Point of View: Exploring First Person, Second Person, and Third Person POV

What’s your method for choosing the point of view of your stories? How do you decide if you should write in First Person, Second Person, or Third Person?

In this blog, we’ll go over the various points of view discussing the advantages and disadvantage of each type. We’ll discuss all the elements and illustrate prominent authors. Are you ready to dive in?

Point of view (POV) is a necessary part of any novel. It decides how the story’s told, and it affects how readers see the characters and the events unfolding. As a writer, getting the POV right on your story is key.

Types of Point of View

There are four major points of view in literature: First Person, Second Person, Third-Person Limited and Third-Person Omniscient. Each has their own advantages and disadvantages which we will outline below.

First Person POV

Writing in the first person POV, the narrator is part of the story and speaks of themselves as “I” or “me”. This creates an intimate bond between reader and protagonist, making the reader feel like they’re experiencing the story through the character’s eyes.

Two famous books that use first person POV include The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Advantages

Some advantages of using first person POV include:

It creates a strong sense of character voice: Using “I” or “me” gives the character a recognizable voice, making them more unforgettable, easier to relate to, and it can build a powerful emotional attachment.

It creates a sense of tension and intrigue: Limiting the story to only what one character knows or sees can create a sense of tension and intrigue, as we leave readers wondering what they don’t know. It adds bias and unreliability, making the story more complex and exciting.

Disadvantages

Some disadvantages of using first person POV are:

It can make the narrator seem self-centered: Talking about themselves as “I” or “me” makes the narrator seem self-absorbed and that can put readers off.

Can lead to an unreliable or biased narrator: An unbiased narrator can help a story, but it can leave readers scrambling to figure out what’s really going on. If the narrator is too one-sided, it can be off-putting to readers with different beliefs.

Can limit character development: If the narrator is the protagonist, it’s common to just look at their story, neglecting the development of other characters.

To write in first person POV, it’s important to create a distinctive voice for the character and to avoid making the narrator an unreliable source of information.

Second Person POV

Second person POV is when the narrator speaks right to you, the reader, using “you” in their stories. This is probably the least used POV because it’s hard to do correctly. Novels rarely use this POV, but it can be powerful in short stories or creative works.

Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney, is an example of a novel that uses second person POV.

Advantages

Some advantages of using second person POV are:

Creates a sense of immediacy: Second person POV directly addresses the reader, creating a sense of immediacy and urgency in the narrative that can be very effective for certain types of stories, such as thrillers or horror. It can make the reader feel more involved in the story and invested in the outcome.

Creates a unique narrative voice: Second person POV is relatively uncommon in fiction, so using it can help your story stand out and create a unique narrative voice that readers may find interesting.

Allows for separation: By using “you” instead of “I” for the protagonist, it creates a distance between the reader and the character, making it easier to have a more impartial look at their decisions and reasoning.

Disadvantages

Some disadvantages of using second person POV are:

It can feel gimmicky: Going with second person POV can appear a bit of a cheap trick instead of something that really adds to the narrative. This can make it tougher for readers to really get into the story or potentially alienate readers who prefer a more subtle technique.

Can be difficult to sustain: Maintaining the same “you” POV in a long narrative can be a struggle, possibly leading to a disjointed or unclear story. Some readers may find it jarring or distracting, making it harder for them to fully immerse themselves in the story.

To write in second person POV, it’s important to establish a clear narrative voice and to avoid making the reader feel like they are being lectured.

Third Person Limited POV

Third-person limited POV happens when an outsider talks about the characters, not as “I,” but as “he,” “she,” or “they.” The narrator has access to the thoughts and feelings of only one character, usually the protagonist.

The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling is an example of a book that uses third-person limited POV. As readers, we only know what Harry knows. We aren’t in the heads of Ron or Hermione or any of the other characters.

Advantages

Some advantages of using third-person limited POV are:

Enhanced character development: Third-person limited lets you really get into one character’s head, helping you build a more nuanced, complex character.

Objective Perspective: Writing in third person lets you tell a bigger story than first or second person, since the reader isn’t stuck to just what the protagonist knows or sees. Since the narrator is not a character in the story but outside the story, it makes it easier for readers to draw their own conclusions and interpretations, allowing for a more objective perspective on their actions and motivations.

