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First, Second & Third Person Point of View

Point of view is the perspective from which a story (either fiction or nonfiction) is written. It affects the tone of the story, the connection readers develop with the characters, and the amount of information that can be shared. While often confusing, especially for new authors, it isn’t nearly as complicated as it might seem. And as always, Dog Ear is here to help!

There are four main points of view: first person, second person, third-person limited, and third-person omniscient:

  • First person is common in fiction and can establish an immediate and intimate connection with readers:
    • I woke in the early morning to the sound of birdsong.
    • Walking through the rain-soaked streets, I tapped my umbrella against the sidewalk. I passed a shoeshine booth, and the man there looked happy to find another person had survived the storm.
    • With a wink and a grin, I let him know I was okay. He smiled with what looked like relief.
  • Second person can make readers feel like they are actually going through the experiences being described:
    • You wake in the early morning to the sound of birdsong.
    • Walking through the rain-soaked streets, you tap your umbrella against the sidewalk. You pass a shoeshine booth, and the man there looks happy to find another person has survived the storm.
    • With a wink and a grin, you let him know you’re okay. He smiles with what seems like relief.
  • Third-person limited is very common in fiction and allows the narrator an impartiality that can help readers understand multiple perspectives:
    • She woke in the early morning to the sound of birdsong.
    • Walking through the rain-soaked streets, she tapped her umbrella against the sidewalk. She passed a shoeshine booth, and the man there looked happy to find another person had survived the storm.
    • With a wink and a grin, she let him know she was okay. He smiled with what looked like relief.
  • Third-person omniscient is less common and allows access to multiple characters’ thoughts and feelings:
    • She woke in the early morning to the sound of birdsong.
    • Walking through the rain-soaked streets, she tapped her umbrella against the sidewalk. When she passed a shoeshine booth, the man there was happy to see another person had survived the storm.
    • With a wink and a grin, she let him know she was okay. He smiled with relief.

No matter which point of view you decide to use, it’s important to make sure you keep things in the proper perspective. That means no randomly switching points of view, or “head-hopping!”

For example, pretend your novel is written entirely from the point of view of a hamster. In the middle of the book, you write, “Looking at the mess, the human felt angry.”

Can you spot the mistake? It’s a common one and can be tricky. Look again, and ask yourself, “How does the hamster, which is narrating the story, know how the human feels?”

The answer is that it doesn’t. It can’t. The hamster is not omniscient, and although the human can react with anger or speak angrily, the hamster is never going to know what the human is thinking or feeling without expressly being told.

That’s not to say authors can’t write novels from multiple points of view. They can, and they do. A thriller, for instance, can be told from the perspective of both the killer and the victim. Each transition between characters, however, should be made clear: a different setting, different font, different chapter, etc.

The narration should also be limited to include only the characters that affect the story. In the thriller, for example, the neighbor who saw the killer enter the house might be important, but the neighbor’s daughter’s friend probably isn’t.

Most importantly, once you choose a perspective, stick with it. Never begin a novel in the third person, then suddenly switch to first. It’s far too confusing for readers to follow.

In the end, the decision of which point of view to use is entirely up to you, the author. So long as you are consistent, there is no wrong choice. In the often complicated and confusing world of writing, that news is a breath of fresh air!

Angela Wade
Angela Wade

I have one goal: to create and shape cohesive, fluid, accessible copy that shifts perspective and makes a connection. With more than twelve years of experience in the writing and editing industry, I accomplish that goal through a passion for brainstorming, researching, planning, writing, and editing everything from grants to novels to marketing materials to websites. My articles, interviews, poems, essays, and reviews have appeared in various print and online publications, including Calyx Journal, Inkwell Magazine, Mindful Homeschooler, and Home Education Magazine.