Every time you read a story, you’ll find yourself at the mercy of the narrator. Whether wrong or right, the point of view of the story can influence your leanings, your opinions of characters, and even the enjoyment of the story itself.
Which is probably why lots of writers obsess and panic over what POV to tell their story in. It’s a lot of pressure for a part of the story-writing-process that seems fairly nondescript.
But don’t worry. That’s what we’re going to do in this new series: we’re going deep into POV. And into deep POV… It’s going to be a trip!
In this first post, we’ll delve into the different types of POV, complete with examples, and explore what sorts of POVs are good for what kind of stories. We’ll also take a minute to discuss tenses.
In the second post, we’ll talk about using multiple POVs to tell your story, with some pros and cons and examples of good and not-so-good uses. We’ll also talk about the uses of letters and journal entries as forms of storytelling.
In the third post, we’ll talk about the differences between different perspectives, like male vs. female vs. queer, and child vs. teenager vs. adult.
In the fourth post, we’ll wrap up with the ins and outs of deep POV, what it is, how and when to use it, and some tips and tricks.
Let’s get started!
The Four Main Types of POV
These are the POV structures that you’ll work off of, no matter what sort of story you write. Each dictates what character is doing the storytelling, how your reader will learn to perceive events in your story, and what sort of sentence structures you’ll use as you write.
First Person Point of View
First Person is told from one person’s point of view as if they were narrating their own actions within the story. They use personal pronouns and generally spend more time on thoughts or reactions than dwelling on connections and politics in a story. First person can be told in present or past tense.
Here’s an example in past tense.
“I sighed in relief as I sat down on the bus. It was pouring outside, making London seem even more gloomy and gray than usual. I glanced around the bus. Was he here? I hoped he was. He’d been on the same bus as me for three months, always the same time. Just last week, we’d smiled at each other for the first time. It was a hopeful smile, at least on my end.”
First person is great for self-reflection, and for stories of a more personal nature. If you’re looking for a way to clearly showcase an experience, first person is a great way to do so. It helps transfer emotions and reactions to your readers so they can best understand what your character is experiencing.
Second Person Point of View
Second person is told like an instruction. Someone speaking about your actions as you do them. Here’s an example:
“You sighed in relief as you sat down on the bus. It was pouring outside, making London seem even more gloomy and gray than usual. You glanced around the bus, wondering if that boy you smiled at last week was on the bus with you again. He was always on the bus at the same time as you.”
Second person, I’ll be honest, isn’t one of my favorites, simply because I find it hard to write in. However, second person can be used to transport your readers, to make them the start of the story and to focus the attention of the story exactly where you want it.
Third Person Limited Point of View
Third person limited tells the story from the point of view of the main character, describing their thoughts and actions and reactions, but with a bit more narrative power to describe setting and action. Here’s an example:
“Luke sighed in relief as he sat down on the bus. It was pouring outside, making Lonon seem even more gloomy and gray than usual. He glanced around the bus and wondered if the man who had somehow always been on the bus at the same time as Luke was there today. He hoped so. It took him three months but he’d finally worked up the courage to smile at the man. The man had smiled back and it made Luke feel hopeful.”
Third person limited allows you a good amount of room to place, especially because you can get to know your main character in their world in ways you can’t with other POVs. Again, I won’t lie: this one is my favorite.
Third Person Omniscient Point of View
Third person omniscient essentially allows you to play god. You get to narrate the thoughts and opinions of as many characters as you want. It’s tricky to do well without confusing your audience, but can be powerful for your narrative once you achieve it.
““Luke sighed in relief as he sat down on the bus. It was pouring outside, making Lonon seem even more gloomy and gray than usual. He glanced around the bus and wondered if the man who had somehow always been on the bus at the same time as Luke was there today. He hoped so. It took him three months but he’d finally worked up the courage to smile at the man. The man had smiled back. He’d noticed Luke too and Luke’s smile made him feel hopeful.”
Similarly to third person limited, you can also play around with setting, descriptions, and action in third person omniscient.
How Do I Decide Which POV to Use?
Good question! I’m a firm believer that every story has an ideal way of being told, whether that’s through novel, screenplay, comic book, video game, or magazine feature, there’s an ideal space for each story. Just the same, there’s an ideal POV for each story as well.
If you’re looking to flex your narrative muscles with beautiful descriptions, reflections on life or the various themes of your story, one of the third person POVs will be good.
If you’re looking to get into a character’s head and watch them change and grow over the course of the story, first person or third person limited are both good for that.
If you’d like to paint a larger picture, one with many moving parts or interconnecting points, third-person POVs are helpful.
If you want to connect with your reader and really have them understand the emotion of the story, use first or second person POV.
The more you know about your story and the more you write it, the clearer you’ll see the best choice for your story’s POV.
A Note On Tenses
Most stories are told in some form of past tense, like all the examples I used above. It’s common and fairly easy to write. You don’t have to worry about timing or verb forms as much because it’s fairly self-explanatory.
However, present tense stories are becoming more popular and add a dynamism that can be lacking in some past tense stories.
Both are fine to use as long as you follow one rule: be consistent.
Cheers, until next time!