In Nancy Kress’ book, Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint, she describes why we love to read fiction:
“The only thoughts, plans, dreams, and feelings we can directly experience are our own. It’s because this one-viewpoint reality is hardwired in us that fiction is so fascinating. It lets us experience the world from inside someone else’s head.
You give your readers that experience by choosing a point of view. Point of view (POV) is a literary term that describes a story’s narration. It’s the way you allow your readers to see and hear your story. The story must be told by someone and it’s your job to choose who that someone will be.
Who you select will determine two things:
- The position (or perspective) from which the story is told;
- The amount and type of information your reader will receive.
Your choice of POV is important. It’s the literary device you will use to tell your story and develop your characters effectively.
If you do any amount of research on point of view, you will find its characteristics differ depending on the author of the article or book, the type of story, and even the era in which the story was written. There are many nuances to POV, which may get your head spinning after spending too much time with them. For now, let’s take a look at the positions most commonly used in literary narration.
First Person: I. In this position, a character is telling the story. Your readers identify with this character and feel as though they are a part of the story.
Second Person: You. With this POV, the author speaks directly to the readers. This position is not used in fiction writing as often as first and third person. You’ll see it more often in nonfiction guides and manuals, interactive fiction, music lyrics, and blogs. (Hello, dear reader.)
Third Person: He, She, It. The author tells the reader about the characters. This narrative position has three types:
- Limited omniscient. You share with your readers the thoughts and feelings of only one character.
- Omniscient. You tell your readers everything. That includes all of your characters’ thoughts and feelings. You may even reveal information that none of your characters know.
- Objective. You tell your readers only what happens and what is said. The thoughts and feelings of the characters are not revealed. For your readers, this would feel like they are watching a play or a movie.
From my experience and the research I did for this topic, I find point of view to be tricky for many writers. Last week I introduced a writer to this blog and one of the first things she asked was if I had a post on point of view. I’m even rethinking the POV of my novel after taking time to learn about the term. Choosing a point of view for your story early on — and sticking with it — will give you the focus you need to write effectively.
There are many nuances to POV, so use this post as a general summary of the term to get you started. Check around the Web for more specifics, and be on the lookout for future posts here where I’ll go into more detail about point of view.
What have you learned about point of view that changed your writing?
[This is one post in the Know Your Writing Terms series on fiction writing. Click here for a list of the terms I’ve covered.]