Understanding the Different Types of Point of View

When it comes to writing a story, point of view (POV) refers to “the narrator’s position relative to the story being told.” There are three main points of view to consider: first person, second person, and third person.

Choosing a POV for your story is less a matter of right and wrong and more a matter of personal preference and story needs. Let’s take a look at the different types of POV so you understand your options.

First Person Point of View

In first person POV, the narrator is always a character in the story (typically the main character) and therefore the pronoun “I” is used as they tell it. The narrator relates the events they experience. Since first person narration only explores one person’s unique worldview and experiences, it provides an incomplete story that can be both biased and unreliable.

Example of First Person Point of View

I stood near the warehouse door frowning at the less than ideal circumstance we found ourselves in. It was gloomy inside, lit only by the weak red light of the fading sun spilling in through the dust-covered windows. Rows of tall shelving units cast impenetrable shadows which would make our search that much more difficult.

“This is ridiculous,” I muttered as Elliot joined me in the doorway.

“I know, but he has helped us a few times in the past,” Elliot replied wiping sweat from her forehead. It was a warm evening, and we had ridden over as fast as we could manage.

The determined look on Elliot’s face told me there was no backing out now. I sighed and pulled a flashlight from my bag.

Books written in first person POV: The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb

Second Person Point of View

In second person POV, the narrator describes what is happening to another character and uses the pronoun “you” to do so. Second person POV is not often used for entire novels because many people find it off-putting to read. That being said, it has been successfully used in short stories, novellas, and sometimes for certain scenes within a novel.

Examples of Second Person POV

You stood near the warehouse door frowning at the less than ideal circumstance you found yourself in. It was gloomy inside, lit only by the weak red light of the fading sun spilling in through the dust-covered windows. Rows of tall shelving units cast impenetrable shadows.

“This is ridiculous,” you muttered as Elliot joined you in the doorway.

“I know, but he has helped us a few times in the past,” Elliot replied wiping sweat from her forehead. It was a warm evening, and you had ridden over as fast as you could manage.

The determined look on Elliot’s face told you there was no backing out now. You sighed and pulled a flashlight from your bag.

Books written in second person POV: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin (second person POV is only used in a few of the scenes in each of these books)

Third Person Point of View

This is where things get a bit more complicated because third person POV breaks down into multiple subcategories. In essence, third person POV is a story being told about someone else. The narrator is not a character in the story so they use the pronouns “he”, “she”, “they”, and “it” to tell the story. The subcategories determine which character’s thoughts and feelings the reader gets to experience, if any.

Third Person Limited POV

In third person limited POV, the story follows one character. Like in first person POV, the narrator knows what that one character knows. Unlike in first person, the narrator is not the character which helps cut down on bias/unreliability in the narration by providing some distance from the character.

Example of Third Person Limited POV

Nova-Marie stood near the warehouse door frowning at the less than ideal circumstance they found themselves in. It was gloomy inside, lit only by the weak red light of the fading sun spilling in through the dust-covered windows. Rows of tall shelving units cast impenetrable shadows which, Nova knew, would make their search that much more difficult.

“This is ridiculous,” she muttered as Elliot joined her in the doorway.

“I know, but he has helped us a few times in the past,” Elliot replied wiping sweat from her forehead. It was a warm evening, and they had ridden over as fast as they could manage.

The determined look on Elliot’s face told her there was no backing out now. Nova-Marie sighed and pulled a flashlight from her bag.

Books written in third person limited POV: Nevernight by Jay Kristoff, The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks

Third Person Multiple POV

A story written in third person multiple POV follows more than one character. The narrator can relate the story from the perspective of any number of characters. To avoid confusing the reader, the narrator will typically stick with one character’s perspective for the duration of an entire scene or chapter.

Example of Third Person Multiple

Nova-Marie stood near the warehouse door frowning at the less than ideal circumstance they found themselves in. It was gloomy inside, lit only by the weak red light of the fading sun spilling in through the dust-covered windows. Rows of tall shelving units cast impenetrable shadows which, Nova knew, would make their search that much more difficult.

“This is ridiculous,” she muttered as Elliot joined her in the doorway.

“I know, but he has helped us a few times in the past,” Elliot replied wiping sweat from her forehead. It was a warm evening, and they had ridden over as fast as they could manage.

The determined look on Elliot’s face told her there was no backing out now. Nova-Marie sighed and pulled a flashlight from her bag.

***

Now they were here, Elliot had a bad feeling, but she refused to let it show. They had picked up Zak’s slack before and this time was no different. Experience told her that as long as she didn’t pass her uneasiness on to Nova-Marie they would be fine.

Seeing Nova pull a flashlight from her backpack, Elliot followed suit and led the way into the warehouse.

Books written in third person multiple POV: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor, The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Third Person Omniscient

Third person omniscient is not used as often as it used to be. Essentially, the narrator knows everything from what each character is thinking and feeling to events happening in other parts of the world. This narrator can jump from character to character and dole out or withhold information as they see fit.

Example of Third Person Omniscient POV

Nova-Marie stood near the warehouse door frowning at the less than ideal circumstance they found themselves in. It was gloomy inside, lit only by the weak red light of the fading sun spilling in through the dust-covered windows. Rows of tall shelving units cast impenetrable shadows which both she and Elliot knew would make their search that much more difficult.

“This is ridiculous,” she muttered as Elliot joined her in the doorway.

Elliot agreed but instead of admitting it she said, “I know but he has helped us a few times in the past.” She wiped the sweat from her forehead as she spoke. It was a warm evening, and they’d ridden over as fast as they could manage. Elliot had pushed herself too hard trying to make it here before sunset, but she had no intention of mentioning that either.

Nova-Marie glanced over taking in Elliot’s determined scowl which told her there was no backing out despite Elliot’s sweat-soaked shirt and laboured breathing. Nova-Marie sighed and pulled a flashlight from her bag.

Books written in third person omniscient POV: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Point of view can break down even further, but these are the main points of view used in fiction writing. It is important to understand what your POV options are as the POV can drastically change the story being told.

If you have any questions about point of view, let me know in the comments.

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