What Is Point Of View In Story Writing And How You Choose

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Story Writing Point of View

Story writing starts with deciding on your point of view

Have you started writing a little and wonder if you can become a published author?

With the ease of self-publishing, it is now certainly possible for new writers.

It doesn’t matter if you plan to write fiction or non-fiction. If you can write a good story, a reader doesn’t care how you publish your book.

However, jumping in without learning a few basic writing tips and a little about the craft of creative writing can be a recipe for disaster.

Learning how to write and write well is a step by step process.

It rarely succeeds without understanding how to use some essential literary devices. Or in other words, writer’s tools.

All stories start with an idea. Sometimes it might only be a one or two sentence outline of a story idea.

 

Walk before you start running

But leaping straight into writing a novel without any planning or framework beforehand will often lead to a confused or convoluted plot.

An excellent way to see if an idea is worth pursuing is to think about writing a short story. By doing so, you can experiment with the story structure and your characters’ thoughts.

Depending on the type of story, you could make decisions about character names, setting and a timeline of events. Try to create a story in miniature that you can develop and extend later into a novel.

Don’t worry about elements that will come much further down the track if you extend your story into a novel. Foreshadowing, story arcs and mood can all wait.

Concentrate on the story and your grammar and use of English. If you are not sure, use an online grammar checker such as Grammarly to help you.

A good short story writer uses words economically yet effectively. It is great writing practice and a way to find your unique voice in your writing.

If you enjoy writing, you could try publishing your short stories on your blog or even entering them in a writing contest.

Getting feedback about your writing before you publish a book will give you a massive advantage.

When you have solidified your idea and want to get started on turning it into a novel, it is time to make one of your most important decisions.

 

Which point of view (POV) will you use?

POV is the perspective or angle a writer uses to let readers hear and see what happens, as well as indicating who is telling the story. Other uses are to explain or express the emotions of the author and their characters.

The choice of the point of view is how a writer wishes to convey a story to readers.

There are three basic types of point of view. The first person, second person and third person, of which there are two types.

Each one is defined by the selection of either first, second or third person pronouns that will be used with all actions and dialogue.

Let’s look at each one in detail.

 

The first person point of view

First person pov

The first person narrative speaks from the writer’s perspective, who is often the main character in the story.

It is naturally a biased view the narrator holds and only expresses the opinions of the author.

It uses the first person pronouns of I, me, my and mine.

I was born in a small town in 1956.

It was my mother who introduced me to reading.

There was never a time that I believed I would be successful.

She sat there, across the table, staring at me and I couldn’t think of a word to say to her.

This POV is generally used for memoirs and autobiographies.

However, it is also used on occasions in crime and detective fiction when the story is being told from the viewpoint of the protagonist, who is usually a cop or detective.

Self-help or personal development books also use the first person to explain the writer’s problem and then how they found a solution.

In fiction, the danger is that a story can lack an objective point of view, so it has limited uses. However, some writers, such as Salman Rushdie mix the first and third person, as he did in his book, Midnight’s Children.

The first person plural view is a rarity. It uses the pronouns we and our.

We spent the day by the beach, not far from our bungalow.

The only possible use for this view could perhaps be for a travelogue involving two people.

 

The second person point of view

Second person pov

The second person is the least used POV, particularly in fiction.

It talks about an unknown character, who is, in fact, the reader.

It uses the second person pronouns of you, your and yours.

It is why you should think about your diet.

You won’t stand a chance unless you prepare for the interview.

You could see she had been drinking, as she struggled to her feet.

I am sure you have thought about moving, but you would miss your friends, wouldn’t you?

The primary use for this POV is for giving advice, so it is more suited to self-help books and articles.

It is rarely used in fiction, but Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney is one rare example.

It is a very difficult POV to use in fiction, so it is certainly not one for new writers.

 

Further reading: The Second Person Point Of View – The Power Of You And Your

 

The third person point of view

Third person limited

The third person is the most used in fiction, and it has two forms, but they both use the same pronouns.

It is generally used in the past tenses and is often called the storytelling tense.

It uses the third person pronouns of he, she and they, and the object and possessive forms or her, hers, him, his, them, their and theirs.

There was the threat of rain, but she decided to take her chances.

There were police officers everywhere, but the bank robbers liked their chances of escaping because they had two hostages.

“I don’t understand what’s going one,” he said and then filled his glass.

She said that she had told them, but he didn’t believe her.

In the limited form of the third person, the narrator writes from the perspective of having restricted access to the thoughts of the characters.

Sometimes, however, it can mean that the author limits the narration to the experiences and thoughts of only one character.

A good example of limited third person writing is Harry Potter. J. K. Rowling only expresses the thoughts of Harry in her series of books.

 

Omniscient points of view

Third person omniscient

As opposed to the third person limited point of view, the third person omniscient is written from the perspective that the narrator knows everything about every character.

The difficulty with this POV is in balancing the amount of information that is shared.

Every writer knows the expression, show, don’t tell. But an overdose of omniscient narration can divert attention away from the story with too much attention given to the thoughts of all the characters.

It is much better to let the characters show the story through their actions than for the narrator to tell everything about how they think and feel.

 

The unreliable narrator

unreliable narrators

A variation on all points of view is one of unreliable narrators. However, it is mostly used with the third person POV.

As the name implies, the narrator is not to be completely trusted. There are a lot of variations, but it could be that the narrator is lying, hiding the truth, misleading, deluded or insane.

It is a literary device that is often used to confuse the reader or to set up a major plot twist.

The other defining feature is that the writer and narrator are not one and the same person, as is the case with limited POV.

As a writing technique, it is one that would be best attempted by experienced writers.

 

In closing

If there is one golden rule associated with point of view, it is to select one and stick with it.

Swapping from one POV to another in a story is not easy and it stands a very good chance of confusing readers.

If you are not sure, you can try using a writing assistant such as ProWritingAid to help you build up your writing skills and confidence.

When a book gets bad reviews, readers often use vague terms to say why they didn’t like a book.

Phrases like, it just didn’t grab me, the characters lacked any depth, or I couldn’t really understand what was going on are telltale signs of a problem with either the wrong choice of point of view or a lack of consistency.

For new writers, understanding point of view is the first step in learning how to write and write well.

 

Related reading: How To Become A Better Writer With Seven Easy Writing Skills

 

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Derek Haines

Derek Haines is an Australian author, living in Switzerland.

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