Story Point of View

Choosing Between Three Different Points of View

Story Point of View

The Balance

The point of view of a story is the perspective from which a story is told. Writers may choose to tell their story from one of three perspectives:

As a writer, you must strategically choose the point of view that allows you to most effectively develop your characters and tell your story.

First-Person Point of View

When the author uses the pronouns "I," "me," "myself," "we," or "mine" to narrate a story, this piece of fiction is using the first-person point of view. Of all the ways to tell a story, this point of view is the easiest to use because the writer is "in conversation" with the reader, and it's easy to stay in character. In this point of view, the readers experience the world vicariously through the narrator.

The advantage of the first-person point of view is that you can immediately connect with the reader. The disadvantage of using this approach is you're limiting yourself because you're writing from only one perspective.

Example: Herman Melville's 1851 classic novel "Moby Dick" is an example of a first-person point of view perspective. The story is told from the sailor Ishmael's point of view and has one of the most famous opening lines in literature, "Call me Ishmael." The reader is immediately drawn in.

Second-Person Point of View

When a narrator uses the pronoun “you” or "your" to tell the story, that is a case of using the second-person point of view. The story unfolds from the perspective of an onlooker who speaks directly to the reader. For example, "You went to school the other morning."

Second-person point of view is rarely used because it's easy for this writing style to sound gimmicky—making it the hardest point of view to use. But if you work at it, it can be done and done well. 

The advantage of second-person point of view is that you can engage the reader immediately. If you feel the need to immerse the reader right from the get-go, try this approach. The disadvantage is that it's very hard to convey a story effectively when speaking directly to the reader.

Example: Jay McInerney’s best-selling novel "Bright Lights, Big City" is an excellent example of the second-person point of view and a book you should consider reading before attempting to write from this perspective. McInerney wrote the book in the second person because the main character is unnamed, and he sought to make the experiences and challenges of his central figure as personal as possible.

Third-Person Point of View

In third-person point of view, the narrator uses the pronouns "he," "she," "they," or "it" to tell the story. Think of it as you (the writer) functioning as an outsider looking in at the action taking place.

Third-person point of view is the most commonly used perspective because of all the options it offers. This perspective affords the author more flexibility than the other two perspectives. If you write in this mode, you are the "onlooker" watching the action as it unfolds. It's as though someone was in a theatre watching a play take place with several actors.

Should you choose to write from this perspective, you can write in third-person omniscient, where the thoughts of all the characters are revealed to the reader, or you can choose third-person limited, where the reader sees into the mind of only one character—either throughout the entire novel or in specific sections. 

The advantage of the third-person viewpoint is that the author can write from a broader perspective. The disadvantage is that it can be difficult to establish a connection with the reader.

Example: A book such as "Anna Karenina" could only have been written from the third-person perspective. That's because it allowed the author, Leo Tolstoy, to be much freer with the plot than he could have been had he chosen to write in either of the two other points of view.

Try a New Point of View

Despite the advantage of the third person, beginning writers tend to fall back on the first person, either because it's easier or they are writing about themselves. Even if your story is autobiographical, consider trying the third person. Doing this will help you view your story more dispassionately and allow you to tell it more effectively. It might also show you directions for the story you hadn't considered.

When choosing between a limited and omniscient perspective, it may be easier to use third-person limited, which still adheres closely to one person's point of view. You can start with third-person limited, then, if you like, switch over to omniscient if you find you need more than one point of view to tell your story. This opportunity to switch gears should make it easier for you.

If your story keeps hitting a wall, consider switching the point of view. Beginning writers may groan at the idea of rewriting an entire story, but that's how many professional writers first learned which point of view works best for them.