift‘s adventurous tales exposed and decried the appalling poverty in Ireland at the time, which was viewed as the fault of the British government.
Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird looks at racial issues.
Thomas More’s Utopia satirizes the values of 16th century Britain.
|Pros of 3rd Person Editorial POV|
|The author’s persona can influence the reader’s reaction by helping the reader to feel close to or distant from the characters.
It allows a voice without the complication of using an existing character.
|Cons of 3rd Person Editorial POV|
|Three major hazards arise from careless use of the persona:
|3rd Person Indirect Speech||Definition: Narrator reports what was said, NOT how it was said, and uses the grammatical structure of reported speech.|
|NOTE: Although this is associated with POV, it’s not actually a POV used throughout a novel, but a formatting style that indicates a direct quote.
A.k.a., indirect discourse
|Pros of 3rd Person Indirect Speech POV|
|Interposes the narrator’s voice with the characters.|
|Cons of 3rd Person Indirect Speech POV|
|Can confuse the reader.|
|3rd Person Free Indirect Speech||Definition: This is a blend of different POVs and uses some of the characteristics of third-person along with the essence of first-person direct speech, merging the character with the narrator, causing the narrator to report the character’s thoughts in that character’s style.|
Formal exposition. In fiction, it’s not actually a POV used but more of a formatting style that indicates a direct quote.
A.k.a., free indirect discourse, free indirect style, or discours indirect libre, erlebte Rede, experienced speech, estilo indirecto libre, reported indirect speech
|Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
James Joyce’s Ulysses
Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse
|Pros of 3rd Person Free Indirect Speech POV|
|Frees you up from having to use dialogue tags.
Allows you to convey the character’s words more directly than in normal indirect, as devices such as interjections and psycho-ostensive expressions like curses and swearwords can be used that cannot be normally used within a subordinate clause.
Mirrors the way each person experiences the world.
Relatively detached, more rational, and more tolerant of disagreement.
|Cons of 3rd Person Free Indirect Speech POV|
|3rd Person Limited||Definition: Using he, she, his, her, they, or their, the non-participating narrator tells the story but only knows the thoughts of a specific character or a location, similar to first-person point-of-view BUT still using those third person pronouns.|
|Can only report the actions and dialogue of other characters, not their thoughts — imagine a video camera placed on your character’s shoulder, and all that the camera knows is what that character experiences.
Using fixed perspective works particularly well.
Sometimes the point-of-view may zoom in so close to that character that the narrator begins to use that character’s manner of speech and thought, and sometimes the narrator may step back to take a more objective view.
In novels, it can be effective to switch third person limited points of view between characters, BUT do so at a chapter or section break so you don’t lose your reader. and DON’T use all the characters, for that would make this an omniscient point-of-view.
A.k.a., third-person sympathetic, limited omniscient, close third person
|She loves to climb trees while George is always chopping them down. Fortunately, Henry always stacks the logs.
She arrived panting at the bus stop only to see a far-off glimpse of the back of the bus, moving quickly away. She glanced at her watch. It was already half past eight. “Damn warm blankets,” she said, thinking of how it had felt to be curled up and warm in bed. She had argued with herself for an hour about how she should get going. She had stayed in bed so long she didn’t even have time for a shower, and now she’d missed the bus. It was the warm cat curled up next to her that had made it so hard to get out of bed. “Damn warm, purring cat,” she said, and headed along the sidewalk to work.
Elizabeth Bennet in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
Gabriel in James Joyce’s The Dead
Santiago in Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea
Young Goodman Brown in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter
Harry Potter in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child
James Joyce’s “The Dead”
|Pros of 3rd Person Limited POV|
|Third person limited is sort of the “default” in fiction — it is the most common because it can be used the most effectively in the majority of situations.
It’s easier to create suspense and mystery since there is only one character that everything filters through, which limits what the readers know.
You want the reader to connect strongly with the main character, to trust his/her version of events more. And makes the story more personal.
A good choice when:
The reader learns about the main character from actions, dialogue, AND internal thoughts.
|Cons of 3rd Person Limited POV|
|There is no possible way for that character to know the thoughts of another or to know about things that happen when he/she is not around. You can’t convincingly include scenes that don’t include your perspective character — no matter how important they are (“How to Pick Your Point of View“).|
|3rd Person Omniscient Dual||Definition: A generally reliable narrator presents the inner life of two characters and knows all there is to know about these two characters.|
Horrible in mysteries.
A.k.a., 3rd person anonymous dual
|Helen loved the freedom that came from climbing trees, but Miriam was terrified of heights after that time Tommy fell off the roof. It was the screams and the bone sticking out of his arm that did it.
It was pure laziness on Joan’s part. She so envied the cat for its easy life, and when she was lying there, so cozy under the comforter, with the cat curled up next to her, that she decided she didn’t want to leave her warm nest. She’d always thought that Marian should take responsibility for waking herself up, and now, she thought with a laugh, Marian was going to have to walk all the way to work.
