Writing Tips: The Different Types of Point of View

So you've got a story to tell...

Don't we all! We tell stories all the time. When we tell them, we tell from a viewpoint. Usually, if the story involves us directly we tell it in first person. If it involves others, it's usually in third person. Of course, I said USUALLY. There's always exceptions, and the viewpoint can change over time. What follows will be a brief listing of the different types of viewpoints and the pros and cons of each. This list will in no way be exhaustive, but should cover most of the common viewpoints. I may update this periodically, as time and comments dictate. Enjoy!

How close do you want the reader to your narrator... and through who's lens do you want them to see the story unfold?
How close do you want the reader to your narrator... and through who's lens do you want them to see the story unfold?
JD Salinger
JD Salinger
Bret Easton Ellis
Bret Easton Ellis
William Faulkner
William Faulkner

First Person Narration

First person Narration uses words like "I", "We", "Us", etc. to tell a story. It can be singular (as in J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye ) or plural (as in William Faulkner's A Rose for Emily ). It can also be told in past (as in Catcher in the Rye ) or in present tense (everything by Bret Easton Ellis, except for Lunar Park , fits in this category).

One of the advantages to first person narration is that we get into the mind of one character. We see the story unfold through their eyes and their eyes alone. They are presumably the most interesting character in the story and the one with the most at stake in how the story turns out. This is also the limitation. With first person, we cannot get in the head of another character, at least not directly. We can use conjecture and observation, but unless the character being observed is talking about him or herself directly or indirectly, it is all assumption.

First person narrators can also be unreliable at times. Patrick Bateman from American Psycho and Holden Caufield in Catcher in the Rye fall into this category. They are telling the story as they tell it and as they perceive it, but, they cannot be fully trusted. Bateman is a delusional serial killer and Caufield is an angst ridden teenager. Their perspectives are skewed. This makes for an interesting read, but also requires much more alertness on the part of the reader.

Remember, in your own life, your own observations are often skewed by your experiences and inherent prejudices. The same is true of first person narrators.

Also, first person narration is not the author speaking, it's the character speaking through the author. Never assume there's an author.

Second Person Narration

Outside of poetry, this viewpoint is rarely used. The narrator, in this case is "you" and is often accusatory. readers resist this and, as such, you will rarely see "You" narration hold up over a long piece, though you do see this somewhat more often in flash fiction. Jay McInerney wrote his novel Bright Lights, Big City with second person narration to great effect, but the novel is very short. One of my hubs is a short story called Styrofoam Plates and is in second person. I am revising the story to first person because I realize it's hard to connect with the character in the story because of the narration.It took numerous workshops and several rejection letters for me to realize this, but I eventually did. The narrative viewpoint wasn't the only problem, but it certainly was a factor.

An example of second person narration: "You looked over at her and she was smiling. You just wanted to kill her, though. You detest her."

That's very accusing. It's hard to engage because you're being forced into the action of murderous thoughts. It makes you uncomfortable. Second person narration should only be used when it serves the story best but, in reality, it's basically just a glorified, pretentious form of first person narration. It's interesting, but very easy to fall into the realm of gimmickry. You want your readers to focus on content, not gimmick, at least if you want to be viewed as a serious writer.

It works best in poems, where reader's are generally more open to being pored and gored. Not so much in fiction. Use this sparingly.

Jay Mcinerney
Jay Mcinerney

Past Vs. Present Tense

Past tense recalls events or actions that have occurred. For example,"I ran to the door and opened the door and saw my dad standing there, with luggage in his hands."

Present tense recalls events or actions that currently occurring. For example, "I run to the door and open the door and see my dad standing there with luggage in his hands."

With past tense, there is usually the assumption of narrative distance. Since the events have occurred, the narrator has a better idea how to interpret them and has, presumably, changed since their occurrence. With present tense, we experience and perceive events with the character. The character will presumably learn something or change as a result of the events, but he hasn't yet.

