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A point of view is an inseparable part of writing. It is the perspective through which the narrator recounts their story. Every piece of literature, be it novels, stories, or blogs, has a distinct point of view.
A point of view is the perspective through which a story is narrated. It is crucial in determining the relationship between the narrator and the characters in the story. In a first-person point of view, the narrator is a part of the story and can interact with other characters in that story.
In a third-person point of view, the narrator is removed from the story and cannot interact with the characters in it. On the other hand, the narrator assumes the reader to be a part of the story and addresses them directly in a second-person point of view.
Let’s look at the different points of view along with a few relevant point of view examples.
In the first-person point of view, the narrator uses first-person pronouns such as “I”, “we”, and “us” to express their thoughts and feelings. We get an insight into the mind of the narrator with the help of personal anecdotes, thoughts, and experiences.
The narrator can either be the protagonist recounting their own experiences, or a secondary character narrating the protagonist’s story.
There are two ways in which the first-person point of view can be written.
In this perspective, the narrator is also the protagonist of the story. Let’s take a look at a first-person point of view example to see how this is done:
“Soon after my return from Leyden, I was recommended by my good master, Mr. Bates, to be surgeon to the Swallow, Captain Abraham Pannel, commander; with whom I continued three years and a half, making a voyage or two into the Levant, and some other parts. When I came back I resolved to settle in London; to which Mr. Bates, my master, encouraged me …”
— Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift
In the above example, we can see writing that is quite similar to a journal entry but is in fact a fictional novel. Swift makes use of a diary-like, first-person central narrative which is typically used for journaling or writing autobiographies. This gives the story an intimate, authentic feel despite being entirely fictional.
In this narrative, the protagonist’s story is narrated from the perspective of a secondary character in the story. Here’s an example:
“My poor friend. I have described him many times. Now to convey to you the difference. Crippled with arthritis, he propelled himself about in a wheelchair. His once plump frame had fallen in. He was a thin little man now. His face was lined and wrinkled. His moustache and hair, it is true, were still of a jet-black color, but candidly, though I would not for the world have hurt his feelings by saying so to him, this was a mistake.”
— Curtain, Agatha Christie
In the above example of a first-person narrative, Hastings, a friend of the novel’s protagonist, observes significant changes in his friend’s appearance. The use of the first-person peripheral point of view makes it easier to describe the physical appearance of the protagonist. The repetition of “I” is avoided and the situation is also more believable.
When used effectively, the first-person narrative:
1. Creates suspense.
The first-person narrative limits our access to information and helps create suspense.
2. Creates a sense of “togetherness”.
The narrator recounts personal anecdotes and experiences which allows for an engaging experience. It gives us an insight into the mind of the narrator and creates a sense of “togetherness”.
3. Creates an element of suspicion or intrigue.
Similar to real life, the narratives of characters in stories may not always be objective or reliable. The concept of an unreliable narrator who interprets circumstances incorrectly due to their personal biases and opinions adds an element of intrigue to the story.
The second-person point of view uses the pronoun “you” and assumes the reader to be the main character of the story. It is a highly immersive viewpoint in which the narrator describes “your” thoughts, actions, and emotions.
This point of view is commonly used in immersive stories, nonfiction, advertisements, or even our Resource Center! Although uncommon, it can also be used in longer fictional novels like The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin.
“You know this voice. Young, male. Familiar, and soothing in a familiar way. Lerna, Makenba’s boy from down the road, who went away for a few years and came back as a doctor. He’s not a boy anymore, hasn’t been for a while, so you remind yourself again to start thinking of him as a man.”
— The Fifth Season, N. K. Jemisin
In the above example, the protagonist Essun, a grieving mother of two, recounts her experiences using the pronoun “you” instead of “I”. This narrative creates an intense and immersive experience and makes us relate to the protagonist.
When used effectively, the second-person perspective:
1. Creates an immersive experience.
The second-person perspective is the most intimate of all points of view since the narrator directly addresses us with the pronoun “you”. This allows for a highly immersive experience that allows us to contemplate and self-reflect.
2. Creates an uncommon narrative.
Using the second-person narrative in literary fiction is difficult, and if used too often, can make the story look gimmicky. Hence, the first and third-person points of view are mainly used in fiction. However, if used correctly, the second-person point of view can add an element of uniqueness to the story.
