Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Three thoughts about Point of View - First, Second, and Third

Three thoughts about Point of View – First, Second, and Third
By Brad R. Cook 

Last week I talked about how Point of View affects the story, today I’m talking about First, Second, and Third Person Points of View. Point of View is a deeply personal choice for a writer, it speaks to the voice of the writer, and many readers have a style they prefer to read. POV is falls into three forms: First Person (I, We), Second Person (You), and Third Person (He, She, Ze, It, They, and Them). Third Person is further divided into Omniscient, Limited, and Objective.

1 – Genre is important to consider – but never the only reason
Most genres have a preferred or regularly used POV. Young Adult tends to be told in first person whereas Middle Grade is most often in Third Person. It’s always advisable to research the commonly used points of view for any genre you choose to write in. BUT… there is always a best-selling exception to every rule, and it’s no different when it comes to POV. There are Third Person YA novels like The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, and The Striped Pajamas by John Boyne, as well as First Person Middle Grades like Wonder by Raquel J. Palacio, Magnus Chase by Rick Riordan, and the Apothecary by Malie Meloy. The important point to remember is pick the POV that will best tell the story, and works best with the writer’s voice.

2 – Second Person POV is rare
You can use any of the three Points of View. However in fiction Second Person is rare, it can be off putting to break the fourth wall by directly address your reader. My suggestion to you would be to pick the POV that you find most comfortable to write in and hone your voice there. Directly address the reader can be very useful for blogs, essays, some journal articles, and self-help books but it is difficult to include a reader in a fiction piece. However, I’m reminded of how The Never Ending Story included the reader, or how The Princess Bride broke the fourth wall to tell the reader what parts of the book had been omitted. So write what you want to write.

3 – Third Person Omniscient vs. Third Person Limited vs. Third Person Objective
Third Person Omniscient vs. Third Person Limited vs. Third Person Objective is about how much the writer wants to reveal to the reader. Third Person Omniscient is a narrator with an overarching point of view, seeing and knowing everything that happens within the world of the story, including what each of the characters is thinking and feeling. Third Person Limited is defined as when the narrator conveys the thoughts, feelings, opinions, etc. of one or more characters. Third Person Objective employs a narrator who tells a story without describing any character's thoughts, opinions, or feelings; instead, it gives an objective, unbiased point of view.

Whichever one you choose determines how much of each character is revealed to the reader. With Omniscient the writer peers into each character’s head to explore their thoughts and feelings. In Limited the thoughts and feelings of only one or a few characters are revealed to the reader. And with Objective, a narrator imparts everything the reader needs to know.

I like the camera analogy. In Third Person Limited the camera or reader is sitting on the shoulder of one character at a time, maybe just one character through the whole story. In Third Person Omniscient the camera or reader is hovering above the scene, giving a wide perspective. The camera can jump from one character to another. Third Person Objective is like watching TV with a narrator telling the reader about the characters.

Do you have a preferred Point of View? Let us know your favorite POV style in the comments.

Brad R. Cook, author of the YA steampunk series, The Iron Chronicles. Iron Horsemen - and Iron Zulu -  He currently serves as Historian of St. Louis Writers Guild after three and half years as its President. Learn more at, on Twitter @bradrcook, or on his blog Thoughts from Midnight on tumblr

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