One of the most important elements to consider when beginning a new writing project is point of view (POV). Every story, article, research journal, play, etc. uses POV, and many people, whether they think about it or not, have a preference when it comes to what they like to read and/or write. Depending on the project you’re working on, there are many ways you can use POV to your advantage.
What is a point of view?
There are four types of POV: first person, second person, third person limited, and third person omniscient. Any POV can be used in any project, but the way a writer uses them can have a big impact on the story.
The first person POV uses I and me pronouns, and the narrator is most often the protagonist. First person is great for writing that is more introspective, as it puts the reader in the character’s head, but it also limits the POV to one character. Technically, a story written in first person could have POV switches, but this is often confusing to the reader and can bring them out of the story if they miss the switch. In short, first person is primarily for stories with one narrator only.
The second person POV is the least common of the four, using the you pronoun and mostly used in short, introspective pieces like poetry or choose-your-own-adventure books. Second person invites the reader to step into the character’s (or sometimes even the writer’s) shoes, which can be compelling if done correctly. However, most genre works are typically better suited to the other POVs because it can be difficult for readers to get emotionally invested in a story told in second person, as they may feel like they are following a fictional version of themselves rather than a character. An article on Reedsy mentions a famous example of a well-received story told in second person: Jay McInerney’s novel Bright Lights, Big City, which “follows a magazine fact-checker at a magazine living in the 1980s New York City fast lane.” Reedsy suggests that McInerny might have opted for second person because of the fast pace of the book and the unique perspective of the main character’s profession.
The third person limited and omniscient POVs are similar in that they both use he, she, and they pronouns and allow a certain amount of introspection. The difference is that limited follows the thoughts and feelings of one character at a time, while omniscient has more of a “bird’s-eye view” on the entire story. A common mistake in writing third person limited is that the writer may reveal too much information to the reader that the character would not know. (In this case, if the writer wishes to intentionally add a sense of dramatic irony, their story might be better suited to an omniscient POV.) Third person also lends itself well to POV switches, unlike first and second person. Omniscient doesn’t technically need to switch, since the reader has access to every character’s view at the same time, and limited can switch between line or chapter breaks, provided it is made clear that it has switched. One example of limited POV switching can be found in Rick Riordan’s The Heroes of Olympus series, which denotes POV switches through chapters named after their respective characters.
How to choose your POV based on the story you want to tell
Picking the right POV for you (and your story) is very important as, naturally, the POV is the first thing the reader notices. What genre is your project? This is a good question to ask because some POVs are more commonly used in some genres (for example, fantasy titles tend to lean toward third person, while first person is popular in young adult and coming-of-age titles). Are you writing a story with a single narrator and a lot of inner monologue and introspection? Try first person. Do you want to set the scene for the reader but leave the characters in the dark until it’s time for a dramatic reveal? Third person omniscient might be the right POV for you.
And of course, think about what you like to read. Do you like getting into the heads of the characters? Or following fast-paced scenes back and forth as the plot reaches its climax? Do you want to relate to and feel the emotions of the characters as they happen, or are you looking for more of a commentary approach? Choosing the POV that can answer these questions is the first step in making your story shine.