Bestselling author Dan Brown says:
“POV (Point of View) is a powerful tool. It can help you color a chapter, reveal characters and exposition, and best of all, withhold information. So be excited about point of view.”Dan Brown about POV in Fiction Writing
That explains why authors choose narrative voices so carefully. To be true, the entire story hangs on the choice of narrative voice. Each POV in fiction writing allows certain freedoms in narration while denying others. So it’s important to know what those are.
And with this handy guide, we can do that.
Before we break down the different types of POV in writing, let’s take a look at what POV means:
What is POV?
POV stands for Point of View; a perspective with which authors allow the readers to view the world of his creation. How do writers know which POV is better for their story? Read on, to find out.
Writers have, already in their minds, determined which Point of View they would use, even before they begin to write the first chapter of their book. There are various perspectives through which the reader gets a glimpse into the head(s) of the narrator(s): First-Person, Second Person, Third Person Omniscient, Third Person Limited.
Through the POV, a reader sees into the story; sometimes as a third person; sometimes, as a listener; sometimes, as the protagonist himself.
Let us take a look at what these POVs are and which, out of 4 of those, is better for the story :
First Person POV in Fiction Writing (I, Me, and Myself)
The biggest clue that a story is written in the first person is the use of first-person pronouns — I, me, mine, myself, we, us, our, ourselves.
First-person POV can be a great choice to bring your readers inside the mind of the characters and help them see the story unfold through the character’s eyes.
First-person POV is when the character is ‘telling’ the story; he is the narrator and he gives the readers an insight into his own opinions, perceptions, emotions, and experiences.
A reader knows the story from the narrator’s point of view. It feels intimate as the narrator is talking directly to the reader.
I was sitting under the tree, reading when a group of small children started walking towards me. At first, they appeared tired as they were walking with a measured and slow pace. But as they neared me, a drum inside my heart started beating with no halt as their white eyes with no eyeballs stared unblinkingly at me.Preiksha Jain
The first person Point of View narrator speaks about how he sees things, what his thoughts upon an event or a person are, what his reaction or action will be.
We can categorize the first person POV or narrators as:
- The Protagonist
- Another important Character
- The Spectator
- The Undependable Narrator
The Protagonist in 1st person POV
The Protagonist is the main character and the narrator; he tells the story from his own point of view. The reader is seeing the world of the novel or the book through the main character’s eyes.
In third-person POV, the reader is privy to the protagonist’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions with the media of conversations, letters, diary, etc.
To Kill A Mockingbird: 1st Person POV
Scout, the protagonist in To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, tells the story with her own point of view.
Important Character in 1st Person Point of View
Another Important Character from the story takes the place of the narrator and tells the story with his point of view. He is not the protagonist but may be closely related to one; he may recount the events, occurrences, or happenings as he sees or experiences them.
The Mountains Echoed: 1st Person Point of View
Uncle Nabi in And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini, is an important character who outlines the story of the protagonists in the midst of his own story.
The Spectator in First Person Point of View
The Spectator is an eye-witness to the happenings and events in the story. He can be often confused with the Third Person Omniscient because he adds to the objectivity of the narration. He closely looks at the events from above and narrates them with the characters’ personal feelings and thoughts along with his own point of view. He is not the participant but an observer in the story.
However, the difference between the third person omniscient and the Spectator lies in the knowledge of everything that’s happening in the story. The Spectator tells what he sees. He doesn’t know what goes on inside every character’s head.
The Great Gatsby: First Person Point of View
Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is the observer in the book as he narrates the story of Mr. Gatsby.
The Undependable Narrator in First Person POV
The Undependable Narrator is the narrator who is not a character, nor the centre of the story. He is the unreliable narrator who may be controversial, biased and untrustworthy. He is the narrator who does not tell the story with objectivity in his commentary.
A Clockwork Orange: First Person POV
Alex from A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, Nelly from Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte are great examples of unreliable narrators.
