Who Tells the Story: On Point of View

The term “point of view,” or POV, is familiar to most of us. Most writers know about and can use first-person point of view, but did you know there are actually several more POVs from which a story can be written? Let’s talk about them.

  • First-Person Multiple POV. Of course, first-person POV always uses “I,” and the action is related through the eyes of a single narrator. First-person multiple POV, while using the “I” viewpoint, shifts from one first-person viewpoint to another, with the shifts generally coming in each new chapter or section of a work. The benefit of this POV is that you can show the same event through different eyes, thus achieving a sort of omniscience, without, of course, using the omniscient POV.
  • Third-person Subjective POV. This POV is quite common. Though the action is related in third person, using the name of the character through whose eyes we see the action, we are also privy to that character’s thoughts and feelings. However, when a writer uses this POV, it is generally impossible to describe the appearance of the character through whose eyes we are seeing the action. We are, so to speak, inside the head of that character and cannot see him or her objectively. This POV is not that different from the standard first-person POV, except that it achieves an air of distance.
  • Third-person Objective POV. In this POV, we don’t know the main character’s interior drama; all we know is how the main character is interacting in his or her world. Further, when we see the action, we do not see it as through the eyes of another character; the writer chooses to tell us what the character he or she has chosen as the focus is doing and how that character appears.
  • Third-Person Limited Omniscient POV. This may be understood as a combination of the previous two points of view. We not only see the action – what the main character is doing – but we’re also privy to his or her thoughts.
  • Third-Person Multiple POV. Sometimes called contrapuntal, in third-person multiple POV, the narration shifts viewpoints within a work from one character to another. This POV is distinct from an omniscient POV in that you, the author, do not intrude with information that any given character cannot know.
  • Objective POV. Called the “theatrical” POV, writing in this POV requires you as the writer to stay out of heads, but to describe all action, favoring none and implying nothing.
  • Second-Person POV. Just as the name implies, this POV addresses the reader (through the use of “you”), essentially leading him or her through the action as if recounting what the audience has actually done.
  • First- and Second-Point of View Combined POV. In this POV, the writer, while speaking in the first-person, seems to address another person (identified as “you”). Highly intimate and difficult to pull off, this is a rarely seen POV.
  • Third-Person Plural Observer POV. Though the action is told through from the viewpoint of an observer, the observers – a pair of siblings, a husband and wife, children – are multiple in number.
  • First-Person Collective Observer POV. Again, the action is told through an observer, but when you use this POV, you speak as a group: we saw, we thought, we sometimes said.

Each of these viewpoints has its own uses. Consider, when you plan a work, the possibilities of some of these more unusual viewpoints, instead of sticking to plain old first-person.

For a more extensive explanation of each of these POVs, see Josip Novakovich’s Fiction Writer’s Workshop, in which each of these POVs is discussed, as well as a few I left out.

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