Thursday, 23 December 2010

Who Me? She said. You understand? Don't you?

Today's a brief review of POV (Point of View)! Oh, that rhymes. I won't go into whether you should use multiple POV or which is better. It's just a review.

First Person

The story is told directly by a character (I) who is one of its central figures, someone who is present in all the key scenes. We experience the story as the narrator experiences (or experienced) it, and are privy to the narrator’s intimate thoughts. We are limited, however, by what the narrator knows or doesn’t know. If there is information the narrator has but doesn’t share with us, there’s a good chance we’ll feel betrayed.

Example: I watched the woman walk down the street. Why did she wear red boots?

Second Person

The story is told by a voice that appears to be speaking to another character or to the reader (you). While the viewpoint can function much like first person, it is more difficult to convey the narrator’s thoughts and feelings, especially if they’re nothing like the reader’s thoughts and feelings. Unlike first person, second person can make you feel distanced from a narrator (which can be both a pro and a con). When used sparingly, this can be a surprising and effect POV.

Example: You watched the woman walk down the street. Why did she wear red boots, you wonder.

Third Person Limited

The story is told in third person (she or he) and features a character whose thoughts are known to us. Overall, this is the least intrusive viewpoint because it can be nearly invisible to the reader. Like first person, third person limited can show us a character’s intimate thoughts, but it also keeps us within the bounds of what the main character knows. Generally, a third person limited narrator can withhold information more easily than a first person narrator.

Example: She watched the woman walk down the street. Why did the woman wear red boots, she wondered.

Third Person Omniscient Involved

The story is told from a viewpoint that may shift throughout the story. The narrator may show us the internal thoughts of any of the characters as well as his/her own. Often, the narrator’s voice is stronger than that of any of the characters, and we get the sense that the narrator is leading us through the story, showing us what we need to know. This viewpoint often keeps us at a distance from the characters, but it can be an effective way of underlining the themes and ideas of a story.

Example: Darleen watched the woman walk down the street. Why did the woman wear red boots, Darleen wondered.
Marla looked down at her red boots and looked up at the woman who stared at her. What right does she have to question my choices? She'd never wear green and yellow together.

Third Person Omniscient Detached

The story is told from a viewpoint that is uninvolved in the story. We see only the actions of the characters but are never privy to their internal thoughts. We observe the events of the story and are forced to guess at the characters’ motivations . As in fairy tales, characters are defined by their actions. There is no psychology and we must draw our own conclusions about the story.

Example: Darleen looked at the woman wearing red boots. The woman looks back at her, lifts her chin in the air and walks faster.

Source: Choosing a POV


  1. Honestly i never realized fairy tales were written in that POV. Huh- learn something new everyday.

  2. A couple of those sound really tough!

  3. very educational! ;p Merry Christmas, girl~ :o) <3

  4. Great minds! I'm shifting from limited third to first in my current WIP and am planning a post for the new year. The interesting thing about third limited is the sliding scale on intimacy. It's possible to get so close it feels like first, or to pull back but still remain in a single character's head.

    Happy Holidays!

  5. Clarissa - Thanks for this very important reminder of how to use POV. Different POV's can be successful; I really couldn't say that one POV is better than another. I will say, though, that it's something writers need to take seriously. To me, fit of POV is much more important than is the particular POV used.

  6. Hi Clarissa ... these tips are going to be so useful & I learn from them .. Cheers Hilary

  7. In my WIP I'm using 3rd person limited and 3rd person subjective. A narrative can be a combination of the two.

    This is a great topic; good to get a handle on before diving into that masterpiece. I definitely agree with Margot - fit of POV is more important.

    Merry Xmas Clarissa! Thank you for your inspirational posts.

  8. Short and to the point Clarissa. This clearly outlines the POV choices.
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

  9. I've just translated a book which is told in first person, but the problem is that everything is described in the moment it happens, so there's a lot of strange present tense ... it was a hell to translate :)

  10. Another great succint tutorial!! Thank you!!! Take care

  11. I've been playing a lot with multiple point of view (with each character's POV third person limited). It gives me a chance to get into the mind of the bad guys, which is kinda fun.

  12. On that note, I firmly believe every story wants to be told a certain way, in a certain POV.

  13. Hi Clarissa -

    I like writing in third person limited. Thanks for the glossary. :)

    Merry Christmas,

  14. My grasp has gotten better on POV than when I wrote my first novel but it is still a concern for me - it is slippery. I get my readers to look for inconsistancies. Is that how that is spelled? I'm tired.
    Have a great holiday...with books.

  15. I hadn't heard of third person omniscient detached. Thanks for the overview. As always, I learned something.

  16. A useful overview and reference - thanks for putting this together.

  17. Thanks Clarissa! Very clealy described.


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