When drafting, don't worry about tense. Tense shifts are common mistakes in first drafts,. Use subsequent drafts and revisions to fix mistakes in tense... and experiment with past and present. See what flows better. See which works best for the story you're trying to tell.

Third Person Narration

Third Person Narration (he, she, they, them) is perhaps the most common and, on it's surface, the simplest. Short stories including Where are You Going, Where Have You Been? By Joyce Carol Oates and The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien utilize this viewpoint. Charles Dickens, Stephen King, Flannery O'Connor, and Tom Clancy write in third person almost exclusively.

Third person allows a story to be told through the eyes of an outsider, someone who's not a character and whom does not have anything at stake in the story. It can be told in past or present tense to different effect. A third person narrator is generally reliable and generally reports the story objectively.

Third person narration is generally omniscient (all knowing) though sometimes this omniscience is limited to one character (as in Where are You Going, Where Have you Been? ). In the works of Clancy and King, we see into the minds of many characters in complete omniscience. This all knowing ability, mixed with the objectivity of the narrator, are the primary advantages of this viewpoint. Many times, the omniscient narrator knows the future and shares this with the reader.

There are also times where we are let into the characters' head directly, giving the reader some degree of closeness to the character or characters involved in a story.These thoughts are often are indicated by the use of italics.

Third person narration also leaves more room for description and setting, because the eye of the narrator is everywhere, not just in the mind of a character. In second and first person, setting and description are also used, but only through the direct statements of the narrator.

So, which viewpoint should I write my story in?

Keep reading...

Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates
Tim O'Brien
Tim O'Brien
Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens
Stephen King
Stephen King
Flannery O'Connor
Flannery O'Connor
Tom Clancy
Tom Clancy

Well, that depends...

...and it's usually dictated by the story and the characters themselves. Often times a coming of age story is told through the eyes of one character (such as Stephen King's The Body [which you may know as the feature film Stand By Me ] and ZZ Packer's Brownies ) while an epic, or a story spanning many generations and with numerous characters (such as Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, and Tom Clancy's stories) usually would use third person narration.

Some novels, including As I lay Dying (Faulkner), The Joy Luck Club (Amy Tan) and Trainspotting (Irvine Welch) use multiple narrators, though this is generally not done with short stories and novellas.

When you sit down to write, let your characters dictate how the story should be told and viewed. After all, it is their story. You're just the medium they're using to tell it. If your first draft seems flat, or if people aren't connecting with it, consider changing the point of view, and see if that gives it the pop it needs.

Whatever the point of view, understand the advantages and limitations of each and be consistent. POV is often the last thing authors consider in a story when, in reality, it should be one of the first.

Happy writing!

ZZ Packer
ZZ Packer
Amy Tan
Amy Tan
Leo Tolstoy, perhaps the coolest looking writer of all time
Leo Tolstoy, perhaps the coolest looking writer of all time
Irvine Welch
Irvine Welch

In conclusion...


I hope that you found this article interesting and helpful. Good luck in your pursuits.

Please leave some feedback below and, remember, sharing is caring.

Thanks for Reading.

PDXKaraokeGuy, also known as Justin W. Price, is an author with Sweatshoppe Publications, which will soon re-release his poetry collection, Digging to China. Additionally, the managing editor at eFiction horror and The New Bridge online newspaper.. Husband to Andrea, father to two dogs. writer.poet.baseball fan. tattooed. He is am amateur theologian with a rabid sweet tooth. He resides in a suburb of Portland, Oregon.He has a poetry book available for Amazon Kindle, and also maintains a blog, FirstBlog. His work has been featured in the Crisis Chronicles, efiction Magazine, The Hellroaring Review, the Bellwether Review, eFiction Humor, and the Rusty Nail. Please visit his profile page for more information. Thanks!

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Comments 28 comments

PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 3 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Thanks Kamalesh. I'm glad you found this useful and I'm glad you enjoyed the read.

Take care, my friend.


