The Point of View (POV) in a story or novel is the narrative perspective from which the story is told.
The point of view you choose can have a big impact on everything in your story – from it’s mood and atmosphere through to the way the reader perceives and interprets your characters. (‘On Editing’ by Helen Corner-Bryant and Kathryn Price)
The choice of point of view from which the story is told is arguably the most important single decision the novelist has to make, for it fundamentally affects the way the readers will respond, emotionally and morally to the fictional characters and their actions. (‘The Art of Fiction’ by David Lodge)
Viewpoint and narration compromise a dedicated elaborate facade, in which on tiny break or inconsistency can be disastrous, the equivalent of striking a dissonant chord in the midst of the harmonious musical performance. (‘The First Five Pages’ by Noah Lukeman)
First person – simply, this is when the ‘I’ (or ‘We’) tells the story. This is the way you’d naturally tell a story about something that happened to you and you were probably asked to write this way as a child when your teacher asked you to write a daily ‘news’ exercise or an essay on ‘what I did during the holidays’.
Third person – the narrative is told referring to ‘he’ or ‘she’. This the way you’d naturally tells stories about other people.
There are two main ways to use third person narrative: close (or limited) or omniscient (or roaming)
• Third person close/limited – this is where the entire story is told by a single narrator but only from the viewpoint of one character. Imagine the story teller was sat on the shoulder of the character for whom they are telling the story with occasional insight to what that character thinks or feels. They can’t tell us about things that happened when this character wasn’t present because they can only interpret evens from the characters point of view.
• Omniscient/ Third person roaming – the story teller sees and knows all. They are privy to the thoughts and feelings of all the characters in a story and there are no barriers to what they might witness because they can access to all areas of the story.
“The doctor was doing that thing where they talk to you but don’t look at you, reading my notes on the screen, hitting the return key with increasing ferocity as he scrolled down.
‘What can I do for you this time, Miss Oliphant?’
‘It’s back pain, Doctor,’ I told him. ‘I’ve been in agony.’ He still didn’t look at me.
‘How long have you been experiencing this?’ he said.
‘A couple of weeks,’ I told him. He nodded. ‘I think I know what’s causing it,’ I said, ‘but I wanted to get your opinion.’ He stopped reading, finally looked across at me.
‘What is it that you think is causing your back pain, Miss Oliphant?’
‘I think it’s my breasts, Doctor,’ I told him.
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘You see, I’ve weighed them, and they’re almost half a stone – combined weight, that is, not each!’ I laughed. He stared at me, not laughing. ‘That’s a lot of weight to carry around, isn’t it?’ I asked him. ‘I mean, if I were to strap half a stone of additional flesh to your chest and force you to walk around all day like that, your back would hurt too, wouldn’t it?’
He stared at me, then cleared his throat.”
(from “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine: Debut Sunday Times Bestseller and Costa First Novel Book Award winner” by Gail Honeyman)
THIRD PERSON CLOSE POV – EXAMPLE
““I didn’t know there was like a baby,” she said finally.
Willa resisted pointing out it wasn’t like a baby, it was the actual article. This was not much of a friend, if Tig hadn’t mentioned the baby bomb dropped on the family.
“I mean, that you guys were still, you know, parents. It’s little.”
With some effort Willa worked out the girl’s mistake, and nearly laughed. She could have been flattered but knew better; fifty-five and thirty-five look just alike to the more self-absorbed of the younger set. They don’t see themselves reaching either of those ages, so it doesn’t matter. And it wasn’t a compliment: braless in her sleep T-shirt and sweatpants, Willa was the picture of worst-case motherhood. And in no mood for chitchat about the family tragedy, frankly. She opted to stick with small talk until she could be dismissed.”
(from “Unsheltered” by Barbara Kingsolver)
THIRD PERSON OMNISCIENT POV – EXAMPLE
“During the confusion and bewilderment of the second day Mary hid herself in the nursery and was forgotten by everyone. Nobody thought of her, nobody wanted her, and strange things happened of which she knew nothing.
Mary alternately cried and slept through the hours. She only knew that people were ill and that she heard mysterious and frightening sounds. Once she crept into the dining-room and found it empty, though a partly finished meal was on the table and chairs and plates looked as if they had been hastily pushed back when the diners rose suddenly for some reason. The child ate some fruit and biscuits, and being thirsty she drank a glass of wine which stood nearly filled. It was sweet, and she did not know how strong it was.
Very soon it made her intensely drowsy, and she went back to her nursery and shut herself in again, frightened by cries she heard in the huts and by the hurrying sound of feet. The wine made her so sleepy that she could scarcely keep her eyes open and she lay down on her bed and knew nothing more for a long time.
Many things happened during the hours in which she slept so heavily, but she was not disturbed by the wails and the sound of things being carried in and out of the bungalow.”
(from “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett)
It is worth noting that it is possible to use more than one POV in a single novel or to use more than one narrator using the same POV.
For example, in ‘her’ by Harriet Lane there are two narrators each telling the story from their own first person POV in alternate chapters. Barbara Kingsolver uses no less than five first person POV for her novel ‘The Poisonwood Bible’.
Stephen King uses both first and third person POV in his novel ‘Christine’.
Review a random passage from the last three books you read and decide which POV the author has used. Post your observations in the comments below or on the Writing Club World Facebook Page