Point Of View

When it comes to choosing a certain point of view for a story, the best advice anyone could give you is the following: you should only write a first person narrative if your narrator has a unique enough voice to carry the story forward. Let me elaborate on that.

The thing is that in first person narratives the story is sifted by the narrator. We have a biased account of what happened, but the narrator is ultimately going to be the one who has to provide enough momentum for the story. His voice is what traps readers, maybe even more than plot.

And this narrator doesn’t necessarily have to be a Messiah type of character, or a superhero. He doesn’t even have to be the main character. He doesn’t have to be strong in order to grab the reader’s attention.

Let me give you an analogy. Imagine listening to a shy person delivering a speech or a toast – his quirks and reactions would undoubtedly be laughed at, but everyone will pay attention to him. Average doesn’t cut it in the world of fiction. An average character won’t be enough to drive the story forward.

There’s a fine line between whispering, shouting, and boring the reader to death. The first two are good at capturing someone’s attention. It depends on which one you choose.

And then there’s this idea that for a first person narrative to work, there has to be something in the way readers perceive the story. It must, on at least one or two occasions, show how not knowing everything about the story and characters is a good thing. As I said earlier, first person narratives offer a biased view of the story, and thus, that view has to be different enough from what we as readers would consider factual truth.

Most writers think first person is easy. It’s not. It’s very tricky to get right, and even though it limits the story, thus giving the impression that it’s not as difficult as third person, the voice of the narrator, the tone of the story, and all other stylistic choices matter more than, let’s say, in a third person narrative.

Third person, on the other hand, omniscient, limited, you name it, has the great disadvantage of making the reader aware that he’s reading a story. This God-mode of literature is just a convention, and it takes a while longer for the reader to trust the story, to trust the narrator, than it would require him if he were reading a first person narrative.

And at the same time, third person isn’t the best way to write anything psychological in nature – I believe that the fine mechanics of the human mind are best displayed in a first person narrative.

But third person narration does have its benefits: first, it offers a detached view of the story, it’s like observing the action from a high place rather than peering through a keyhole, then there’s the fact that you can easily alter point of views of characters (not that you can’t do that in first person).

Then there’s second person, my favorite, but that one gets tiresome really fast for the reader, it’s difficult to pull of, and the sheer number of the pronoun “you” that can occur in as little as a paragraph can be more than jarring. But it’s a fun way to write a short story, and I’ve tried it on more than one occasion — I’ve even tried writing a novel, alternating point of views between third person limited and second person. One chapter each. But that was just me being all crazy and experimental.

So, yeah, today’s question is pretty damn obvious: What’s your favorite POV? And why? You can answer as a reader or as a writer, whichever you prefer.

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66 comments on “Point Of View

  1. Abrielle Valencia says:

    I tend to use first and second person to engage the reader. I try to make the blogs relatable, but I also try not to sound narcissistic. When I first started blogging, I had to get out of the “third person” stage. Third person sounds less biased, but I’ll leave the “third person” for my classes (APA format). LOL

  2. The viewpoint favored for me is one that inputs all characters viewpoint. Not crazy about each character's viewpoint for a chapter or section but have noticed as a reader, each insight into the story adds to it. Prefer knowledgeable narrator verson of storytelling myself. Interesting blog post. Keep up the good work! Have a great day!

  3. My favorite is first person, I find it easier to be interested in the subject

  4. kiwiskan says:

    Thanks heaps Cristian for your helpful blogs :)

  5. W. Blomstrom says:

    this is very interesting

  6. ljr3 says:

    As a reader, I enjoy all POV. As a writer, if I can call myself that, I used first person for my non-fiction piece as it was my personal experience. Third person is my perference for writing fiction. I do like the idea of seond person; it is very personal.

  7. Very interesting insight – thanks

  8. Shine says:

    I'm attempting my first book, a non-fiction work, about my adopted daughter who came to rescue me. I'm thinking first person is the right approach on this one.

  9. I love second person when it's done well. Haulden Caufield is my favorite first person of all time.

  10. I like 3rd person. I could do first, especially for "Snake", but 3rd's where my talent is.

  11. I like third person best; as Hopefull4Many says, you get different characters' viewpoints, and I like that. However, first person done well can be really good – the Dresden Files, for example, where Harry Dresden's unique 'voice' really adds to the story.

