Like characters, plot, and setting, a story’s point-of-view can go a long way. Points-of-view in literature have always fascinated me, and I’ve found that most writers tend to cling to certain perspectives. I, myself, tend to gravitate towards first person and third person limited. In fact, I’ve never attempted a multiple point-of-view story! Now I’m suddenly feeling like a novice 😦
Either way, I think certain stories lend themselves to certain points-of-view. I can’t possibly imagine a grandiose bildungsroman such as Great Expectations being told in any perspective outside first person.
I’ve written up a brief overview of each type below. This knowledge is mostly a culmination of courses I’ve attended, books I’ve read, and writing I’ve done. I’m presenting this information to you based on my own…wait for it…point-of-view! I certainly don’t claim to be an expert:
The Major Types of Point-of-View
First Person: These are stories told in the “I” voice. Many budding novelists use this perspective because it feels natural. Generally speaking, first person stories have that unmistakable ‘flow.’ This point-of-view is never to be confused with the author; in fact, the narrator is an actual character in the story.
However, there are two different kinds of first person narrators. (1) A character who is actively involved in the story. Think Jane, from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. (2) A character who is a casual observer. Think Nick Carroway from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Nick may be dictating the course of events, but the story actually focuses on Jay Gatsby (arguably, anyway). Think about how the story would change if Gatsby himself were the sole voice.
Pros: the reader has the opportunity to become thoroughly acquainted with one of main characters. Plus, generally speaking, despite bad behavior and less than stellar moral conduct, a reader will root for the protagonist, because it is impossible to see the situations through anyone else’s eyes.
Cons: the reader may miss out on secondary characters’ points of view, thus, misinterpreting their true motives; moreover, the notion of the ‘unreliable narrator’ is most palpable here.
Best used for: Coming of age stories, or other stories where the protagonist undergoes a transformation, has an epiphany, etc.
Second Person: In some cases it is basically a first person narration talking to himself. It could also be the narrator addressing another character (perhaps a lost love?) Finally, the “You” the narrator can speak directly to the reader.
Pros: involves the reader, as if he or she is part of the action taking place in the story
Cons: hard to get involved with the characters’ thoughts, emotions, etc.
Best used: (I’ve heard) Detective or ‘crime solving’ novels, or perhaps a series of letters to another character.
Third Person: Here we have an unknown narrator who is not part of the story. This narrator can shift points-of-view from one character to another.
Pros: generally not unreliable, has multiple perspectives, and can refer to situations and instances outside one sole character’s mind.
Cons: shift from different perspectives can blur, be jarring for the reader
Best used for: Family sagas, any story with more than one main character
Third Person Limited: In some ways, this is very close to first person, because the point of view focuses solely on one character’s perspective. It is an outside force, narrator, that “knows all” without being an actual character, but really only is able to get inside the mindset of one character—nine times out of ten, the main character
Pros: reliable, slightly more open than first person, can be aware of character thoughts that character him-or herself is not aware of—more difficult to do this with first person.
Cons: limited perspective, can’t hear the one character’s voice as clearly as first person
Best used for: coming-of-age stories, short stories (which doesn’t always have time to switch character points of view)
Omniscient: This is a big, grandiose perspective. In other words, “God-like;” sees all, every encompassing move surrounding a band of characters. Does not focus on any characters’ too closely.
Pros: wide, can refer or remark on things characters can’t see, such as someone creeping up behind them in the woods, etc.
Cons: distance from characters. Can watch movements, hear things they say, speculate on them, etc, but can’t get inside any of them.
Best used for: poems, certain short stories, can be disconcerting in novel form
Please tell me…which point-of-view do you tend to write in? Which point-of-view do you enjoy to read most? Waiting for your thoughts.