Point of View Definition
Point of View (POV) is the window or camera lens through which the reader is exposed to the story. Think of it as the distance between the reader and the story, or the angle from which the reader experiences the events, thoughts, and feelings portrayed in the story.
Point of View comes in four flavors: first person, second person, third person limited, and third person omniscient. Let’s go over them one by one.
First Person POV
Stories in the 1st person POV follow a POV character, and we see the world through that character’s eyes. We get to read not only what they see and hear, but also what they think and feel.
These stories sound like the following:
I lifted my rifle, looked down the barrel at my distant target, and slowly squeezed the trigger. The recoil pounded into my shoulder. Excitement rushed down my spine when the target fell.
When writing in the first person, always refer to the POV character as “I,” “me,” or “myself,” whether inside or outside of dialog.
When using 1st person POV, be careful about switching POV characters. The reader would find it hard to understand who’s the active POV character, because every “me” sounds the same.
Second Person POV
Try this flavor if you’re experimenting, if you’re writing a choose-your-own-adventure book, or if you’re writing articles like this one. This POV turns the reader into a character in the story:
You lift your rifle, look down the barrel at your distant target, and slowly squeeze the trigger. The recoil pounds into your shoulder. Excitement rushes down your spine when the target falls.
As you can see, it’s intimate to the point of feeling intrusive. For example, what if the reader doesn’t want to feel excitement at shooting someone?
Very few stories use this mode. A famous novel is Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney.
If you consider writing fiction in 2nd person POV, take into account that many readers might be put off by it.
Third Person Limited POV
This is the most common point of view in fiction.
In this mode, we sit on the shoulder of the POV character, like little imps. Similar to the 1st person POV, we see and hear what the POV character does, and we might also have access to their thoughts and feelings. The difference lies in the pronouns we use:
He lifted his rifle, looked down the barrel at his distant target, and slowly squeezed the trigger. The recoil pounded into his shoulder. Excitement rushed down his spine when the target fell.
When you write in the third person limited point of view, you may only tell your readers details that the POV character knows or thinks. (That’s what makes it “limited”.)
Third Person Omniscient POV
One of the hardest points of view to write, this mode adds an all-knowing narrator to the story, who may or may not be one of the acting characters. The narrator floats above the story, not limited to any one character, and shares with the reader bits and parts from anywhere.
The 3rd person omniscient POV uses the same pronouns as the limited one, and it sounds something like this:
He lifted his rifle, looked down the barrel at his distant target, and slowly squeezed the trigger. The recoil pounded into his shoulder. Excitement rushed down his spine when the target fell. If he’d known that his target was in fact his own sister, he would have wept instead.
In this example, the main character has no way of knowing who the target is. The all-knowing narrator gives the reader an extra detail that changes the entire story.
Be careful when you decide to write in the 3rd person omniscient point of view. You’d need a strong voice and a unique style. Understand that the omniscient voice does not simply tell everything that happens. Choosing what to share with the reader and what to keep to yourself is, like all writing, an art.
Beyond the Point of View Definition
Now that you know your options, you can choose the best point of view for your story.