Kamalesh050 profile image

Kamalesh050 4 years ago from Sahaganj, Dist. Hooghly, West Bengal, India

Thank you so much for sharing this very interesting and useful article. This you have written and presented Wonderfully. Great work, my friend. Voted Up & Awesome.

Best Wishes, Kamalesh


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Thanks, raci. I'm pleased you enjoyed this!


raciniwa profile image

raciniwa 4 years ago from Naga City, Cebu

well done my friend...a very thorough and depth analysis of the points of vies...


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Thanks Vinaya.


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Gretchen thank you. i appreciate the read and the share.


Vinaya Ghimire profile image

Vinaya Ghimire 4 years ago from Nepal

The content of writing demands different types of point of view. First person narrative most of the time has limited point of view. Third person narrative can be limited point of view or wide perspective. I second person narrative is just a first person or third person narrative in disguise.

Thanks for introducing this wonderful topic.


Gretchen Ferce profile image

Gretchen Ferce 4 years ago from Arizona, USA, 85640

I like the way you share this hub. I want you to know that this is appreciated and shared. :)


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Thanks Christy. I tries to include a variety of successful authors in this hub :-)


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Barry... give it a try. Even if you end up revising it later to a more traditional tense. Write something different then what yo normally do and expand your writing horizons., it can only help! Get those creative juices flowing. Thanks for commenting!


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Dee. Thanks. I assume most writers know the basic types, but I was always confused on second person until someone explained it to me. I figure this hub will save someone the trouble of having to guess, and know some of the pitfalls and advantages fight off the bat.


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Thanks Gypsy. I'm glad you found this interesting and thanks for the share :-)


ChristyWrites profile image

ChristyWrites 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

I am glad you included the photo of Amy Tan, she is one of my faves! A useful hub for any writer trying to make a start of it - well done.


barry1001 profile image

barry1001 4 years ago from North Wales

Very good hub, very interesting. I generally write in third person, although I've written a couple of short stories in first person. I've never tried second person narrative and after I read this hub, I'm kind of tempted to try.


Dee aka Nonna profile image

Dee aka Nonna 4 years ago

Great reference tool. I think most writer, even new ones, kinda know about the different viewpoints. You have provided enough detail to help everyone navagate the differences. Enjoyed reading this very much.


Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

Gypsy Rose Lee 4 years ago from Riga, Latvia

Voted up and interesting. Thanks for this thought provoking and informative hub. Bookmarking and passing it on.


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Thanks Rosemay. I'm glad you found this useful!


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Very true, Aurelio. In fact, Paisley Rekdal often shifts between all three in her non fiction.


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Shasta... so many choices... and they're all important!


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Cindi... try just writing and not thinking about perspective. I've written many stories, started writing them in one viewpoint and switched to another halfway through. It's a bitch to edit but usually results in a better product in the end :-)


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Thanks for stopping by Julie. I'm glad you loved this :-)


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Tammy, Tolstoy is great. I've never read James or Emerson, though i know I need too. Thanks so much for reading and commenting :-)


Rosemay50 profile image

Rosemay50 4 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

A useful and helpful article for anyone wanting to write stories. Thank you Justin.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

These points of view will also work with non-fiction, such as in hubs, though I think we're encouraged to use second person whenever possible. Voting this Up and Useful.


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA

So many choices in writing a novel - thanks for explaining how to decide which one to use.


cclitgirl profile image

cclitgirl 4 years ago from Western NC

This is a great writing tool you have provided all of us here. As I write, I'm also thinking about which perspective I should use and which is most effective. You have given me a helpful refresher course. Thumbs up!


Julie DeNeen profile image

Julie DeNeen 4 years ago from Clinton CT

Thank you for this lovely description of POV!! I loved it! :)


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 4 years ago from North Carolina

This is a great look into different points of view. I tend to write fiction in the 3rd person. I noticed your credit on Tolstoy. I definatley agree that he is one of the best. He is up there with Henry James and Emerson for me. Great hub!

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