If you know a bit about point of view in storytelling, the very title of this article may give you pause. Fourth person point of view is not a well-recognized perspective. At least, it hasn't been until recently. And there are good reasons for this, which we'll discuss in this article.
But as writers who are constantly looking to hone our craft, we'd do well to keep in mind all the tools at our disposal. And 4th person is one of those tools. Even if it is one we may not use often.
(Spoiler alert: that last paragraph is an example of 4th person).
- The two types of 4th person POV
- Examples of 4th person point of view
- Benefits and drawbacks of using 4th person
- Tips for writing 4th person POV
Table of contents
- What is Fourth Person POV?
- Examples of Fourth Person POV
- Pros and Cons of Using Fourth Person POV in Fiction
- Tips for Writing in Fourth Person POV
What is Fourth Person POV?
There are two types of fourth person POV: the collective (“we” and “us”) and the indefinite (“one,” “someone,” “anyone,” etc.). For the purposes of storytelling, you're more likely to use the collective, but we'll explore both here.
The collective type of fourth person has seen very limited use in storytelling until recently. But it's entirely possible to tell a story from this perspective. You're essentially telling the story from the perspective of a group of people (or animals, or robots, or anything you want to give consciousness).
To do this, use words like “we,” “us,” and “ours.” But, as you probably know, these are also words used in first person POV, along with the most commonly used “I.” The difference is there is no singular in the fourth person perspective.
This may be confusing. Here are a couple of examples to illustrate this point.
“We ran out into the rain without even stopping to put on shoes. I tripped on a tree root in my excitement, and the others got ahead of me. But soon enough, we were splashing around in the park.”
That's written in first person, switching between singular and plural. Now let's take a look at a fourth person example.
“We ran out into the rain without even stopping to put on shoes. One of us tripped on a tree root, straggling behind. But soon enough, we were all together again, splashing around in the park.”
There is no singular narrator in fourth person. It's always from the group's perspective.
In grammatical terms, the indefinite is a more commonly used fourth person perspective. It's rarely used in storytelling. This type of POV is more often heard in generalizations or to avoid the use of passive voice. It includes using the following words:
Here are a couple of examples of this in action:
- “If they're not careful, someone could break a leg on that thing!”
- “One should never leave one's elbows on the table while eating.”
- Or, to avoid passive voice: “Someone can ride that bike now,” instead of, “That bike can be ridden now.”
In terms of storytelling, fourth person is a different point of view from those you may be used to. But there are some hidden benefits of using the collective fourth person — as well as some drawbacks. But before we get to them, let's take a look at some examples from literature written in this narrative point of view.
Examples of Fourth Person POV
“We shifted on the bleachers. Wiped the sweat from the backs of our necks, let out breaths that lifted our bangs from our faces. We tried to cool down however we could.”–Weightless, by Sarah Bannan
Weightless is told from the perspective of a group of high school students. Actually, by the time the book is over, the whole community is included in the narration. It works for this story because it's about bullying and how the entire community played a part in one girl's suicide.
“We wedged Mom between us. Her sharp hips bore into ours as we sat on the hard pew. She nodded toward the blizzard raging on the other side of the stained glass and said, ‘It's your dad.'
‘He's making it snow?' As identical twins, we spoke in unison. People responded to us, at least, as if we did.”–Half, by Sharon Harrigan
As you can tell from this sample, the POV is that of identical twin sisters. This is a good example of “we” used in a more intimate way, as opposed to an entire community or a larger group of narrators.
“Some things were certain; they were undeniable, inarguable. Nora Lindell was gone, for one thing. There was no doubt about that. For another, it was Halloween when she went missing, which only served to compound the eeriness, the mysteriousness of her disappearance. Of course, it wasn't until the first day of November that most of us found out she was gone, because it wasn't until the day after Halloween that her father realized she hadn't come home the night before and so started calling our parents.”–The Fates Will Find Their Way, by Hannah Pittard
This is a good example of the flexibility of the fourth-person narrative structure. Until the use of “us” and “our” in the last sentence, this could be told from the perspective of a single character. Or, it could easily be told from the third person perspective. But it's told from the 4th person point of view by a number of friends who were children when the girl, Nora Lindell, went missing.
Pros and Cons of Using Fourth Person POV in Fiction
Now that you have a good idea of the fourth person perspective, let's dive into the pros and cons of using this narrative voice to write fiction.
Pro: It's Unique
There's no doubt about it: this perspective is unique. You don't see many stories told entirely from the viewpoint of more than one character at the same time. And if you have a good reason to write your story this way, it could garner some positive attention!
Pro: It Is Flexible
Using a 4th person omniscient point of view can lend you more flexibility in telling your story. Since members of the group can come and go in this narrative perspective, it's possible to write various characters' thoughts and follow them without jarring the reader. More on this in the “tips” section below.