Advantages of First Person POV (as a writer)
- First person appears naturally to the writer’s mind even before s/he sets to writing.
- You have to work on only one person’s point of view, opinions and feelings- the narrator’s
- The first person narrator has a distinctive voice.
Disadvantages of First Person Point of View
- The first person narrator doesn’t know what goes on in the other characters’ minds.
- His narration may or may not be biased which makes it unreliable.
- It narrates the story only as per his point of view which restricts the reader from knowing what is happening inside other characters’ heads.
Examples of 1st Person Narrative in Fiction
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
- Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami
- Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
- Moby Dick by Herman Melville
How to Write in the 1st Person POV:
- Write with the five senses. Have your character describe the thought, sights, sounds, tastes, and smell whenever appropriate.
- Avoid merely reporting in the first-person narrative. Practice showing, not telling.
- Avoid too many I’s and Self-referential phrases. Vary your sentences by illustrating feelings and thoughts.
- Pick a tense and stick with it.
Second Person POV in Fiction Writing
Second-person POV is the ‘you’ perspective. The biggest indicator of a second-person narrative is the use of second-person pronouns — your, yours, you, yourself, yourselves.
Second person Point of View uses ‘you/your/ you’re’ in the narration, placing the reader on the hot seat of the protagonist. The reader finds himself being spoken to. The narrator is addressing the one who is reading the book. The reader relates to what is written in the story on an intimate level because it’s him who is directly being talked to. It is a rarity with an exception of the classic Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerny.
Second Person POV Example: Jay McInerney, Bright Lights, Big City
You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy.
Publishers and editors do not usually prefer to read a manuscript constructed in the second person POV. However, besides Bright Lights, Big City, there are some other successful novels written in the second person POV:
Novels Written in the 2nd Person POV
- Self-help by Lorrie Moore
- The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
- If on A Winter’s Night Traveler by Italo Calvino
- How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid
- A Prayer for The Dying by Stewart O’Nan
- Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas by Tom Robbins
- Complicity by Iain Banks
Advantages of Writing in 2nd Person Point of View
Second Person POV brings the reader closer to the story, makes immediate and intimate contact with the reader… second-person POV gives the narrator (the reader) to address, to advise, to suggest, and to share his/her experiences.
Disadvantages of Writing in 2nd Person POV
2nd Person POV in fiction writing is rarely recommended; the reasons the publishers and editors give is the entire novel in the second person POV can be tiresome for the readers, also, it places the reader in the position of being questioned and inquired.
So, to answer the question of whether you should write in second person POV: No. Because you would not want the publishers to decide against publishing your book. But if you still want to try, here are a few tips to get you started.
How to Write in the Second Person POV?
- Set it in the present tense to create an immediacy
- Stay conscious of the narrative voice.
- Be descriptive but avoid too much repetition where possible
- Read a lot of second-person before writing one
Third Person POV in Fiction Writing
The third person POV is when the narrator uses ‘he/she/it/they’ to narrate the story. The reader is reading the book or story of ‘someone else’ without being invited to be personally engaged in the events of the story.
Third Person POV
Writing is the third person POV means writing as an outsider — the narrator relates to all actions using third-person pronouns such as she, her, hers, herself, he, him, his, himself, it, its, itself, they, them, their, theirs, and themselves.
In the third person POV, the author creates a distance between the narrator and the reader. There are characters with their own opinions, experiences, thoughts, and viewpoints. The reader has no immediate or intimate connection with the characters in the story.
On the basis of having knowledge about the characters, the third person POV can be categorized as:
- Third Person POV Omniscient
- Third Person LImited
Third Person Omniscient POV in Fiction Writing:
The narrator of the story with third-person omniscient POV will have the knowledge of everything in the book. His position will be god-like where he knows what all is going on in each character’s mind, their thoughts, their opinions, their expressions, their take on a situation.