In the third-person point of view, the story is recounted by a narrator who is removed from the story. Characters in this viewpoint are either addressed using names or third-person pronouns.
The third-person point of view can be written in three ways.
In this point of view, the narrator relays the thoughts, actions, and emotions of a single character at a time. The writer can switch between characters from chapter to chapter, but doing this too often can be confusing to the reader. Let’s look at a third-person point of view example:
“The Dursleys hadn’t even remembered that today happened to be Harry’s twelfth birthday. Of course, his hopes hadn’t been high; they’d never given him a real present, let alone a cake – but to ignore it completely…”
— Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling
In the example, Rowling offers a glimpse into the mind of the protagonist, Harry Potter, revealing his thoughts, emotions, and feelings. This allows us to empathize with Harry and experience a similar sense of loneliness and abandonment as we get to experience his inner world.
In this point of view, the story is narrated through the eyes of an all-knowing entity. It is inclusive of multiple points of view and allows for flexibility in storytelling without limitations on time, and place. Here’s an example:
“The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way toward the lagoon. Though he had taken off his school sweater and trailed it now from one hand, his grey shirt stuck to him and his hair was plastered to his forehead. All round him the long scar smashed into the jungle was a bath of heat.”
— Lord of the Flies, William Golding
The above passage not only describes the boy with fair or blonde hair, but also creates an imagery of the beautiful surroundings around him. This is characteristic of the third-person omniscient point of view.
In this point of view, the narrator adopts an observational narrative and takes the role of a bystander, simply observing a set of events and reporting them as they are. This point of view is mainly used in news reports, but can also be used in literature. Here’s an example:
“The hills across the valley of the Ebro’ were long and white. On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun. Close against the side of the station there was the warm shadow of the building and a curtain, made of strings of bamboo beads, hung across the open door into the bar, to keep out flies.”
— Hills Like White Elephants, Ernest Hemingway
As we can see from the above paragraph, Hemingway’s writing style is known for its minimalism and objective, “just the facts” approach, which is similar to that of reportage or news writing.
He often focuses on describing physical details and actions, rather than delving into the characters’ thoughts and emotions. This gives his stories a sense of realism and immediacy but also allows us to come up with our own interpretations.
When used effectively, the third-person point of view:
1. Creates a biased or unbiased narrative.
Unlike the first-person point of view, the narrator in this point of view is removed from the story. The narrator views the story from a bird’s eye view and in most cases provides an objective and often omniscient perspective.
But, this is not always the case. In certain cases, the narrator withholds information from us to create suspense and mystery.
2. Creates narrative flexibility.
The third-person point of view allows for greater flexibility and objectivity because the narrator is not a character in the story. The narrator can switch between different characters and perspectives and can move freely through time and space. This can create a rich and complex narrative experience for us, as we can gain insight into multiple characters and events.
Additionally, the use of the third-person point of view can create a sense of detachment which helps to build a sense of objectivity or emotional distance, depending on the author’s aim.
3. Creates overall character development.
The omniscient point of view allows for rich character development and the growth of multiple characters in a story. This makes the story more diverse and engaging as it allows us to gain insight into the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of multiple characters.
The omniscient narrator is an all-knowing entity that has access to the internal and external lives of characters, their past, and future, which can present a detailed and nuanced picture of the characters.
Additionally, the omniscient point of view allows us to form our own opinions about the characters, as the narrator doesn’t impose their perspective or feelings on the characters. This can make the story more complex and open to interpretation.
Many of us have put a book away because it has too many characters talking all at once. We can only enjoy a story when we understand the context and the perspective from which it’s told. Switching points of view too often can be confusing or jarring and can disrupt the flow of this story. Although some writers have mastered the art of switching points of view in the same sentence, it’s a good idea for most of us to use chapter, paragraph, or even line breaks.
But, if done correctly, switching points of view adds an interesting element to the story for example, switching between first and third-person can be used to show the different perspectives of different characters, or to reveal information gradually.
If overused, the second-person point of view may be disorienting for us, but if used efficiently it can create a sense of self-affirmation or allegory.
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