    One book I have read recently, though, is written in the first person, but from two different points of view. Unfortunately, the author does not make the two 'voices' different enough that it's easy for the reader to tell who is 'speaking' at the moment without looking for surrounding context.

    I suppose, therefore, that the main factor for me is that whichever voice the author chooses, they do it well and it suits the story.

    Or does that count as ducking out of the question? :-)

  12. hakesplace says:

    My favorite is first person. One of the most challenging books I read was written in both first and third person–a clever technique used to show two different sides of the author's evolving psyche. Whenever the author used third person, it was to indicate to the reader a weak personality; whenever she used first person, it was to indicate to the reader her strong sense of self. Somehow, the author pulled it through on this one. The book: The Lover/The author: Marguerite Duras.

  13. Kate Loveday says:

    ! always use third person when I write. I believe it adds interest to a srory to bring in a secondary character's POV sometimes, so that the reader knows more that the main character. I think this can add tension to a story.But I would never use more than three POV at most throughout a novel, that can become confusing.

  14. Piscis says:

    In general, I tend to prefer writing third-person rotating limited, but it depends on the type of story you want to tell.

    First person is great for its heavy perspective bias, and I'm especially fond of it when the narrator is not the main protagonist; it requires a strong voice to pull off well, but that is also a draw – it thus provides the greatest avenue for implicit, powerful characterization.

    Second person can entertaining, but mostly in a gimmicky, experimental sort of way, as it creates the largest disconnect between the story and the subconscious acceptance of its happening (similarly to writing something in future tense). It's best-suited, I would say, for tales meant particularly to be imagined as a vicarious experience.

  15. I try not to think about it and just write. It is more important to grasp the archetype and tell the story. It is an intuitive way of writing and I am comfortable with it. To me it is similar to getting a tattoo. Before I get the tattoo the image is already there. I see it in my mind. It is there on my arm (or where ever) before I actually get it needled and inked into my flesh. The same thing with a story, poem or narrative. Whatever. I alter my perspective too, it may come forth in the first, second, or third person … it is not important to me. I let it form in my mind and then I write it from my heart. I don't worry about it too much… but now I may challenge myself into a focused first, second and third person writing, as a challenge. I remember doing that in college. Could be fun!!

  16. Bumba says:

    I wrote the second part of my novel One Life or The Lives of Chester Knowles in first person. and I even had five or six characters taking turns. And as if that wasn't enough to teach me better, I added a sequel this year titled The Phantom Speaks. The Phantom, being a reincarnated fictional character, got into a good rhythm for a while and kept it going for a hundred pages. But I agree: it's easier to just narrate from the third person.

  17. MishaBurnett says:

    I was going to say I write everything in the first person, but then I remembered the Knight And Princess stories which are written in third person omniscient, with the chapters usually focusing on either one or the other's internal dialog. So, it depends. In general, I am more comfortable writing in first person, though.

  18. robin claire says:

    I'm not a long-time writer so I'm not sure what everybody's talking about. Is there a blog on the basics of writing in these three POV's?

  19. Ok… I just edited a poem… and put it into a third person perspective … It it much more powerful. and clear.

    Do poets often mix their points of view?

  20. Joyisnow says:

    Being new at this I will have to see what I use but thanks for bringing it to my attention. Hope I don't do the old switcheroony! Most unprofessional. Thanks for a day of editing :( haha

  21. shazza91321 says:

    Christian, it's interesting that you say first person is a harder narrative to write from. I would say third person is harder for me because I don't think, I'm creative enough to make up a story from just my head. I need a point of reference and in first person it usually has my experiences to help me draw out the story. Or at least my emotional experience. I don't know I may need to try and write from the third person to see how it plays out. I have to think about it more…good perspective I really enjoy your insights.

  22. I like both reading and writing first-person best for all the reasons you mentioned about it allowing the narrator to be unreliable and biased. This feels the most true to life to me, as does the constant use of "I". It feels like a real person telling a story.

