Pull a novel from your bookshelf, or open your favorite one in your e-reader of choice. What point of view is it written from? Who’s telling the story? Chances are that a main character is telling the story themselves in the first person, or the author is telling someone else’s story in the third person.
Given how common these points of view are in fiction, it’d be easy for beginners to believe that those are the only points of view a story can be written from. Yet that simply isn’t true. Point of view (POV) isn’t a binary choice. It’s a tool that can drastically alter the story you’re writing. Experimenting with different POVs forces you to think in new ways about the characters and scenarios you’re describing, growing it in unexpected directions. And as you might have guessed, there’s more than two POVs.
Wait, wait, wait. Point of view? Numbered persons? What does this all even mean?
True, I haven’t defined these terms yet. Let’s pause and bring everyone onto the same page.
Some Useful Definitions
In grammar, a person is one aspect of a verb. This determines what pronouns are paired with the verb and are used the most in the sentence. Since this isn’t a grammar-focused blog, I’ll leave it to the experts at Grammarly to explain this in detail.
Ursula K. Le Guin, in her book Steering the Craft, defines POV like this:
“Point of view… is the technical term for describing who is telling the story and what their relation to the story is.”
The teller can be a character in the story or some entity that exists outside of it. They can be intimately involved in the plot or be more of a witness to these events.
Some entity outside of the story? That’d be the author, right?
Well, yes and no. Le Guin asserts,
“In fiction, the ‘I’ narrator (or the third-person narrator) is not the author.”
This is definitely true of first person stories, but third person stories is where it gets tricky. I believe what Le Guin is saying here is that authors don’t write as themselves when they tell a story in third person. Instead, they adopt an author persona in order to tell the story.
This is easy to see with writers who publish under pseudonyms. Samuel Clemens didn’t write Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain did.
Yet for writers like me who publish under their own name, the distinction gets fuzzier. The Joyce Lewis who wrote “Eruption”, for example, isn’t the Joyce Lewis who works two jobs, pays bills, makes dinner, and recently attended her little sister’s high school graduation. That Joyce Lewis was the persona of someone who witnessed this attempted first contact between a space-faring race and a tribe of reptilians. However, the difference between the persona and the person are so slight that we might as well be the same.
That’s why I’m not going to talk about the identity of narrators in this series of posts on POV. Instead, I’ll describe the personae or roles the author adopts while writing these stories. I think this describes the mental processes required of the writer more accurately than Le Guin’s assertion.
How Many Points of View?
I stated before that there are more than two POVs. Le Guin’s definition implies as much, and the title of this series is a spoiler. In creative writing classes, I was taught that there are four POVs. Le Guin discusses six in her book. And in my years of experimenting with POV, I’ve discovered two more, making a total of eight POVs that I will talk about in this series.
- First Person
- Limited Third (Person)
- First Person Observer-Narrator
- Third Person Observer-Narrator
- Omniscient Third
- Objective Third
- Second Person
- Second Person Observer-Narrator
Next time, I’ll discuss the first two POVs – the same ones I mentioned at the start of this post. They are the most common, but I want to talk about them anyway to establish a basis of comparison. Later, I’ll talk about the other six in more depth: what they are, their limitations, and what I’ve learned from using them in my own work.
Till then, how many of these POVs do you already know? How many have you seen out in the wild? Which POV do you use the most in your stories? Why do you like using it? Let me know down in the comments.