Point of View How-To
1. What is point of view (POV)?
Point of view is the vantage point from which a writer tells the story.
A writer tells a story through the voice of a narrator. A narrator can be an outside observer or a character in the story.
Everything the reader learns about the characters, events, and settings in a story depends on the narrator’s perspective.
2. Why is POV important?
- Consistent frame of reference
- Provides detail
- Immersion and empathy
3. Points of view
Narrator’s perspective. “I did this. I did that.”
Bridget Jones’s Diary (Helen Fielding) — “I will not get upset over men, but instead be poised and cool ice-queen.”
Reader’s perspective. “You did this. You did that.”
Third Person Limited
Tied to one character at a time. Narrator adheres closely to one character’s perspective, usually the main character’s. “He did this, she did that, but he wasn’t sure why she did what she did.”
Gone with the Wind (Margaret Mitchell) — “Vanity was stronger than love at sixteen and there was no room in her hot heart now for anything but hate.”
Rosemary’s Baby (Ira Levin) — “Like so many unhappinesses, this one had begun with silence in the place of honest open talk.”
Third Person Omniscient
All-seeing narrator. The narrator knows the thoughts and feelings of all of the characters in the story. “He did this, she did that, he was thinking this, she was thinking that.”
The Dead Zone (Stephen King) — “She suddenly realized she was sitting in an apartment by herself late at night, eating an apple and watching a movie on TV that she cared nothing about, and doing it all because it was easier than thinking, thinking was so boring really, when all you had to think about was yourself and your lost love.”
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (J. K. Rowling) — “A breeze ruffled the neat hedges of Privet Drive, which lay silent and tidy under the inky sky, the very last place you would expect astonishing things to happen. Harry Potter rolled over inside his blankets without waking up. One small hand closed on the letter beside him and he slept on, not knowing he was special, not knowing he was famous, not knowing he would be woken in a few hours' time by Mrs. Dursley's scream as she opened the front door to put out the milk bottles, nor that he would spend the next few weeks being prodded and pinched by his cousin Dudley...He couldn't know that at this very moment, people meeting in secret all over the country were holding up their glasses and saying in hushed voices: "To Harry Potter - the boy who lived!”
4. Which one is right?
Consider the constraints.
First person and third person limited are more intimate, but cannot show what is outside the character’s awareness.
Third person omniscient may be hard to establish a connection with a character when we are shifting thoughts to many characters.
Second person is unique but very difficult.
Examples: Bright Lights, Big City (Jay McInerney) — 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. You are at a nightclub talking to a girl with a shaved head…
Consider your anchor.
Whose story are you telling and why? Do we need to see events from another viewpoint?
Pros & cons
First Person Pros:
- Narrator intimacy
- Single POV can add mystery
First Person Cons:
- Can be constrained
- Filter important events through a single view
Third Person Omniscient Pros:
- A writer is able to bring to life an entire world of characters and give them significant depth and meaning.
Third Person Omniscient Cons:
- Since this is used for delving into several characters’ POVs, you must know your characters inside and out. It can be difficult to know the thoughts and feelings of every single character.
Third Person Limited Pros:
- Show a situation through the eyes of an interesting or unique character.
- The main characters’ perspectives evolve or change, and you want to show those changes through their eyes.
- Maintain a sense of uncertainty about other characters' motivations, emotions, or past.
Third Person Limited Cons:
- Third person limited grants a writer more freedom than first person, but less knowledge than third person omniscient.
The Yukon Writers’ Society is an encouraging, supportive group for fiction writers in Yukon, Oklahoma. They meet biweekly on Thursdays to embrace accountability, to learn more about the craft of writing, and to help group members start and finish their books. The Yukon Writers’ Society was founded in 2016 and provides free meetings for its members. Their group anthology, Shivers in the Night, was published in April 2018.