  23. Andrea Kelly says:

    As long as it's well written, I find 1st person and 3rd person narratives equally easy to read and enjoy. Although I agree that each narrative can either enhance or detract depending on the subject matter – the current book I'm working on is a 1st person narrative because it's a mystery, and I feel like that leaves more options for the reader to participate in solving the case.

    A very interesting post as usual :)

  24. Linda Thorlakson says:

    My favorite point of view is the one which causes me to see and experience something in a new way. The point of view that causes me to question what I had previously thought to be right or wrong or true. I don't think any particular point of view is better or worse than another. A combination can work well too (as long as the reader isn't confused).

    Although it's important to me, as a reader, to get inside the heads of the characters, that's not enough. I want my own head messed with as well (and, if the author can make me laugh in the process of totally messing with my head . . . I like that best of all).

  25. I love writing in first person; it's more natural since I tend to see the story from that limited perspective, anyway. Third person is great, too, and I don't mind reading in any POV as long as it fits the story and doesn't seem forced. Second person is strange at times, but it can also be marvelous when done correctly.

    In one of my college courses, we just handed in a draft of a paper explaining how POV helps a short story. I found it extremely difficult to write. The POV and it's effect is so tangled into the story and other literary terms and techniques that it's hard to pull out. We've discussed POV limitations and advantages at length, though, and I've come to the conclusion that it's personal taste if there is a preferred POV, but every POV is just as good as any other.

    -Kat, writeitreal.wordpress.com-

  26. wordsaver says:

    I like to be a precious subject when I am reading

  27. For fictional storytelling it pretty much has to be third person for me. I have read a couple off first-person narratives that I found enjoyable but I would definitely consider them a rarity. As far as writing myself; the same holds true apart from blogging, lol.

  28. I'm a fan of first person, especially when author's play with it. I'm thinking of Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible or Mitchell's Cloud Atlas where there are a number of first person perspectives, and each is stylistically distinct.

  29. shrey says:

    I agree with you. Second person does got very tiresome with using you all the time. When writing First Person, i try to give the narrator qualities and flaws and heir own opinion which i think helps in maintaining a flow.

  30. I first learned about POV several years ago after I had my novel written in what I found was a universal POV. I went back to the drawing board and basically started over, writing from a two character POV, not at the same time, but I limited my POV to my 2 main characters. There was an advantage of doing that after having the all knowing POV, I had a better handle on how to write what I had written from another perspective. I have also written a narration story – diary form without any dialogue and was able to carry it off. It worked well in diary form. My favorite though is probably third person, with the limited POV. We don't need to know what everyone is thinking.

  31. I tend to write in first person, as the protagonist conveying a personal story. As a reader, no preference as long as I enjoy what I'm reading.

  32. It's funny that you wrote this. When I work on my book, then review it. I find my strength is in first person. But then I have many characters. . . I realised that It was taking away from my points in the story. So thank you for this. My manuscript. As it stands needs work. In honesty It truly isn't easy to write a book. First person, third person, Narration is key yea? So delete delete delete…. Reword everything! Its fun… And aggravating. But self rewarding, I think. To grow and be pliant. I guess. Don't know if this makes sense.

    Thank you. Carlie

  33. Very interesting subject. You've hit the nail right on, my friend.

    I don't have any favorite POVs. Frankly, IMHO, there can't be any favorites. It's the story that will decide if the writer must go in for a 1st person, 3rd person, or in a rare case, the 2nd person.

    As a writer, once I have a brief sketch of the story in mind, I also somehow, subconsciously (and sometimes even consciously) stumble upon the POV. Then, more consciously, I try to validate and re-validate my decision, and if taking that POV would add a new dimension to the story.

    For instance, one short story of mine was widely universal in appeal and the characters were such that they themselves had dilemmas of their own. So, there was no way I wanted ONLY one of their POVs to be projected in the story. I wanted a larger, omniscient, POV (like you already mentioned in your blog).

    In yet another instance, my short fiction was about this character who is looking for redemption. In this case, I wanted my readers to empathize with this character and feel every bit of pain, joy, loss and sorrow that he feels, and undergo the entire process of redemption along with him. So, I HAD to choose the first person.

