Gender in Grammar

What Is "Point of View" in Writing?

The Quick Answer
In writing, "point of view" (often abbreviated to POV) refers to the perspective from which a story is told. For example, the author could use any one of the following three points of view to describe looking at an elephant:

First-person point of view

  • "I am looking an elephant, and it is checking my hands for food."
  • (This is the perspective of the narrator. Notice that the subject of the sentence is "I." The other pronouns and determiners used with this point of view are "me," "my," and "mine" (for singular) and "we," "us," "our," and "ours" (for plural).)
Tip: Writing from the first-person point of view is useful to establish an emotional link between the character and the reader.

Second-person point of view

  • "You are looking at an elephant, and it is checking your hands for food."
  • (This is the narrator talking directly to reader. Notice that the subject of the sentence is "you." The other pronouns and determiners used with this point of view are "your," and "yours" (for singular and plural).)
Tip: Writing from the second-person point of view is useful for instructions or advice. It is a poor choice for storytelling.

Third-person point of view

  • "John is looking at an elephant, and it is checking his hands for food."
  • (This is the perspective of one or more character in the story. Notice that the subject of the sentence is not "I" or "you," but the character's name. This point of view uses nouns (singular and plural) or the following pronouns and determiners: "he" "him," "his," "she," "her," "hers," "it," and "its" (for singular) or "they," "them," "their," and "theirs" (for plural).)
Tip: Writing from the third-person point of view is useful for complex storytelling.
points of view in writing

Table of Contents

  • Pros and Cons of the Different Points of View
  • (1) First Person Point of View
  • (2) Second Person Point of View
  • (3) Third Person Point of View
  • Choosing the Right Point of View
  • Switching the Point of View
  • Examples from Literature
  • Stream of Consciousness
  • Key Points
  • Test Time!

Pros and Cons of the Different Points of View

The point of view chosen by an author significantly influences how readers engage with the story. Here is more information about the three options, giving the pros and cons of each:

(1) First Person Point of View

When a story is told in the first-person point of view, the narrator is a character within the story and uses pronouns like "I," "me," and "my" to share the character's personal experiences and thoughts. (It is like reading the character's diary.) For example:
  • "I walked into the old, abandoned house, feeling a shiver run down my spine."
ProsCons
  • It helps an author create an emotional bond between the character and the reader because the reader feels present when new information is discovered and considered.
  • It helps an author present intimate or subjective views of events because the views are highly personalized for the character.
  • It helps an author create an intriguing plot because the character's knowledge of events can be limited to allow feasible misunderstandings or poor judgements.
  • It hinders an author with divulging what the character knows because the reader knows only what the character has reason to divulge. (For example, if the character had been to Africa, they would need to say so otherwise the reader would not know. Why would the character feel the need to say they've been to Africa?) Imparting a character's knowledge and experiences is a challenge when writing in the first person.
The person through whose eyes the story is being told is not always the main character. It could also be a character in the periphery (i.e., the sidelines). So, there are two ways to write from a first-person point of view:

(1a) First Person Central Point of View

With this method, the narrator is also a protagonist (i.e., the leading character or one of the major characters) of the story. "The Catcher in the Rye" (a classic novel by J.D. Salinger, published in 1951) is narrated by Holden Caulfield, a troubled teenager who shares his thoughts and experiences in a candid and often cynical manner. The first-person central perspective allows readers to explore Holden's inner observations intimately as he navigates adolescence.

(1b) First Person Peripheral Point of View

With this method, the narrator is telling the story from the perspective of a lesser character in the story. "The Great Gatsby" (a classic novel written by F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1925) is a great example of storytelling from the first-person peripheral point of view. The story of Gatsby is told by Gatsby's friend (Nick Carraway) and not by Gatsby himself.

(2) Second Person Point of View

When a story is told in the second-person point of view, the author addresses the reader directly, using words like "you" and "your." This point of view is rare in storytelling but is common in instructional manuals, self-help guides, advertising, and immersive stories. For example:
  • "You are now unsure whether to keep quiet or share your findings with the manager."
ProsCons
  • It helps an author involve the reader. ("You see the witch in front of you. What's your next move?")
  • It helps an author direct or advise the reader. ("You can waste your money on gym equipment if you want, but if you want lose a little bit of weight, eat less.")
  • It hinders an author with describing settings and knowledge because it makes the reader the main protagonist. (It is the least appropriate point of view for creative writing.)

(3) Third Person Point of View

When a story is told in the "third-person" point of view, the narrator is not a character in the story and uses third-person pronouns like "he," "she," and "they." With this point of view, the narrator has access to the thoughts of one or several characters. For example:
  • "He watched the whale glide away into the darkness. As it faded from his view, he wondered what it was thinking."
ProsCons
  • It helps an author create complexity because there are no limits on whose thoughts, observations, or movements can be divulged.
  • It helps an author provide an objective view of the story because the reader will not treat the narrative as the author's personal view or bias.
  • It hinders an author with providing access to their own thoughts and feelings.
The third-person point of view can be used with one person (usually the main protagonist) or several people. There are three ways to write in the third person:

(3a) Third Person Limited Point of View

When a story is told in the "third-person limited" point of view, the narrator is not a character in the story and has knowledge of the thoughts of just one character. For example:
  • "He was unaware that Jill was standing right behind him."
  • (Note that Jill's perspective is not given.)