Disadvantages

Some disadvantages of using third-person limited POV are:

Harder to maintain tension: You don’t get the same level of tension and suspense with third-person limited since you don’t just focus on one character’s view.

Can be less immersive: Third-person limited POV isn’t as immersive as personal as first or second person, so it can be harder for readers to feel fully connected to the story or fully engage with the characters.

Can be confusing for some readers: Sometimes it’s tricky to understand 3rd person limited POV, especially when the story moves between different characters’ points of view.

To write in third-person limited POV, it’s important to choose the right character to focus on and to avoid head-hopping between characters.

Third Person Omniscient POV

Third person omniscient means the narrator knows everyone’s thoughts and feelings. The narrator can reveal information that the characters themselves do not know, creating a sense of dramatic irony.

The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien is an example of a book that uses third person omniscient POV. 

Advantages

Some advantages of using third person omniscient POV are:

Allows for greater world-building: Thanks to the narrator’s extra knowledge, third person omniscient POV lets us explore and construct the story’s world more completely. It allows for a greater exploration of themes and ideas beyond the individual experiences of the characters, potentially leading to more profound and impactful storytelling.

Provides the broadest narrative scope: The Third-person omniscient narrative gives the narrator the power to know all the characters’ feelings, thoughts, and motives, granting the widest possible story coverage.

Enhances narrative flexibility: By being able to move between characters and settings, third person omniscient POV gives the narrator more flexibility than other points of view. It gives a feeling of impartiality and distance from the story’s events, making it easy for readers to make their own conclusions.

Disadvantages

Some disadvantages of using third person omniscient POV:

Confusing for readers: Third-person omniscient can be confusing for readers, especially if the narrator moves between characters without warning.

Can lead to a lack of tension: Third person omniscience can be tough to crank up the suspense since readers can already guess the result.

Can be emotionally distancing: Third person omniscient POV can be tough to get into since the narrator’s not a character. This can make it hard for readers to really connect with the story and characters or harder to create deep connections.

To write in third person omniscient POV, it’s important to establish a clear narrative voice and to avoid overwhelming the reader with too much information.

Mixing Point of View?

Mixing up point of view can be a creative way to tell a story. It involves switching between different perspectives, such as first-person, second-person, and third-person, within a single piece of writing. Some authors use this technique to experiment with voice and perspective, while others may do it for thematic or structural reasons.

When done well, mixing POV can add depth and complexity to a story, allowing readers to see events from multiple angles and gain a deeper understanding of the characters and their motivations. However, it can also be a challenging technique to master, as switching between perspectives can be disorienting for readers if not done smoothly. 

Advantages

Expanded worldviewDifferent points of view give readers a chance to see a story from multiple angles, helping them understand different perspectives and develop compassion.

Improved pacing: Moving between perspectives can help manage the pacing of the narrative by letting the author speed it up or slow it down whenever necessary.

Creative freedom: Changing up the points of view gives authors more room to be creative and explore different ways of telling stories.

Disadvantages

Lack of intimacy: Flipping perspectives all the time can make it hard for readers to get close to the characters.

Uneven characterization: If you’re not careful with POV, you will develop some characters more than others.

Inconsistent tone: Flipping between perspectives can throw the tone of a story off, making it appear jerky or disjointed.

Be careful when blending points of view, making sure your choices help the story instead of confusing readers. It’s difficult, but if you’ve got the touch, you can create a really worthwhile reading experience.

Authors that have done this successfully include William Faulkner in As I Lay Dying, Toni Morrison in Beloved and Margaret Atwood in the Blind Assassin.

What are the Elements of Point of View?

There are many factors that go into point of view. Below we discuss the main ones.

Perspective

The view is about the narrator’s place in the story. This can include first person (narrator is a character in the story), second person (narrator addresses the reader directly), or third person (narrator is outside the story).

Narrative distance

Narrative distance is how close the narrator is to the characters and what’s happening. This can go from being real close (the narrator’s totally entrenched in the story) to being real far away (the narrator’s outside the story and gives a clear view).

Knowledge

Knowledge is the narrator’s understanding of the story and characters. This can include limited knowledge (the narrator only knows what the protagonist knows), or omniscient knowledge (the narrator knows everything about the story and characters).