    As a thumb rule, I would say, writers should first think of and start a story in 3rd person. And then, if the story requires, move to the 1st person. The 2nd person, however, should be sparingly used. This is specially true for beginners. With time, the trained mind will devise it's own way to arrive at what suits best for the story.

    One important point to note here is that, never should a writer try to force a POV upon a story just for the sake of art, style or creativity. It's fine to experiment to learn the tricks of the trade but not at the expense of doing injustice to the story. I personally believe that every story has a life of its own and will decide for itself if it needs a particular voice or POV.

  34. omrum says:

    In writing a novel, mostly a third person, but alternating between the third and first is intriguing and more fun to write. Apart from the fun part, I think it ads more depth to the inner life of a character and interchanging the narrator skillfully makes it more pleasant to read and keeps the attention of the reader better.

  35. I hadn't thought about this before so thanks for highlighting it. But I know what you mean. When I blog I veer between first person, second person and third person. Didn't really know why I was finding it difficult to plump for I, you or we or a mixture.

    But you're right it does change the perspective. Will be interested to see what happens next time.

    Corinne

  36. I have a novel written in three parts– 1st person, 2nd person and 3rd person. Admittedly, the 2nd person section is fairly short– maybe 20k words– but I think it works. Or it did, if only I can find the novel again.

  37. L Kelly says:

    Excellent topic and discussion! When I'm reading I don't care what POV an author chose provided that it works in the context of the story. I tend to use third-person limited when I write fiction. If material is very disturbing, first person may be a bit hard for the reader to take, but can be useful if you are going for maximum emotional impact. Third person creates a bit of a buffer.

  38. I did a post on this on my blog here: http://theophaniaelliott.wordpress.com/2012/10/24… . It's about what the different points of view are, and what I see as the advantages and disadvantages of each. As you can see from the replies on this thread though, different people have different opinions of which they like best.

    The key point I think is that there is no 'best' – it's all down to which one serves your story, and your style, the most effectively. Good luck with your writing.

  39. Saul Tower says:

    This is a good read. Thanks Cristian! I still have to come up with my story though. I'll try to have a good mix of variety – might work for me.

  40. Thanks for your additional view

  41. I think first person is better for short stories, because it carries a sense of authenticity and immediacy, but third person is better for novels, since they are longer and it's a long time to be stuck in one person's head. Of course, it depends on the story. I wrote a novel in first person, but that's only because it was a really interesting person.

  42. lawrenceez says:

    I prefer first person. I love immediacy and the sense of the story unfolding from inside the person's mind.

  43. Linda Thorlakson says:

    I'm not certain what you mean by this, but I'm POSITIVE that I agree (what can possibly make me feel like a more precious subject than to read another's words and recognize that they are expressing precisely that which I am incapable of expressing for myself)

  44. […] is a response to Cristian Mihai’s post about the importance of point-of-view and how hard it can be to nail first […]

  45. Linda Thorlakson says:

    "Poisonwood Bible" also came to mind for me when trying to remember the point-of-view from which my favorite books were written (I wouldn't be surprised if you're a Margaret Atwood fan too? . . . If not, you might consider taking a look at some of her stuff like "Alias Grace" or "Robber Bride")

  46. kelihasablog says:

    I'll try to keep this good advice in mind. I know I am probably guilty of jumping around, but will try to be more aware, now. :D

  47. rldkridel says:

    When blogging, it's very much first person and very casual, like I'm talking to a friend. It actually caused an issue lately with a very good friend of mine, my best friend, who hadn't called me to see how I was two weeks after my surgery. When I told her how hurt I was, she thought that she had definitely talked to me, several times, during those two weeks but it turned out that she was just reading my blog, and it felt like I was talking to her.

    For my fiction, since I'm primarily a screenwriter, it's always third person.

  48. My favorite POV to write is in first person. For me it's just natural, I love the intimacy my characters are able to relay. To me it's like reading someone's diary or personal journal. Reading wise, I don't have a favorite, if the book is good, it's good.

  49. Robert Darke says:

    I am in the process of rewriting my first novel in the first person viewpoint having originally written it in third. I felt I needed to bring the reader much closer to the main character for the book to work. Already from the revised chapters I can tell my efforts are paying off.

