Write Prose Like the Pros: Point of View

The three basic approaches to point of view (POV) when writing novel length works are: first person, third person, and omniscient. Before getting into those, second person is another POV, using ‘you’ and ‘your,’ but this POV works best for shorter works and I recommend not using it for anything longer than a short story. First person POV follows the main character and the reader is inside their head. The reader feels close and intimate with the main character. First person POV uses ‘I’ and ‘me’ and it allows the readers to see the thoughts of the main character.

Omniscient POV is the opposite of first person. The reader views the story as an outsider looking in as the action takes place. No one’s thoughts are seen. There is only action and dialogue. The reader feels detached from all characters. There is no intimacy. Third person POV is a combination of omniscient and first person. Third person POV uses ‘they, them’ and ‘he, her’ while following one character’s perspective. The reader may not see the main character’s thoughts but will see they action as that character does. The reader may never move beyond that character’s perspective. 

One thing I want writers to consider when deciding on POV is the validity of the narrator. Can the readers trust what the narrator is saying? Does the narrator have biases? Was their perspective influenced to see something different from everyone else? Are they hallucinating? Deciding who the narrator is, why they’re telling the story, and to whom they are telling are as important to deciding in which POV the writer wants to tell the story. If the story is written in the omniscient POV, who is the narrator and how can they see what’s happening with all these characters? Even if the reader never learns these things, it’s important for the writer to develop those ideas.

The best place to learn how to improve one’s writing is with Renni Browne and Dave King’s “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print.” If I were teaching a class on fiction writing, this is the book I would use as the course textbook.

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