Table of contents
- Why is point of view important?
- Third Person Point of View
- First Person Point of View
- Second Person Point of View
- Fourth Person Point of View
Point of view (POV) in book writing is the perspective from which a story is told. The common points of view from which an author can narrate a story are:
- 1st person POV uses the pronouns “I” and “we.”
- 2nd person POV uses the pronoun “you.”
- 3rd person POV uses the pronouns “she,” “he,” “they,” and “it.”
- 3rd person limited is when the narrator only knows the thoughts of one person.
- 3rd person omniscient is when the narrator knows more than the thoughts of just one person.
Inconsistent point of view is one of the top things a professional editor has to proofread and correct. If that mistake makes it through to readers, they may leave negative reviews about how unprofessional and confusing the book is. POV is necessary to understand.
This article details how point of view functions, which POV you should use, and examples of each.
What are the points of view in a story? Points of view are literary terms that refer to the person who tells a story. This narrator usually tells the story from 1st person, 3rd person omniscient, or 3rd person limited point of view.
What are 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person points of view? 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person points of view describe a character’s perspectives, from which a story is told. 1st person POV uses “I” and “we.” 2nd person POV uses “you.” 3rd person POV uses “he,” “she,” “it,” and “they.”
Below, I’ll even talk about the uncommon 2nd and 4th person perspectives. You may not use them in your overall book, but it’s good to know for dialogue and everyday speech.
- Why point of view is important
- Differences between first, second, third, and fourth person POV
- Limited vs. omniscient perspective
- Examples for the different points of view
- Why is point of view important?
Why is point of view important?
Every story has a narrator, whether the narrator exists inside or outside the story. Understanding the narrator’s point of view strengthens your writing and clarifies the story for your readers. Establishing this when you begin writing your book helps you make good writing choices and avoid POV writing mistakes.
Consistently maintain a character’s point of view throughout your book. Abrupt changes and mistakes with POV distract readers and increase negative reviews attached to your book.
Some POVs limit the amount of information an author can share with the reader, such as a first-person point of view in which the main character can’t understand the protagonist’s motivations.
Other POVs may expand the amount of information you can convey and how an author can convey it. Third-person limited point of view means that no character’s motivations may be crystal clear.
Choosing a limited 3rd person POV and sticking with it limits the info you can give your audience — for better or worse. The unreliable narrator is a tricky but satisfying tactic usually only available when a story is told from a limited perspective.
What are the 4 types of point of view? In order of how common they are, the 4 most common types of point of view include:
- Third-person, including:
- Third-person limited point of view
- Third-person omniscient point of view
- First-person point of view
- Second-person point of view
Third Person Point of View
3rd person point of view is when the narrator(s) of your story goes by any of the following third-person pronouns:
Only in dialogue and thought bubbles should the pronouns “you,” “I,” and “we” be used.
This is, by far, the most common point of view to use in stories. It is the most traditional and the least distracting for readers.
3rd person can be broken up into omniscient and limited perspectives.
Third Person Omniscient
The third-person omniscient point of view is when the narrator (still referred to by “he,” “she,” or “it”) knows more than a single character’s thoughts and feelings. Usually, this omniscient narrator knows everything.
This perspective was more common in classical literature, such as Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. It is less common in today’s novels.
Authors would often “jump heads” — offer thoughts and feelings for more than one character.
I’m also thinking of Moby Dick, in which Herman Melville often broke from the narrative and described a tangential concept of which the character(s) have little understanding. (Melville switches back and forth between an omniscient third-person narrator and a first-person POV.)
Picture books for very young children are often written from an omniscient viewpoint. Check out this article on How to Write a Children’s Book.
Examples of Third Person Omniscient
- “Norbert had doubts rooted in childhood trauma, but Maria was sure based on her own past experiences.”
- “The doctor’s hypothesis would prove incorrect, for the laws of gravity could not permit his grand plans.”
- “They each harbored their own misgivings; however, none of them knew that Queen Regina would be an easy target because of what lingered in the Huntsman’s heart.”
Third Person Limited
Third-person limited point of view is when the narrator (still referred to by “he,” “she,” or “it”) can see into only one character’s mind. Famous examples include The Great Gatsby and the Harry Potter series.
