The Point of Point-of-View

It has come to my attention that Point-of-View is one of the most important craft choices one will make in regards to his or her novel. It’s a big all-world encompassing decision that will affect every subsequent choice there-after.

That said, can you believe that I randomly chose a point-of-view for my first novel?

The word randomly is perhaps a bit misleading. It’s not like I had a dart board with the words first, second, third limited, and omniscient written on it and I started chucking darts at the wall. I did, however, follow a certain gut instinct, which wasn’t a complete disaster, but perhaps it’s better to be mindful than lucky. The truth is I didn’t realize I needed to think about point-of-view at all. I picked what felt natural and I went with it. But just because something feels natural and it flows, doesn’t mean it’s the best decision for your story.

So what is this silly thing called Point-of View? Why is it so darn important? And how can I use it to my advantage? These are all important questions and I’m going to spend the next few blog posts trying to find some answers. This is a huge topic, and I know I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface. But hey, we’ve all got to start somewhere…

What is Point-of-View?

  • It’s the perspective through which the story is told.
  • It is the eye of the story.
  • It is the filter (often a person) through which events are perceived.
  • It is where the “camera” is placed.

What Types of Point-of-View Exist?

  • First Person = The story is told through the POV of one character and filtered through his/her thoughts and emotions. First person narration uses the pronoun “I” and the audience sees the world directly through that character’s eyes only.

Example: “I was scared, so I ran away from the clown.”

Some YA books written in first person include:  The Hunger Games, Looking For Alaska, and Speak.

  • Second Person = The narrator is telling the story of another character, and that character is “you.” This is not common in fiction as it involves the reader so directly and can feel too intimate.

Example:  “Scared, you run away from the clown.”

Some novels written in the second person include: Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas and The Things They Carried.

  • Third Person Limited = The story is told by a narrator, but the narrator is limited to only the thoughts and feelings of the protagonist. Third person limited is also called third person subjective and uses the character’s name as well as the pronouns “she” or “he.”

Example: “Ingrid was scared, so she ran away from the clown.”

A novel written in the third person limited is Percy Jackson: The Lightening Thief.

  • Third Person Omniscient = This is the point of view of a god-like narrator. Similar to third person limited the story will use character’s names and the pronouns “she” and “he.” But the narrator is no longer limited to one character’s thoughts; instead the narrator knows everyone’s thoughts and actions. The story can move to different locations and isn’t tied to a single character.

Example: “Ingrid was scared, so she ran away from the clown. What she didn’t know was that the clown was her father, and he wanted to surprise her for her birthday.”

Novels in third person omniscient include: Lord of the Rings, and The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

Why is Point-of-View so Important? (This is the fun stuff, which I’ll get into more in subsequent posts.)

  • POV creates the narrative voice of your story. Changing POV from first person to omniscient will change the entire voice of the book.
  • POV affects style – sentence structure, syntax, and diction.
  • POV determines the scope of the story – grand epic vs. intimate character study.
  • POV will affect story structure.
  • POV will create the filter through which all events are interpreted.
  • POV creates distance or intimacy with the characters.
  • The list goes on and on and on….

Are you starting to see why this is such an important decision? Who knew! Stay tuned, as I explore these ideas further in coming posts.

10 thoughts on “The Point of Point-of-View

  1. You’ve made POV easy to understand, and you’re right, POV is the most important choice a writer can make. It seems as if first person is getting more and more popular, especially with YA novels. I look forward to your follow-up posts. 🙂

  2. So glad you are expanding upon this subject! Being still a learner author, but I thought educated,, I am very interested in this. Thank you, and I look forward to hearing more!

  3. Great post, Ingrid. This can be a tough concept to grasp, and you’ve explained it very clearly.

    I’ve often seen third person limited and third person omniscient described somewhat differently. In third person limited, you can tell the story from only one viewpoint at a time, but your viewpoint character can change from scene to scene.

    In third person omniscient, the narrator is not one of the characters, and can know things that none of the characters know. For instance, the narrator can say things like, “As Marisol and Jeremy said their good-byes, little did they know that it would be twelve years before they saw each other again.”

    The distinctions in third person are a little blurry, and the range is rather broad. What matters isn’t so much what you call it, but that you choose one version and use it consistently. So, for example, if you’re writing a third-person limited, multi-viewpoint novel, you can’t include an omniscient sentence like the one in your example: “What she didn’t know was that the clown was her father…” Instead, you’d have to switch to the father’s point of view to present that information to the reader.

  4. Andrea,

    Thanks for sharing! Yes, you are right, you can change view point within third person limited (from scene to scene). I believe this is called Multiple Third Person Limited.

    It is interesting how you mention that it is important to be consistent within your POV. I am currently reading a very interesting essay by David Jauss in his book “Alone With All That Could Happen” which make a case for the ability to change within a POV. He even says you often have omniscience within first person POV. I still have to finish the book, but when I do I’ll share what I’ve learned. Point of view is proving to be a provocative topic!

  5. Wow! Can’t wait to read more about this. I’ve always randomly chosen POV as well. I guess I just went with what I “thought” sounded good. I have changed the POV in a couple of my PBs, and you’re right – the story becomes completely different.

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