  50. eosleto says:

    I use first and second :D First because blogging to me, is like a personal diary. So exploiting my weaknesses in that perspective is more emotionally enhancing. It applies majorly to novels as well, I love first person. Second is usually when i'm ranting about someone and I refer to them in second, haha x] But when I read books the switch from first to second has a mesmerizing effect on me.

  51. Love the first person voice in Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series! Definitely a compelling and relatable viewpoint.

  52. I strongly prefer first person, both when reading and writing. It helps me get into the heart and the mind of a character. This was a great piece! Thanks for posting it.

  53. Áine Warren says:

    I tend to write in first-person (sometimes second-person) but I find it can be a slippery slope to shifting from my character's voice to my own. If I find myself doing this I often will change a story to third-person narrative.

  54. Matty says:

    I love second person for a short-story. Having "you" show up a lot is bothersome, which is why I tend to use descriptions of other things/characters as much as possible and use the imperative when it seems more potent than saying "you."

  55. Toi Thomas says:

    POV has always been an issue for me. I usually stick to 1st or 3rd, but it is a slippery slope. This is a very good article and really makes you think.

  56. I enjoy reading first person stories, at least if the narrating character is interesting. Like you say, that POV seems most real. Also when I'm writing, the first person narrator comes naturally to me. I've tried writing in third person but I don't like it as much. I can't get a story going that way. When I write something, the most interesting part (for me) is creating the narrator's psyche.

  57. Yoshiko says:

    I like all POV because I would prefer to know how first, second and third person view the situation they go through.

  58. I prefer third person but will dabble in first for a short story. I think I prefer third person overall because I enjoy reading third most. As you pointed out, it's difficult to pull off, and I've found I enjoy reading third person better than I do any other POV, so that may be an influencing factor.

  59. First person is definitely harder to write, you need a stronger sense of character to be convincing, but then I think a strong character can be written in either POV. My latest novel has the main character in first person, alternated with chapters of third-person for the lesser-developed character. I like them both in their own ways. Reading-wise, I don't have a preference, but then I'm not too picky about my reading; as long as it's well-written I'll enjoy it :D

  60. muktimasih says:

    I really enjoyed reading your piece on POV. It really is a common dilemma for a person like me who is trying fiction for the first time. Despite the conventions, I prefer the third person for two reasons: It is impersonal. Especially in story telling, just with the use of a 'he' and 'she', you can create a character and can easily reduce un-necessary details of describing the person in a short story.

    I find the second person most interesting though. And I am gonna try that soon.

  61. Reblogged this on forgivemeforwriting and commented:
    This right here is some pretty good advice…

  62. I noticed that you mentioned you maybe couldn't/shouldn't call yourself a writer. Well I'd like to let you know that if you write, for yourself, for others, for publication, for blogging, for anything, you ARE A WRITER.

    It took me a while to realize this too, and I believe that whether or not you are published, you are still a writer, even if only in your own regard. Have no shame in standing atop the highest building and shouting to the ant-size people below that not only are you a WRITER, but you are a GREAT WRITER.

    I hope this clears a little confusion for you. I know this realization did for me. And I hope this isn't too forward, just wanted to help. =]

  63. Generally I find myself writing in third. I think it's just more natural for me, however, I've been experimenting more with different points of view with marvelous results. Right now I'm sort of struggling to find the right POV in a story I'm working on about a family. So far I've gone from the Mom's, youngest son's, and oldest son's POVs in a second person voice, but it's not working out quite like I'd wanted. Your post has inspired me to play around with it a bit and see what else I can come up with. Thanks.

  64. jaelwriting says:

    I love when stories are in the first person. I think it can make the story more powerful and personal. (and everyone loves it when they can pull it off, right?) Great advice!

  65. frankdiluzio says:

    It's really tough for me to choose because first person, third, and omniscient are all fun to use for me. I would have to say my favorite is third person because you can play around with it more and put a trait you have into each character. As long as I'm writing about something, I'm happy =D

    -Frank

  66. Christiann says:

    I think I like writing in the third person best—but being able to jump into my character's minds. An example of the kind of third person writing style I like is historical fiction author Jeff Shaara. I feel like I have the advantage of first person, but without its limitations.

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