Point of View: Whose Story is It, Anyway?

Point of View: Whose Story Is It, Anyway?Point of view is the angle through which a story is told. Think of it as the eyes through which the reader sees the story unfold, or the emotional focus the writer chooses to develop the story action. While many articles exist on the subject, what you really need to focus on are three main points of view (POV) and variations of those. It’s good to know the rules of the road, so to speak, before deciding which direction to head.

Three Main Points of View

First-person point of view. The thoughts and actions of one character are expressed using the pronouns and me. Example: I went to the store. The ball hit me in the face. The writer, in essence, becomes the character, which creates a more emotional connection. The story has a more personal feeling. First-person POV lends itself to a more empathetic relationship with the reader. The one caution with choosing this POV is the character must be able to carry the weight of the story. (More on that below.) The first-person narrator must have a compelling voice.

Third-person limited point of view. The story is told through the eyes of one character, with thoughts and actions expressed using he or she and him or her. Example: She bumped her head on the low ceiling. He found his wallet on the ground. By far the most commonly used POV, it is a good place to start for newbie fiction writers. While reader identification frequently does occur, third-person limited allows for more emotional distance than first-person POV.

Omniscient point of view. The “God” perspective. The narrator using the omniscient POV knows the thoughts and feelings of all of the characters and tells the story from whatever angle works best. Reader identification is made harder because the story doesn’t belong to one character, which is why this POV is no longer popular. More suited for novels than short stories, omniscient POV works better for plot-driven stories where “the story is the thing.”

Variations of the Three Main Points of View

Not for the faint of heart, these variations of the three main points of view are best in the hands of the seasoned writer–or the brave one.

Single minor character point of view. The narrator is a minor character within the plot who tells the main character’s story. Also called the observer point of view. Think Nick in The Great Gatsby. While certainly a challenge to write, this POV can be useful when the main character is unsympathetic to readers. The narrator becomes entangled in the main character’s problems, has a stake in what happens, and offers perspective to the actions of the main character.

Multiple viewpoints. The story is told from the perspective of two or more major characters involved in the same or similar problem as they move toward the story’s climax. Basically, two or more story lines emerge (or collide) and come together along the way to a conclusion. This can either be first person or third person or even a combination–one character’s story told through first person, another through third. One problem with multiple viewpoints is that reader identification is divided between several characters. Also, telling two or more stories simultaneously can interrupt the continuity. However, a compelling story written well can overcome these obstacles.

Whose story is it, anyway?

So maybe you’ve figured out the POV issues already, but how do you decide which character should be the viewpoint character? Here are a few questions to ask when considering.

Does the main character dominate the action?

Does she have the most pressing problems to solve–and is she able to solve them?

Does he develop the message that you, the author want to convey?

Does he or she have the most to win or lose?

Once you decide the right POV and which character from your cast is best suited to tell your story, the writing should be easier. If it isn’t, try experimenting with writing scenes from the POV of one of your other characters–or maybe switch from first person to third or vice versa.

Which POV do you prefer to write in? Tell us about it in the comments.

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