Pro: It Expands Possibilities
I mentioned the tool analogy at the beginning of this article. Fourth person is another tool for you to use, which can expand your storytelling possibilities. When used well, it can make your story more immersive and lend it more depth.
Con: Readers Aren't Used to It
This is the flip side of fourth person POV being unique. Since readers aren't used to it, it may turn them off. And if you're not a known quantity already, this could be the last thing you want to do. This is why most authors stick with either first person or third person.
Con: It Can Make Identifying With the Characters Difficult
Writing from the perspective of a group can create a barrier to identifying with the narrators. While this may not be a big deal if the main character is not a narrator, it could be a hurdle in some stories. It can confuse readers, which is certainly the last thing you want to do (unless you're doing it on purpose, of course).
Con: It Can Be Hard to Pull Off
Writing 4th person well can be hard to do. Since there is some natural resistance among readers to this type of story, the author's work is cut out for them. It takes skill and experience to pull this off while maintaining the narrative voice throughout the book. And since most of us don't regularly read books written in this POV, it can be hard to learn to write like this.
Con: It Limits Your Publishing Options
If your goal is to get published traditionally, writing a book in fourth person may not be the way to go. With so much competition out there, editors and agents may not respond well to a book written this way. However, if your story can't be effectively told any other way, it could be worth rolling the dice! Just keep in mind that most books written in this point of view are literary in nature — as opposed to genre fiction books.
Tips for Writing in Fourth Person POV
When it comes to fiction writing, you'll have to decide which point of view is right for your story. The following tips can help you decide if fourth person is right for you.
Familiarize Yourself With Other POVs
A thorough understanding of the different POVs at your disposal is key to deciding on the right one. These include:
- First Person Point of View – 1st person pronouns include “I,” “my,” and “me.” Of course, “we,” “us,” and “our,” are all first-person plural pronouns used interchangeably in stories written by a singular, first-person narrator.
- Second Person Point of View – The most common second person pronoun is “you.” Like fourth person, 2nd person is rarely used in fiction.
- Third Person Point of View – 3rd person pronouns include “he,” “she,” “they,” and proper nouns like names.
Most stories are written in one of the third person points of view or in first person. And while reading books written in each of these points of view is a great start, it's also good to study them. Some of the tips below can help you do just that.
For a closer look at each of these POVs, check out our article here.
Write a Chapter Using Different POVs
If you're wondering whether you should use fourth person point of view, write the first chapter of your book in 4th. Then write it using another POV. This will usually be first person, but not necessarily. Write two or three different versions and see which is best. Let your story dictate the POV you choose.
Write a Fourth Person Short Story
Short stories are great testing grounds for prose and point of view. Consider writing one in fourth person and see how it goes. Authors who choose this POV have good reasons to do so. And remember, if you break into using a first-person pronoun, that's okay. It may be better suited for first person singular mixed with first person plural!
Try 4th Person Omniscient
Like 3rd person point of view, 4th person has more than one possibility. There's a limited point of view and an omniscient. Using an example from above, limited would be staying with the same people, like the two identical twin sisters in the book Half, by Sharon Harrigan. Those are the two narrators throughout the whole story, speaking as one.
With a 4th person omniscient narrator, members of the group could come and go. You could even visit members of the collective when they're not physically present with the other members. Here's a quick example:
“We gathered our weapons. Frank Dillard and his wife Shelly armed themselves with kitchen knives and a hammer. The widow Pritchard limped out of her house with an old double-barrel shotgun, wincing every other step at the pain in her hip. The plentiful Smiths poured out of their ramshackle house armed with an array of blunt and sharp objects, looking more crazy than usual.
When we all met at the community gates, we didn't have to tell each other the plan. We all knew what to do. All fifty-six souls. The horde of zombies groaned and slathered. We tensed as two of the Smith boys opened the gates.”
This omniscient narrator — or narrators, I should say — lets you move around within the group, giving the reader glimpses at each of the members. Of course, you risk the old issue of “head hopping” if you're not careful. But that's a risk you take with 3rd person omniscient, too. It's entirely possible to stay out of the characters' minds while showing their actions in this style of 4th person narrative. It can also be a lot of fun.
Read Fourth Person POV Books
While a little hard to find, it's a good idea to read a few books written in this POV. The examples mentioned above are good places to start. Just keep in mind this is an emerging POV, and it's not widely recognized. You may be better off searching for books written in first person plural if you're having trouble finding 4th person books to read.
If I had to guess, I'd venture to say that you'll see more experimentation with fourth person POV in the future. While it may not explode in popularity, it's a viable tool for writing the story you want to write.
Consider your goals as an author. And consider your story. If 4th person is the best option for the story you want to tell, go for it! Just keep in mind your readers. They may not be entirely receptive to this style of writing. Any change is slow to catch on in the publishing industry. But no change will ever happen without people pushing boundaries and experimenting with their craft!