Points of View
POV (point of view) in prose is a vital storytelling element, likened to the camera of the reader. Imagine looking through the eyes of one person for the entire story. In that camera, there’s a degree of trust, faith that the reader holds in the storyteller. Maybe it switches to another character as the story progresses. However, if authors violates POV rules, they risk losing the reader’s trust. Deception is never good. POV is difficult to master, and for new writers, mastering POV is crucial.
Why is POV Important?
The storyteller’s perspective serves as a filter. If done wrong, the reader can be confused, or the way the story presents itself damaged. Switching from one perspective to another throughout a book can be startling, disturb story immersion, and create tension or distrust between reader and author. It can be done, but only by those experienced enough in the art.
Stay consistent and predictable with a POV. Establish the storyteller’s perspective early, and the reader will build trust and enjoyability with that story.
In life, we are all born in the first-person perspective. Even as someone reads this article, their brain absorbs it from this POV. I, me, my, we, ours—these pronouns define the viewpoint.
When using this POV in prose, it can be useful for exploring the character’s inner universe. Stick to one character’s perspective per scene, if possible. Avoid head-hopping, which is jumping from one character’s thoughts to another without a scene or chapter break.
Show the character’s emotions, why they do what they do.
Examples of First-person
I woke to the strident calls of my alarm clock as the morning rays stung my eyes. My heart pounded in my ears.
Flashes of my previous day returned. I was with my friends finishing our activities at school. Then, we saw it, the one thing a highschooler wished he would never see.
Attributes of First-person
- The narrator becomes the character
- Creates an emotional and intimate experience with the reader
- Makes prose more objective
- The plural of first-person is “we,” the singular is “I”
- ‘We’ or “our’ is an anonymous way to strengthen formality in articles
- Avoids “head-hopping” from one character to another without scene breaks
You are reading this article. I am talking to you or you all in second-person. This is second-person POV. The narrator, instead of jumping inside the character’s head, dictates to the protagonist what is happening. In this way, the actor “hears” the narrator rather than becoming one and the same.
Second-person is often used in emails, tutorials, and other dictatorial pieces. The narrator brings the reader into the story and encourages them to engage in the plot or prose rather than from the remote standpoint of a character. In this way, second-person is more intimate than first-person.
Attributes of Second-person
- Dictatorial POV in prose, more often used in the present tense
- The reader is in the story rather than inside a character’s mind
- The pronoun “you” can be singular or plural—can also use “you all”
- More intimate and emotional with the reader than first-person
- Excellent for tutorials, certain novels, and articles
- Perspective strictly limited to the reader
Examples of Second-person
You woke to the strident calls of your alarm clock as the morning rays stung your eyes. Your heart pounded in your throat.
Flashes of the previous day returned. You had just finished school activities with classmates. Then, you saw it, the one thing any high schooler wished they would never see.
This perspective pops up in many kinds of novels, particularly romance, sci-fi, or fantasy. The narrator refers to characters by their name or as “he,” “she,” or “it.” Third-person also finds popularity in news reporting and business writing.
1. Third-person Limited
With this perspective, the reader is a separate entity from the characters. The narrator tells the story from the perspective of a single character.
2. Third-person Multiple
Third-person Multiple opens additional information that Limited cannot convey. Multiple character perspectives are included, rather than just one.
3. Third-person Objective
This perspective comes from a neutral perspective as if the reader is an invisible spectator at the scene. The reader—separate from the characters—watches the scene play out. Descriptors that describe internal emotions are to be avoided here.
4. Third-person Subjective
Subjective perspective can use internal dialogue strictly through the words of the narrator. In subjective, the narrator takes a larger role in telling the story, rather than letting the characters do all the work. This creates distance between readers and the characters but may improve pacing.
5. Third-person Omniscient
This POV is a more extreme version of Subjective. The narrator acts as God and reports any and every thought or development between characters. This is perhaps the most difficult POV in prose, as it includes a large amount of detail and multi-tasking, or mandatory head-hopping without scene breaks.
Omniscient is a powerful perspective that can shorten prose and travel anywhere in a character’s history, but it can also be overwhelming for the reader if done wrong. If using this perspective, watch out for data dumps that slog the pace or may confuse the reader.
Attributes of Third-person
- Places the reader in spectator mode, watching characters
- May offer a variety of perspectives to suit the narrative
- Provides a higher volume of information for the reader
- Less intimate than first-person or second-person
- Easier to confuse multiple third-POVs
Examples of Third-person
Tom woke to the strident calls of his alarm clock as the morning rays stung his eyes. Tom’s heart pounded in his throat.
Flashes of his previous day returned. Tom was back with friends, and they had just finished their activities at school. Then, Tom saw it, the one thing a highschooler wished he would never see.
FAQ For POV
This isn’t an exhaustive list, so feel free to include questions as needed. These are designed to help think about POV and which one may be best for a story.
- How does the story relate with the perspective of the characters? The reader? The narrator?
- What do I (the author) feel from watching the characters from a particular viewpoint?
- What emotions or traits should be presented in the story? What POV best suits this?
- What should readers feel as they progress through the book?
- How should readers connect with the characters?
- Is there an underlying message associated with the perspective chosen?
- Establish the POV early
- Stay consistent with the story’s perspective
- Don’t head hop
- Stick to first or third-person perspective for easier writing
- Show don’t tell, whenever possible, for a deeper POV
- As with any set of rules, know when and how to break them while maintaining reader trust
Knowing characters on a intimate level and how they experience the plot is core to prose perspective. POV is the lens through which the reader receives the story. If the lens is clear and precise, the story is told well. If it’s dirty and cracked, that’s the type of tale readers will see.
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Aspectä rey’lief, fair reader.
—Ed R. White
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