Sophia Byron’s Touched by a Phoenix
|Pros of 3rd Person Omniscient Dual POV|
|Cons of 3rd Person Omniscient Dual POV|
|3rd Person Omniscient Multiple||Definition: The narrator presents inner life, thoughts, and actions of several characters.|
Crime thrillers, mysteries, popular fiction, and romances benefit greatly.
A.k.a., anonymous multiple character
|That Helen. She does love to climb trees unlike Miriam who prefers the quiet pleasure of knitting.
Poor Marian. She was furious with Joan for not waking her up in time to catch the bush. She hating having to walk to work, simply because Joan was so selfish as to want to stay cozy under the comforter, with the cat curled up next to her. Joan, on the other hand, felt Marian should take responsibility for getting herself up.
James P. Hogan
|Pros of 3rd Person Omniscient Multiple POV|
|Allows the reader to learn what drives each character — antagonist AND protagonist — to do what they do.
Keeps up the tension and your readers on their toes.
Very helpful for observing the growth of the relationship between hero and heroine.
Allows the author to broaden the scope of who should be included in the story, from main characters to secondary ones, with elements presented through different perspectives.
Keeps the pace moving.
Side scenes (that contribute to the main plotline) allow you to introduce information about secondary characters that the main character doesn’t know.
|Cons of 3rd Person Omniscient Multiple POV|
|Can be confusing for the writer who ends up breaking POV rules, and loses their readers.
Must write separate scenes from the viewpoints of each character and stay in the one character’s head for the entire scene and maintain proper POV rules, such as not relaying to the reader what the thoughts of the opposite character are.
Switching back and forth too quickly between characters can make the prose confusing — stick to one POV per scene. (Frequently confused with head-hopping.)
It’s almost a word confusion, this confusion over perspective and point-of-view.
Like a witness to a crime, it’s all in how that character perceives what is happening, and how that character presents it to the reader.
A particular attitude toward or way of regarding something.
Each character who “speaks” has a perspective and uses the appropriate pronouns (his/her POV) in his/her speech.
If a story is being told by an eight-year-old boy who lives on a farm far from any cities, he will have one view of the world. A ten-year-old mudlark in Victorian England will have a different perspective. A pampered lady of quality in Regency England will have yet another perspective.
External versus Internal Perspectives
The external/internal is not a actual space but whether the perspective is inside or outside a character’s consciousness. Of course, the internal does get complicated by two types of internal: a consciousness directed inward, as in meditation, or directed outward, as in perception.
This directed outward consciousness does pull us straight back into the external world and refers to:
- Points from which the action is viewed
- To regions that are viewed from these points
Drilling down further into the external perspective, you may need to consider the distance of your character — physical distance, emotional distance, and ideological distance — of the POV character. This should be considered along with your choice of POV.
If You’re Still Not Sure…
An exercise that helps you understand perspective will take two paragraphs of writing. It begins with a fight you had with…your parents, your boss, your significant other. Create two columns and list a minimum of three of your feelings, opinions, and reactions to the conflict in one column. In the other column…list the “opposition’s”. Be as honest as you can.
Now write two first-person perspectives with one paragraph from your perspective of that fight. Then write a paragraph using the “opposition’s” perspective. In the first-person. It should be descriptive writing and not merely a list. This forces you inside the heads of both sides (“Perspective, People! Ideas on Teaching Literature“).
|Credit to: Burkhard Niederhoff’s “Perspective – Point of View“|
|Part of Speech: Literary Element, Narrative Mode, Points-of-View|
|Definition: Perspective is used in all points-of-view to show how the characters view and process what’s happening within the story. It helps define the narrator’s attitude and personality and how he feels about certain experiences or other characters.
Whatever point-of-view you use, everyone’s perspective, their particular thoughts about the event, will be different. You may have four people at one event, but each person comes away with a unique set of experiences or observations. Consider how witnesses to a crime all have a different perception of what happened.
A.k.a., reflector, focalization, slant, filter, interest-focus, window
“List of Narrative Techniques” (Wikipedia)
|Audience Surrogate||Definition: A somewhat shallow or blank character with whom the readers can identify, who expresses the questions and confusion of those readers by asking a central character how he or she accomplished certain deeds.|
|The purpose is in:
A.k.a., designated protagonist syndrome
J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series
Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series
|Author Surrogate||Definition: Character based on the author, usually to support their personal views, sometimes in an intentionally or unintentionally idealized version of them.
Authors sometimes use their own name for a humorous or surrealistic effect.
|A variation is the Mary Sue or Gary Stu, which is an idealized self-insertion of the author surrogate, depending upon whether the author is female or male.
A.k.a., author surrogacy, self-insertion
|David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion used the author-surrogate, Philo
Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park used his character, Ian Malcolm, to express views on catastrophic system failure.
Charles Bukowski uses the protagonist, Henry Chinaski, used in a number of his writings.
|Defamiliarization||Definition: Makes an everyday, familiar, and/or habitual object that we all recognize and rendering it weirdly unfamiliar — even strange — to us, thus shifting our perspective and forcing the reader to see that object in a new way.|
Science fiction and travel narratives.
