One of the first things you need to ask before writing a piece of fiction is: who is telling the story? Or, in other words, which point of view will you choose? The point of view in fiction determines whose eyes the reader experiences the story through. Thus, choosing the appropriate point of view for your story is crucial, since different points of view have different effects on the story and on the way the reader will interpret it. Essentially, the effect your story has on the reader will change depending on the point of view you take.
According to The Write Practice, “Point of View” refers to two things in writing:
- A point of view in a discussion, an argument, or nonfiction writing is an opinion, the way you think about a subject.
- In a story, the point of view is the narrator’s position in the description of events.
The point of view in the first definition is important for nonfiction writing in particular, but this post is going to focus on the second definition – on POV’s role in creative fiction writing.
Here are the four primary POV types in fiction:
- First person point of view. First person is when “I” am telling the story. The character is in the story, relating his or her experiences directly. It is limited and biased because it tells the story through one character.
- Second person point of view. The story is told to “you.” This POV is not common in fiction, but can make the writing more personal to the reader.
- Third person point of view, limited. The story is about “he” or “she.” This is the most common point of view in fiction. The narrator is outside of the story and relating the experiences of a particular character, without relating the thoughts or experiences of other characters.
- Third person point of view, omniscient. Like third person limited, the story is still about “he” or “she,” but the narrator knows everything. The narrator has full access to the thoughts and experiences of all characters in the story.
Here is an example third person POV from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen:
“When Jane and Elizabeth were alone, the former, who had been cautious in her praise of Mr. Bingley before, expressed to her sister how very much she admired him.”
Compare the above to a segment from Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises:
“I could picture it. I have a habit of imagining the conversations between my friends. We went out to the Cafe Napolitain to have an aperitif and watch the evening crowd on the Boulevard.”
One way to think about point of view is in terms of the distance and level of intimacy between the narrator and reader. If you place the four different types of point of view on a scale from closest to the reader to furthest, the second point of view is closest, then first, then third person limited, and then omniscient. The amount of intimacy you want with your reader is determined by which point of view you choose as a writer.
Also, think about the information you want to hide and present to the reader. Does the reader gain new knowledge from the point of view you choose, or does the reader miss out on important information? Consider how the reader would feel about one or more of the characters if the story was told from a different point of view.
It’s important to choose just one point of view and stick to it. While switching point of views in writing is possible, it’s better to keep the point of view consistent to maintain continuity so as not to confuse the reader and yourself.
Remember, there is no “best” point of view – the choice is subjective and it depends entirely on you and your story. If you’re just getting started and are unsure about which point of view to choose, I would encourage you to use either first person or third person limited point of view because they’re easy to understand.
Here are a few useful links if you’re interested in learning more: