Point Of View: Enhancing Your Narrative Voice

Point of View (or “POV,” as we’ll occasionally refer to it in this article) can be one of the most important choices you make for your novel or short story, long before you ever put your pen to the paper. Determining the “voice” of your work early on can be the difference between a literary flop and a timeless classic. Below is some information that will help you choose the point of view that will be best for the piece you’re writing.

What is “Point of View”? Point of view, in general, is the narrative perspective from which a story is told. Basically, you are using POV to determine how—and from whom—you want your readers to hear your story. Always remember that certain points of view will often need to be applied to a specific form of literature to appear attractive to your readers.

First Person:

First person is, in essence, speaking directly from the thoughts of one specific narrator, employing personal pronouns such as “I,” “me,” and “my,” as well as inward, narrative voyages into the subject’s thoughts and ideas.

First person POV is often a difficult and challenging task for beginning writers. There needs to be a great deal of intimacy between the reader and your narrator, since that character is the only source from whom your audience will be able to fully relate and accept the story. That being said, some of the most famous novels ever written have been in first person, including The Great Gatsby.

Benefits: Creates an intimacy between reader and narrator, allows for an unreliable narrator.

Second Person:

One of the least employed points of view, second person is used mostly in self-help or Choose Your Own Adventure books. By using pronouns such as “you” and “your,” you aim your voice at the reader as you attempt to speak directly to him or her.

The rarity of books using second person is not a matter of skill or experience; just think how difficult it would be to write an entire novel by referencing the reader as the main character! Some good examples of second person POV include chapters from Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried and Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Benefits: Speak directly to/about the reader, teach him or her something.

Third Person:

Third person is undoubtedly the most common form of POV, used most often in short stories and novels. It allows you to float above the story and detail each and every character to whatever depth you desire. You can choose which of your characters’ thoughts and actions to reveal to your readers, thereby controlling the flow of information to produce the greatest result. The narrator is almost never a character and is able to express opinions and offer advice freely. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series follows this popular POV.

Benefits: Follow any character you want, include opinions, reveal information freely.

Omniscient Narrator:

The omniscient narrator can freely move between characters, allowing the narrator to draw information from any character and reveal it to the reader at will. This affords you a great deal of freedom, enabling you to focus on whichever character can best move the story forward. Important plot points can also be kept secret from the protagonist, creating suspense for the all-knowing reader.

Omniscient narrators can also impart a limited amount of knowledge, solely focusing on events concerning one character and revealing information to readers as if they were in the same shoes as the protagonist. This “limited omniscience” is best used when certain elements must be hidden from the reader until specific points in the story’s progression.

Benefits: Limit the amount of information give to the reader/protagonist as needed.

Above all, it is essential that you choose the point of view that best exemplifies your story and its characters. Changing the POV in the middle of a novel or short story can damage its structure and confuse readers if you do not properly bring the conversion to their attention. If you do decide to change the point of view, make sure you wait until the end of a chapter or a definitive section of your work to bring in another character’s voice.

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