Life in Writing
Every story ever told has a point of view. Whether told through the eyes of the main character, a narrator, or somebody else the reader has to experience the story from somebody’s point of view. So what exactly are your options when choosing a POV to tell your story in? And how do you know which is best? In this post we’ll go over 4 basic types of POV and in which situations you might want to use them.
1. First Person
First person POV is written from the main character’s point of view and is always written as “I” statements. I ran to the store, I ate cheese, etc. The reader is inside the main character’s head for the entire story and only has whatever information the main character has. This is most commonly used for young adult novels and other young age groups as well as romance novels. It’s very rare that this perspective is used in an adult novel.
2. Second Person
Second person is told from the reader’s perspective and always written in “You” statements. You punch the goblin in the face, you steal the ninja’s sword, etc. This is the least common POV. It’s used almost exclusively in choose your own adventure novels and Dungeons and Dragons adventures. If that’s what you’re writing then this is definitely what you should use, otherwise it might be best to go with something a little more traditional.
3. Third Person Limited
This POV is done through a narrator, however, as the title suggests, the narrator is limited. The narrator is inside the head of one character at a time, and during that time knows only the things that character knows.
Each sentence uses either the character’s name or a pronoun to describe action. Jennifer glanced at the exit, She wished the school clock showed a different time, etc. This is the most versatile POV and can be used with any story type.
When deciding between this and first person POV think about how many characters will have their own scenes in your book. Remember that first person mostly limits you to one character’s view point, so if you want your reader to know what’s going on in the mind of two different characters, you’re going to want to go with third person, but if your story revolves around the thoughts and feelings of your protagonist, then you well most definitely want to stick with first person.
4. Third Person Omniscient
This POV is largely the same as third person limited but with one key difference; the narrator knows everything. And by everything, I mean everything. Your narrator could tell you what your character feels about a sparrow dying, what your character’s best friend feels about it, how the sparrow feels about it, and how a particular microbe inside of the sparrow’s stomach feels about it. As long as it’s relevant to the story then your narrator knows it and can share it.
This type of narration is written in the same structure as third person limited. It’s rarely used in modern writing but has been very successfully used in the past, and is still occasionally used today. To look for great examples of this POV try reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy or 2001: A Space Odyssey. Both books use third person omniscient point of view extremely well. It’s been a long time since a third person omniscient book made the best seller list, so use it with caution, but it’s still a valid POV that you can use if it fits your story.
The POV that you choose will decide how your reader experiences the world you’ve created for them, so above everything else when choosing your POV think of your audience, and think about the story you want to write, then choose wisely. Don’t be afraid to write your first chapter a few different times in a few different points of view if you need to do that to get it right.
If you found this advice helpful then you might like a few of these articles as well:
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Daniel M. Quilter is the author of A Soul Divided. On this blog he'll interview other authors, review books, share nerd wisdom from popular sci-fi and fantasy, and occasionally share his insights on writing. See a list of his works or see what he's working on.
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