(3b) Third Person Omniscient Point of View

When a story is told in the "third-person omniscient" point of view, the narrator is not a character in the story and has knowledge of the thoughts of all the characters, not just one. For example:
  • "He was unaware that Jill was standing right behind him. She wondered what would happen if Jack turned around and saw her."
  • (Note that Jill's perspective is given.)
  • "John is looking at an elephant, and it is wondering whether John has any food."
  • (John's and the elephant's perspectives are given.)
"Omniscient" means "knowing everything or "having infinite awareness or understanding."

(3c) Third Person Objective Point of View

When a story is told in the "third-person objective" point of view, the narrator is not a character in the story and simply describes what is happening to the characters in the story. The narrator does not express anyone's thoughts or feelings and shows no bias for anyone's views. It is often described as the "fly on the wall" perspective. "The Lottery" (written by Shirley Jackson) is a classic novel that employs the third-person objective perspective to depict a small-town ritual that takes a shocking and horrifying turn. The narrator observes and describes the lottery without delving into the characters' thoughts or motivations – until the climatic end.

Choosing the Right Point of View

The main pros and cons for each point of view are centred on the complexity and the emotions that the author needs to impart. However, a decision based on these pros and cons might not be the best way to choose your point of view. Often, the right point of view for your work will be the one that comes naturally to you. If you find yourself struggling to make headway with your work, it might be because you've chosen the wrong point of view. Trust your gut. The point of view that feels best for the author will almost certainly be the one that's best for the reader.

Switching the Point of View

Once you have decided on a point of view, you should stick with it. Your readers will expect a strong and valid reason if you switch the point of view on them. Some writers do it though. Switches among the three types of third-person perspective are not uncommon, and some writers seek to engage their readers personally with a switch to a second-person perspective ("Well, what would you have done?")

Examples from Literature

Here are some prominent examples from literature for each point of view:

First Person Point of View

This extract employs the first-person central point of view:
  • "I didn't answer him. All I did was, I got up and went over and looked out the window. I felt so lonesome, all of a sudden. I almost wished I was dead." (from "The Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger)
These lines capture the introspection and emotional state of the novel's main protagonist, Holden Caulfield, as he reflects on his feelings of loneliness and alienation. Throughout the book, readers are immersed in Holden's inner thoughts and experiences, providing deep insight into his character and the challenges he faces.

Second Person Point of View

Books written in the second-person perspective (addressing the reader directly as "you") are rare in literature. The second-person perspective is far more common in instructional or self-help writing. Here, however, is a well-cited example from literature:
  • "You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, 'If on a winter's night a traveler.' Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade." (from "If on a winter's night a traveler" by Italo Calvino)
This passage tells the reader how to read the novel, encouraging them to ignore the distractions around them. Calvino's novel is known for its unique narrative structure and playful engagement with the reader.

Third Person Point of View

The opening passage of "Pride and Prejudice" employs the third-person objective point of view, introducing the setting and the central theme of the novel:
  • "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters." (from "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen)
"Pride and Prejudice" is an excellent example of third-person storytelling, where the narrator has access to the thoughts and feelings of various characters and provides an objective view of the story's events.

Stream of Consciousness

"Stream of consciousness" is a narrative technique that can be used with any of the points of view. It is designed to capture a character's unfiltered thoughts and inner monologue as they occur in real-time. "Streams of consciousness" often lack the structure of normal sentences in paragraphs. They tend to feature staccato sentences (short sentences back to back) or sentence fragments (non-sentences).

Using such unstructured, fragmented text is a useful technique to provide insights into a character's psyche. For example:
  • "Her thoughts raced. A hurricane of memories and emotions. The wind whipped her hair. The freezing rain burned her face. But she stood motionless. Then, her mind cleared. The answer was obvious."

The Relationship Between Points and View and Grammatical Person

In grammar, person is a category used to distinguish between (1) those speaking, (2) those being addressed, and (3) those who are neither speaking nor being addressed (i.e., everybody else). These three categories are called the first person, the second person, and the third person. Each category can be singular or plural, giving six categories in all.
The table below shows the pronouns in the six person categories and in the various cases.
Person Subjective Case Objective Case Possessive Determiner Possessive Pronoun
First Person Singular I me my mine
Second Person Singular you you your yours
Third Person Singular he/she/it him/her/it his/her/its his/hers/its
First Person Plural we us our ours
Second Person Plural you you your yours
Third Person Plural they them their theirs
  • The first-person point of view employs the pronouns from the first-person singular and the first-person plural rows.
  • The second-person point of view employs the pronouns from the second-person singular and the second-person plural rows.
  • The third-person point of view employs the pronouns from the third-person singular and the third-person plural rows as well as any singular nouns (e.g., the captain, the bartender) and any plural nouns (e.g., the witches, the villagers).

Point of View (#POV) on Social Media

The term "point of view" on social media (usually seen as #pov) means something different. It is typically used before a controversial opinion to reduce negative comments. In essence, it is a caveat that carries the following connotation: "I am not telling you what to think, but this is what I think, and I am entitled to this opinion." More simply, it means "This is just what I think." For example:
  • Spiderman: #pov I think the moon-landing conspiracy includes a few interesting points.
Read more about #pov.

Key Points

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.