Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Lens on P.O.V. (Point of View)

Lens on P.O.V. (Point of View)
By Brad R. Cook

Today I wanted to focus The Writers’ Lens on something important to all stories, the Point of View.

There are three basic points of view – First Person, Second Person, and Third Person

Each has their proper use, and will have significant influence on how your story is told. So it’s best to know your POV before you start, otherwise you’ll end up rewriting an entire book from one POV to another. I don’t suggest that.

However, rewriting a short story in multiple POV’s can be a great exercise to discover what POV you are most comfortable with or which is best for your story.

First Person
First Person Point of View is telling the story as if the writer is the main character. This form is easily recognizable by the use of “I”, but it can be a very effective technique when writing.

The Good
            First person instantly gives your story a clear voice. The MC’s voice.

            The pace of your novel is faster, because the reader isn’t bogged down with lots of descriptions or various characters’ opinions; these are usually quick-reads.

The Bad
            First person limits the amount of story that can be told, everything is filtered through the main character and we only see the events through their eyes.

            If you’re not careful it can become a grocery list and not a story. I did this, then I did that, and then I went over here. That isn’t a story; it’s a list of actions.

Second Person
Second Person Point of View is telling the story directly to the reader, connecting with them as if you were in the room with them. This is not usually used in novels, but is often a gimmick, a technique of breaking the fourth wall.

The Good
            It allows the writer to connect directly with the reader.

            This can often be effective in short spurts, like a narrator who talks to the reader while the characters are separate from them.

The Bad
            Often the writer ends up telling a story as opposed to showing the reader what is happening in the story.

            These stories can sometimes come off as ‘preachy’.

Third Person
Third Person Point of View can be further divided into Limited, Multiple Viewpoints, and Omniscient. All three are defined by the use of he/she.

Third Person Limited is told from only the main character’s point of view, as if the narrator sat up their shoulder through the whole novel. Everything the reader absorbs is from this single point of view, allowing the reader to get to know that character.

Third Person Multiple Viewpoints is told from two or more points of view. This usually works best when one chapter is dedicated to a characters point of the view and different chapters represent different characters.

I would not advise switching within the same chapter, unless…

Third Person Omniscient involves a narrator who lets the reader in on every characters mind and action. If third person limited has the narrator sitting on the main character’s shoulder, then third person omniscient is floating high above and telepathically linked to everyone. It’s a delicate balance to write, and I suggest reading some classical novels for inspiration.

The Good
            Many books are written in third person, it used to be the most common POV.

            Third person allows the writer to include greater depth for each of the characters not just the MC.

The Bad
            It can distant the reader from the characters, whereas first person makes them feel like part of the story.

What Point of View is your favorite to write, or do you have a Good or Bad point to share? Let me know in the comments.

Brad R. Cook is a historical fantasy author and President of St. Louis Writers Guild. Please visit or follow me on Twitter @bradrcook
St. Louis Reflections


  1. Great post, Brad. Most of my stuff is written in first person. I love getting into one character in that way.

  2. Ah POV... always a fun to try and decide which to go wit. For some reason I like first for YA and third person limited for MG. But if you ask about tense it's always past for me.

    Great descriptions!

  3. I'm reading a book now that has a 3rd person omniscient narrator and finding it very odd jumping from one character's mind to another. It's just not right!

  4. Thanks! I've been rereading the Three Musketeers and it is written in a mix of 3rd person omniscient and 2nd person. Tangents galore, its fun, but I don't think any reader of today would stand for it. :)

  5. Nice post Brad. I find when I write I start out in one POV, then switch by the time I make it to the end. One book is clearly like that and I'm still trying to decide which POV I need to be in... ack.

  6. I'm not sure if my doggie story is first or third. For example:

    "(I) took my dog for a walk along the riverfront trail. (He) broke free to chase a rabbit."

    Is that first or third?

    1. In order to determine POV you have to look at who the main character is. In this case the main character is you (or the I) so it's first person. POV is all about the perspective of the storyteller or main character unless you are omniscient and then the POV is basically the god perspective, all knowing.

      Just because you use he to start a sentence doesn't mean your pov changes. You are still describing what your dog did from your perspective. A good way to test it is to replace the he/she with a name. So putting a name in the second sentence Rover broke freed to chase a rabbit. You are still watching the dog break free from your perspective. In addition, first person is a lot like how you would talk and think in real life. You'd still refer to people by their name or he and she, but despite that everything you say or think is still in your perspective.