A.k.a., estrangement, ostranenie
|A character travels to an exotic land, and he writes letters to someone home.
Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels in which Gulliver visits the land of the giant Brobdingnabian people and gets a glimpse of the women’s skin pores up close.
Alexander Pushkin uses different dialects throughout his stories.
|Epiphany||Definition: A rare everyday moment or event in which a character experiences a new revelation or a new perspective on something that jolts them out of their current state, an aha moment.|
|It can occur without a necessary connection to the rest of the plot, and suddenly, as if divinely inspired.
Provides readers with hope, as it inspires change.
Very useful in literature, there are two types of epiphany:
|James Joyce’s A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man|
|Fixed Perspective||Definition: Uses the same person — and their perspective — throughout the story.|
|Works Well With:
First-, second-, and third-person limited, for there is no possible way for one character to know the thoughts of another.
Third person omniscient almost doesn’t need a perspective.
|Susan Kay’s Phantom breaks the fixed perspective rule|
|Headhopping||Definition: The perspective jumps from character to character within a single scene, allowing the reader to see this world from that character’s perspective, their inner thoughts about what’s happening around them in their voice.|
|NOTE: This is not the same as the omniscient point-of-view.
A.k.a., head jumping, head hopping
Randy Ingermanson’s “The Official Rules on Head-Hopping“
|Pros of Headhopping POV|
|Provides a crowd POV.
If you decide to hop heads within a chapter or scene, make it very obvious that the character “speaking” has changed. I do love it when an author inserts a text separator of some kind!
|Cons of Headhopping POV|
|While there is no rule about how long a particular scene should be for any character, switching back and forth too quickly can make the story confusing and distance your reader.
If you find yourself shifting heads more than two or three times in a scene, take a step back to see which character will benefit the scene the most, and then rewrite the scene to hold that one person’s POV.
An easy rule of thumb is to try to stick to one POV for one scene.
Jars the reader and breaks the intimacy with the scene’s main character.
|Magical Realism||Definition: Used to explore the realities of characters or communities who are outside of the objective mainstream of our culture.
This include believers to whom angels appear, to whom God / Jesus / Buddha / Yahweh / Allah reveals himself, for whom miracles are right around the corner, for whom the Divine is always present, South Americans (from whence magical realism arose), African slaves, Indians, Wiccans, etc
|It describes events in a real-world setting but with magical trappings, often incorporating local customs and invented beliefs. Magic itself is not the focus of the story.
Magical realism is also a genre.
|Gabriel García Márquez
Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
Ramona Ausubel’s A Guide to Being Born: “Chest of Drawers”
|Metafiction||Definition: Evolved from a theatrical effect and finds an author or character addressing the reader directly, usually with irony and in self-reflection.|
|It may acknowledge to the reader that what is being presented is fiction, or may seek to extend the world of the story to provide the illusion that the reader is included in it.
Also see authorial intrusion
A.k.a., direct address, breaking the fourth wall
Bill Ectric’s “Metafiction and the 4th Wall“
|The characters in Sesame Street often break the fourth wall when they address their viewers as part of the ongoing storyline, which is possible because of the high level of suspension of disbelief afforded by its audience — children.
The American political drama show House of Cards also uses this technique frequently to let the viewers know what the main character, Frank Underwood, is thinking and planning.
The first page of Kate DiCamillo’s The Tale of Despereaux
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events series
Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions
Phillip K. Dick’s VALIS
Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
|Mooreeffoc||Definition: The queerness of things that have become trite, when they are seen suddenly from a new angle.|
|It’s an eerie realism that you “fantasize up”, with which you can endow a doorpost with demonic life, an elvish kind of realism bestowed on the mundane. To suddenly see the normal world as alien in its people, customs, eating habits, etc. Flowers become gems and gems flowers. Butterflies are keys with wings.
A.k.a., moore effoc, Chestertonian fantasy
Resources for Point-of-View and Perspective
Two good books to help with POV are:
Virginia Kantra’s post, “Who’s On First? The Basics of POV with Virginia Kantra” and “Switching POV“.
Ben’s post on “Deciphering the Client Code, Part 1“.
Mac Hopkins has a handy post, “Using Third Person Multiple POV“, at Scribophile. Nathan Bransford’s “4 tips for handling multiple perspectives in a third person narrative” is quite useful as well for his points about headhopping and perspective.
B.J. Muntain’s post, “Indirect vs. Direct Speech and Thoughts“, has a succinct description of the difference between indirect and direct speech and thought.
Karen Miller at The Talkative Writer has a great example contrasting omniscient with tight-third (deep third POV) in her post, “Voice and Point of View“; it’s about a third of the way down; Beth Hill’s post, “Deep POV—What’s So Deep About It” at the Editor’s Blog is also excellent with a number of examples. Then there’s Juliette Wade’s “A checklist for deep POV (in 1st or 3rd person!)” that delves into the “rules” of writing deep third.
Read Write Think has a Character Perspective Chart that you may find useful.
Pinterest Photo Credits:
“Multiple Points of View: Good or Bad?” by Melinda Brasher is via Writers On The Move.