Your guide to point of view

3 min read

I? We? They? You? For a writer, it can be hard to figure out which point of view to use when telling a story. You have a lot of options — first person, third, omniscient, etc. Your choice might depend on your personal preference, but it also depends on your audience and your intention.

Point of view is more important to a piece of writing than you might think. How do you want the reader to relate to your subject? Are you writing a formal essay? Or are you crafting a blog post or web article, like the one you’re reading right now? Let’s look at some point of view (POV) tips to guide you and your narrator in the right direction.

First, second, third

There are three main points of view: first person (I), second person (you), and third person (he/she/they). Each one has its ideal uses and situations where it’s not so effective.

You probably wouldn’t write an entire novel in second person, referring to the main character as “you.” It feels weird, and it can sometimes pull the reader away from the story rather than immerse them in it. But second person is great when you’re talking directly to the reader in a friendly article (Like this one. Hello, you!).

If you’re writing a book, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, you’re probably going to choose between first and third person. Here’s where it can get tricky. You want to choose the POV that works best for the story and grabs the reader’s attention. Point of view is one of the most important parts of your work, so you want to get it right.

It’s all in their head

First person point of view can be perfect for fiction. It serves to connect the reader more closely with the main character. The reader gets the character’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences through their eyes. For fiction audiences, this creates a close, relatable experience.

In nonfiction books or articles, the first person can also be effective if the point of the work is to share your inner thoughts with the world. Many writers on the internet write in first person in order to share their opinions, expertise, and advice.

Close? Distant? Omniscient?

Third person is a little trickier. There are three main categories of third-person point of view: close, distant, and omniscient. Close third person is almost like first person. You’re still following one character, and you can still hear their thoughts and see their reactions. But there’s a little separation between reader and character, because you're using a he/she/they pronoun.

Distant third person is a way to put even more space between the story and reader. You see this one a lot in older works, where you’re reading about a character, and suddenly the author interjects their opinion on the character’s choice or surroundings.

Third person omniscient is perhaps the trickiest perspective. This one isn’t exclusive to a single character. Instead it follows everyone — “playing god” as The Writer puts it. This POV can get messy fast, so if you choose to use it, good luck. Maybe keep track of your narrators on a few index cards.

Third person is ideal for most works of nonfiction as well, especially when the writer wants to keep any prejudice out of their writing. By maintaining a distant third person narrator, writers can present objective information without clouding the content with too much interior dialogue or bias. This is effective for scientific or research-driven writing.

Consistency is Key

No matter which point of view you choose, keep it consistent. Nothing pulls a reader away from a story faster than senseless switching. Does that mean you can’t experiment? No way! That’s what being a writer is all about.

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