• Julie Gray

Point of View Made Simple



New writers often tend to write in the first person out of habit, unease or intimidation. Should you use an omniscient point of view? A third person limited point of view? Who remembers 8th grade English? What's for dinner already?!

One way to make thinking of point of view less scary is to remember that the point of view refers simply to who is telling the story.

There are four major types of narrative form - or point of view:

First Person

I shifted uncomfortably in my seat but Idi Amin did not seem to notice. "I've eaten human flesh, " he went on…

The narrator is a character who is experiencing only what he or she sees, hears or does. He or she does not know what anybody else is thinking.

Third Person Limited

Giles shifted uncomfortably in his seat but Amin went on. "I've eaten human flesh," he said. Giles felt his stomach clutch. Where was this going, where was this leading? Amin sliced into the gazelle steak. The blood ran red. Giles looked for the exit.

This narrative form uses "he", "she", "they" to describe the characters but only lets us into the head of one or two.

Third Person Omniscient

Giles shifted uncomfortably in his seat but Amin went on. "I've eaten human flesh," he said, thinking with pride of the barbecue he'd hosted last week. Giles turned faintly green. Amin sliced into his steak with relish. He hadn't eaten since morning.

This is the upgraded version of Third Person Limited. Uses"he", "she", "they" to describe the characters and let's us know what everybody is thinking.

Objective

Giles shifted in his seat. Amin said "I've eaten human flesh". He sliced into a gazelle steak and the blood ran red. Giles put his hand over his mouth. "Will you excuse me?"

The objective point of view is rarely used in prose but ALWAYS used in screenwriting. It can only infer how characters feel or what they are thinking by their actions.

POV as Narrative Technique

In To Kill a Mocking Bird, which is written in the first person, the narrator is a child. So - how accurate is this story? It is told through the eyes of innocence by someone who is 4 feet tall and ten years old. Is our narrator reliable? If you use first person, you can play with this to great affect. The reader can enjoy many layers of inference and experience through the use of the unreliable narrator.

In one of my favorite books A Confederacy of Dunces, the story is told in a third person omniscient point of view but there are journal entries by our main character, Ignatius J. Reilly, who, while delightful, is a very unreliable narrator. Reilly's journal entries tilt the story toward his point of view and is the glue that holds the story together.

In Ken Kesey's brilliant book, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the first person narrator is a secondary character, who is a silent but incredibly astute observer. How different would this story be had it been narrated by Randle Patrick McMurphy instead?

The point of view you decide to use can have a powerful impact on the story.

You can play the characters like a piano - who do you want to bring into focus and for what purpose and period of time?

Know about different points of view - identify them when you are reading and ask yourself why the writer seems to have chosen that point of view and to what effect. Notice the way stories would change completely using a different point of view.

More to explore:

Popular First Person Narrative Books on Goodreads

Point of View and Narrative Voice: Dig Deeper

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