In the 3rd person limited perspective, you cannot head hop within a scene. Hopping into more than one character’s head is when you describe multiple people’s inner thoughts.
Think about J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. You experience the story through Harry’s third-person narration, including his internal motivations and silent feelings, but you don’t know precisely what Ron and Hermione are really thinking.
Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls used a unique limited omniscient narrator. The narrator could read multiple characters’ thoughts, but only one at a time.
Since HBO’s Game of Thrones and the accompanying book series, writing multiple third-person limited POVs within one book has become increasingly popular. (Of course, famous authors have been doing this for centuries — but maybe not as expansively as in the Game of Thrones books.)
Multiple 3rd person POV still requires individual narrators to only know what’s in their heads. However, authors may switch the narrator between scenes or chapters.
If you intend to use multiple narrators, ensure readers do not get confused about the POV. Clearly delineate where the POV switches. If readers get confused, you’re opening the door for negative reviews, and we don’t want that.
If you really want multiple POVs, George R.R. Martin is the exception to the following rule: Don’t use more than 3-6 narrators in a story. If you're a first-time author, use only 1-3 POVs.
This is the most common point of view in modern literature. Third-person limited perspective is also the most common POV used in children’s books, especially stories for kids aged 3 and up. Check out my article on How to Write a Children’s Book.
Examples of Third Person Limited
- “She wanted the cricket to live in her hair forever.”
- “Their taxes might as well have been rocket science for all the sense it made to them.”
- “Mason craned his neck to make out where the wall met the ceiling, a hundred yards above them.”
First Person Point of View
In 1st person point of view, you can write “I” and “us” as well as “you,” “them,” and “it.” The first person narrator refers to themself with first-person pronouns, such as:
In real life, we all speak in the first person.
Romance and young adult novels, in particular, may benefit from a first-person perspective. This could help immediately connect young readers to your main character (like Katniss in Hunger Games, or Ishmael in Moby Dick, or Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises) — as long as they’re well-written, of course.
However, beware. First-person narrative can easily sound whiny and unlikable. Too much introspection feels unnatural and unrelatable. (I’m looking at you, Bella from Twilight.)
Reviews and blog posts may be written in the first person. When I say, “I recommend this,” I’m speaking in the first person.
First Person Point of View Examples
- “Much to my surprise, I liked the truck Charlie bought me.”
- “I recommend Scrivener because it’s the best word processor on the market.”
- “We gave him five of our best pineapples.”
Second Person Point of View
2nd person point of view uses second-person pronouns like “you” and “your” as well as third-person POV words like “hers,” “they,” and “itself” — but not “I” or “us.” In this uncommon POV, the narrator is usually an unspoken “me” talking to the spoken “you.”
This is a strange POV and is very rarely used in literature. Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney is probably the most famous example. Short stories and short-form creative writing assignments are easier to incorporate 2nd person perspective into.
However, blog posts and self-help books are often written in the second person. If the narrator never mentions “I” or “me” but does mention “you” and “yourself,” it’s technically told in the 2nd person perspective.
I also think of text-based games, where it tells you that you’ve come upon a door and asks you what you want to do. Those games never mention “me” or “our.” They are told in the second person.
Check out this article on 12 Books Written in the Second Person.
Examples of Second Person POV
- “You should read these great examples of second-person point of view. You’ll learn a lot.”
- “You walk down the empty street and see a deflated ball. What do you do with it?”
- “Your parents should be ashamed of themselves, and you should be ashamed of yourself.”
Fourth Person Point of View
This is an uncommon POV. The fourth person perspective is a more recent development of modern storytelling. It uses the following pronouns:
Some say this refers to the collective perspective told in the pronouns “we” and “our” without the use of “I” and “me.” However, the more common use of the 4th person perspective is indefinite pronouns.
The main advantage of speaking in the fourth person is to either refer to something that many people do (“One’s hand may slip if the tube were lubricated”) or to avoid passive voice (“Someone can do this,” instead of “This can be done”).
Examples of Fourth Person POV
- “One would think you could simply bend the rules.”
- “Somebody could break their arm.”
- “Anyone can refer to oneself in the fourth person.”