Example: With a heavy heart and a pounding head, she entered her cabin; strewn files all over the table instantly gave her depression: ‘How am I supposed to work after all that happened at home!’
Right then, Alex stormed out of the bathroom; the buttons of his shirt opened till his toned stomach: ‘Oh God, she is already here.’ His eyes open-wide, and his hands stopped mid-shirt. And followed Ashley, her black lacy underwear in her hand: ‘What a great sex! The way he moves his hip, oh God!’ As she came out, unaware of the present company, she threw her panties on Alex’s face. Her gaze imbued in seduction and a smirk on her lips, she trailed her manicured finger on his still bare chest. And Alex looked like his heart would explode in his chest.
Reading the above example, you can confer that the narrator knows everything that’s been going inside each character’s head; the narrator knows what everyone is feeling, and all the altering emotions and expressions. He knows if the situation is humourous or sad or dark.
The reader will ‘see’ and ‘hear’ but he will not participate in it as he does on the first person or second person POVs. The reader in the third person will not be privy to what’s inside the characters’ heads. The reader is merely told or shown what all is happening in the story, by the narrator.
Third Person Limited POV in Fiction Writing
As per this Point of View, the narrator knows things about the protagonists, major characters, and important characters but he will not have the full knowledge of the minor characters.
Let us take the previous example:
Maya entered the cabin of her office with a heavy heart and a pounding head; strewn files all over the table instantly gave her depression “How the hell am I supposed to work after all that happened at home!” Just then, Alex stormed out of the bathroom; his eyes opened wide as he saw Maya standing there. Followed him Ashley with her black lacy panties in her hand. Unaware of the present company, with a smirk, she threw the panty on Alex’s face.
The reader, in this POV, knows only what goes on in the main character- Maya’s mind. He is not privy to either Alex’s or Ashley’s thoughts. The narration is confined only to one character’s perspective. The example is in Third Person Limited POV.
Advantages of Writing in 3rd Person POV
- Third person gives an insight into the character’s and the author’s mind.
- Objectivity in the narration: the narrator tells or shows the story with full knowledge of the expressions, thoughts of the characters.
- The narration is usually unbiased and trustworthy.
Novels Written in the 3rd Person Point of View:
- Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
- The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
- The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
- Hard Times by Charles Dickens
How to Write in Third Person POV?
- Switch viewpoint characters strategically
- Remember the narrator knows what the character knows
- Zoom in and out of a character’s inner thoughts
- Create a distinctive authorial voice to establish a connection with the readers
- Watch out for singular and plural pronouns.
Which POV is Better for Your Story!
New Writers, before beginning to write, often get confused about which POV is better for their story. To find it out, they require to know the answers to these questions:
- Do you want to write the entire story in a quirky language? Use first-person POV
- Does your protagonist have a lot of ramblings or inner dialogues or ruminations? Use First person POV
- Do you want the reader to feel most intimate with the character or the narrator? Use First or Second person POV or close Third person POV
- Do you want to give your characters their own thoughts, perspectives, and opinions? Use Third person POV limited or Omniscient
- Do you want to speak directly to the reader? Use the first person or Second Person POV
Which POV is better is where most new writers get stuck. Their story may seem imprecise after 4-5 chapters where the question of how to proceed further arises with third-person POV. And sometimes, at the beginning of the first chapter will they feel if writing their story in the first person POV will remain engaging enough.
Learn More about POV in Fiction Writing
That’s all about narrative voices and their types. The goal in choosing a POV is not simply finding a method to tell the story but being able to tell it the right way — making your fictional world believable and understandable.
Orson Scott Card put it best when he said,
“The narrator’s voice is your greatest asset– and your greatest drawback.”Orson Scott Card on POV in fiction writing
Before setting to writing, know what kind of story you want to bring to the world if you want your characters to have their own voice and feelings, and if they want to voice them, if the narrator is the main character, if you are going to write self-help, self-development, management books. This way, you will know which POV is better for your story.