POV: the Narrative Lens

Point-of-view acts as the camera lens. The perspective you tell the story from will have a profound impact on the execution. We’re going to review the different point of views and when to use them. Certain stories call for different perspectives and the narrative should determine whether you use first person, second person, third person limited, or omniscient. Let’s take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of each perspective.

First Person

First person POV climbs inside the character’s head. We’re not following them, watching as an observer, we’re inside them. As such we’re more in tune with what they’re thinking and how they’re feeling. Giving the reader an insider’s view of the narrative helps develop the character and closeness. First person lends itself to a strong voice, but that’s also the downside. Writing first person perspective can be hard because you need to have a strong grasp of the narrator’s character. Everything in the narrative is filtered through the narrator’s lens. Descriptions of things will change to reflect how the narrator sees them.

The first person narrative is truly subjective. There’s no attempt at objectivity. Having a person’s view of the world allows unreliable narration, but can be difficult to maintain consistently.

Use first person POV when you want to write a story with one character. Would the narrative benefit from showing the reader the world through this character’s eyes?

Examples: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.

Second Person

The most obscure and rarely used perspective for storytelling. The character will be ‘you’ or the second person and makes the reader the protagonist. Second person’s been out of style for a long time but there’s potential for excellent storytelling in this perspective. You’ll most often find second person perspective in literary fiction.

The second person POV innately involves the reader in the story and this offers an advantage. One of the challenges will be using the second person perspective to tell a good story, and particularly, imparting a strong sense of character on the reader.

Examples: I’ve never read a second person novel so I can’t say.

Third Person Limited

The most common and popular point of view for commercial fiction. The reader will observe the main character with some insight into their thoughts and feelings. When writing third person limited, be careful to only give a glimpse into the interior world of one character per scene. Give insight into more than one character’s thoughts and you will be drifting into omniscent perspective.

Third person limited works well in a larger narrative with scope. You can switch seamlessly between different perspectives and develop a greater sense of the world at large. One challenge of this POV will be determining how close you want to get to the character. Keep your reader too detached from the POV character and the reader will feel uninvested.

Do you want to tell a sprawling tale with lots of characters? Consider third person limited.

Examples: Game of Thrones by George R. Martin, .

Third Person Omniscient

The God perspective, third person omniscent gives the reader insight into what every present character thinks and feels in every scene. Making this POV work depends on maintaining consistency in every scene. Each and every chapter must show what every present character is thinking.

Knowing what every character thinks, feels and plans gives great potential to develop dramatic tension. If Bob and Sally are talking and Sally plans something insidious, the reader will know this but Bob won’t. That grants tension. The difficulty writing omniscient will come from maintaining consistency.

Examples: Dune by Frank Herbert.

Do you have a favourite POV? Why? Any suggestions for a great second person book? Drop in the comments and join the conversation. Follow for more writing thoughts from a daily discovery writer.

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