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How a Story Is Told Is Critically Important

Updated: Mar 30, 2022

What is Your Point of View?

Tips for Writers

By Michael Heath /

your point of view, how to tell a story

Your opinion counts and, if you are a novelist, the point of view (POV) from which you decide to tell a story counts even more. It could even be the most important decision made when writing a piece of fiction. The point of view can be defined as how the story is told, whether through a character or from the perspective of someone who is all-knowing but is not one of the characters.

There are three main modes of points of view:

  • First person: one of the characters tells the story. “I” is the narrator and is in the story. An example of first-person narration is Nick Carraway telling the story of protagonist Jay Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Another example is protagonist Holden Caufield expressing how he thinks and feels while sharing his experiences in The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

  • Second person: here the reader is in the story. “You” as the reader, are addressed directly and may even be a character in the novel. A famous example of this rarely used literary device is Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney.

  • Third person: narrates about the people or events but is not a character in the story. “He,” “she” and “they” are the significant pronouns used in this way of writing. There are two main techniques for using third-person narration:

    1. Third-person omniscient: the narrator is “all-knowing” about characters and events in a story and expresses the tale from that perspective. William Golding used this writing method in Lord of the Flies to tell all the events of the kids shipwrecked on an island.

    2. Third-person limited: the narrator limits the storytelling to the experiences of one or more characters. J.K. Rolling used this approach by expressing her eponymous stories through Harry Potter’s own scenario involvement and the resulting reactions and emotions.

Alternating Between Voices

Another option that writers can employ is alternating first-person or third-person point of view. This is an effective method, as the reader can really get to know the characters in a story. It is important to clarify where one character perspective ends, and another begins so as not to confuse the reader. I used alternating third person limited in my middle-grade “Eugene” series ( where the character point of view changed by chapters. There are other ways to do it such as paragraph breaks and using dingbats (e.g., ###, ***) in between to help the reader know where one character’s perspective ends, and another begins.

Know How to Use Point of View

Second-person point of view is exceedingly difficult to write well, which is why experts recommend steering away from this approach. First-person and third-person point-of-view approaches both have their advantages and should be studied carefully by the writer so that his/her chosen mode is used correctly.

Using the point of view effectively and without violations will make for much better reading, and even make your editor happy.

At SelfPublishingUS our editors are always on the lookout for the proper use of your "point of view" when conducting a substantive edit. Learn more about our Editor Services

For more details on understanding the point of view when writing a book check out this Point of View in Writing Guide from The Write Practice. or Grammarly's First, Second, and Third Person blog article.

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