Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Basics: More on Point of View

Last week's Basics focused on avoiding POV errors.  As a response to some of the comments left, I thought it might be a good idea this week to better define the common POVs.  (With the constant thought, however, to never get hung up on terminology.)


First person narrative is written with "I" or "we" and the narrator is a player in the story.  Everything in the novel is filtered through this character's eyes, and there is no way the character can know the thoughts of other characters unless these characters choose to share them.

First person narrative can be written in present (I run through the corridor) or past tense (I ran through the corridor.


Third person narrative is written with "he", "she", and "they."  The narrator, while not a player in the story, remains close inside the main character's head at all times.  We experience the story from "inside" the main character, but he is not actually telling the story.

This is also referred to as "THIRD PERSON, CLOSE" and "THIRD PERSON, SUBJECTIVE."

Third person limited narrative can be written in present (He grabs her by the arm) or past tense (He grabbed her by the arm).


This particular voice is better suited for non-fiction writing (newspaper articles, essays, etc.).  The narrator is uninvolved in the narrative, maintaining a distant and objective view throughout.


In omniscient narrative, the narrator knows everything that's going on, including the thoughts of all the characters.  In recent decades--particularly in YA and MG literature--this viewpoint seems to have fallen out of favor, though historically it was popular, evident in the novels of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and other classics.

Classic fairy tales are written omnisciently as well.  Crack one open and you'll see what I mean.

[It's important to remember that the novel, as an art form, isn't static.  In order to be viable in the modern market, our writing needs to reflect what is acceptable and preferred in our own era.  That doesn't mean the omniscient viewpoint should never be used (for instance, the first chapter of each Harry Potter book is written in third person omniscient, but then switches to the inside of Harry's head, which makes it third person, close).  But by and large, today's readers (YA/MG) want to be inside the main character's head.]

One can also write in first person omniscient, but I'd say that's fairly rare, and probably not something you want to try while you're cutting your writing teeth.

Anyway.  We could go into a lot more detail about different voices and voice/tense combination, but I don't really think it's necessary.  In the end, it's probably going to be wise for you to stick with third person limited, whether you choose to write in present or past tense.

While you're writing, ask yourself, "Would my character KNOW this?  Can he SEE this right now?"  If it's not humanly possibly in the current scene, then you probably have a POV error.  And they are usually easily fixed.

That's that!  Next week we'll get back to some good, juicy grammar. *grin*


  1. When you say stick to third person limited, do you mean of ALL the POV choices, or as opposed to third person omniscient?

  2. Yes, I mean as opposed to omniscient.

  3. Great post.

    I'm not a teen-- but I write for them and run a writing conference for teens. Join our blog
    http://writerscubed.com/blog/ to enter contests and get critiques and advice from authors!
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    Keep writing! (=