Bias

Bias refers to the narrator’s opinions or attitudes towards the story and characters. This can include neutral (the narrator presents the story objectively), or biased (the narrator has a specific agenda or viewpoint).

Language

The narrator’s way of speaking or writing is called language. This can include formal or informal language, use of slang or dialects, or the use of literary devices like metaphors and similes.

By considering these elements, you can make deliberate choices about the point of view in your story and how it will shape the narrative and engage readers.

Choosing the Right POV for Your Story

Choosing the right point of view (POV) for your story is essential to its success. It can affect how readers engage with the characters, the narrative, and the themes of your story. Here are some tips on how to choose the right POV for your story:

Consider your genre

Different genres use different POV styles. They often write romance novels in first-person POV, and fantasy novels in third-person omniscient POV. Look into the rules of your genre and how they could affect your POV.

Consider your protagonist

Your character’s attitude, reasons, and past can all affect the POV decision. If a character is introspective and has a lot of emotions, first-person POV might be a good fit. But if the story is enormous, third-person omniscient POV might be better.

The narrative structure

The structure of your story can also influence the choice of POV. A linear narrative (telling the story in a straight line) might work well with a first-person POV, while a non-linear narrative (not arranged in any order) might benefit from a third-person omniscient POV.

The level of intimacy

Different POV styles offer various levels of intimacy with the characters. First-person gives you a genuine bond with the main character, while third-person limited lets you still feel for the characters without getting too close.

Experiment with different POVs

If you’re not sure which POV fits your story, try out some different ones. Draft a couple of scenes in different POVs to understand how it affects the story’s tempo and mood.

In summary, by taking the time to make a deliberate choice, you can create a narrative that engages readers and brings your story to life.

Examples of Point of View

Here are a few examples of how well-known authors use point of view in their novels:

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

In The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid, the entire story is told through the first-person POV of the protagonist, a Pakistani man named Changez. Constructing the story as a dialogue with an American at a Lahore cafe, gives it a mysterious and exciting feel.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Junot Diaz uses first-person and third-person omniscient in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao to look at the protagonist and his family, and to establish the Dominican Republic’s culture and history.

The Unconsoled

The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro is told from the 3rd-person limited POV of Ryder, a famous pianist. The narrative is like a dream, making it hard to tell reality from imagination as Ryder goes through a series of strange and confusing moments.

You

Caroline Kepnes’s You  (yes it was a book before it became a Netflix blockbuster) is a perfect example of a novel written in 2nd person. This thriller talks straight through its main character, Joe. The second person narration gives a close and involved feel, so the reader feels a part of Joe’s activities and thinking, even when they’re very wrong.

Mrs. Dalloway

In Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf chose third-person omniscient and limited POV to explore the interior lives of her characters and the social restraints that shaped their experiences.

10 Tips for Developing Point of View

There are lots of ways you can choose a point of view for your fictional novels. My advice…

1. Consider the genre and tone of your story: The point of view you choose should be appropriate for the genre and tone of your story.

2. Know your characters: Understanding your characters’ personalities, goals, and motivations can help you choose the most effective point of view for your story.

3. Consider the size of your story: The point of view you choose should be appropriate for your story.

4. Use the POV to create tension: The point of view you choose should create tension and conflict within the story.

5. Use multiple POVS: Using multiple points of view can add complexity and depth to your story.

6. Choose a consistent POV: Avoid switching between points of view within a scene or chapter, as it can be confusing for the reader.

7. Use POV to reveal character: The point of view you choose can reveal important details about your characters, such as their biases, beliefs, and desires.

8. Use POV to create atmosphere: The point of view you choose should create atmosphere and set the tone for your story.

9. Experiment with different POVs: Writing from different perspectives can help you gain a deeper understanding of your characters and the world of your story.

10. Revise with POV in mind: When revising your novel, pay close attention to the point of view you’ve chosen. Make sure it’s consistent throughout the story and that it’s serving the needs of the narrative.

Last Words on Creating Conflict

When choosing a POV for your story, it’s important to consider the genre, character development, and narrative distance. Experimenting with different POVs can help you find the one that works best for your story. How do you choose the POV in your stories? Let me know in the comments.

Take Care

Linda

Image by Reza Sadeghi from Pixabay.

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