When you’re looking to write a book (or any other form of writing), one of the first questions that comes to mind is what point of view works best for your piece. While there’s plenty of success for each viewpoint, there’s no surprise that there’s advantages and disadvantages of each one.
Here’s a guide that will help you decide what point of view you should use for your writing.
What is Point of View?
Point of view refers to the person who’s telling the story in a piece of writing. There’s three different types of point of view: first person, second person, and third person. The point of view an author uses depends on the story they want to tell and how they’d like to express their character’s feelings.
Why it’s important to Master Point of View
Amateur writers oftentimes make the mistake of changing their point of view midway through a story. While changing point of view may be acceptable in some cases, most fiction relies on staying consistent with one style. Changing point of view in the middle of a paragraph can damage the relationship the reader has with your piece and ultimately cause some confusion as to who’s speaking.
The good news is these point of view mistakes are easy to fix when you know what to look for.
What is First Person Point of View?
First person point of view is when the narrator of the story speaks from their own perspective. The speaker addresses themselves directly using “I,” “me,” and “we.” These pronouns express emotions and experiences as they directly relate to main narrator.
First person point of view is common for books, personal blog posts, storytelling, speeches, and anything that involves someone’s direct experience.
Sometimes writers will jump between multiple first-person perspectives within their work. In these cases, it’s important for the author to indicate who the speaker is, otherwise the reader may be confused as to who’s talking.
Examples of First Person Point of View
- I went to the store with Wade the other day to pick up the video game.
- We wanted to go to the movies but decided on the park instead.
- Of all the people in the classroom, the teacher pointed her finger at me.
The Advantages of First Person Point of View
- The narrator directly speaks to the audience about his/her experiences
- Allows you to connect on a personal level to the speaker
- It’s a natural way of storytelling, and we tend to use this point of view all the time
- You can describe things exactly how they happen to the narrator
- The reader is emotionally invested in the character, allowing for empathy
- Gives your text a clear voice and distinct identity
- Has the ability to utilize the idea of the unreliable narrator
- People understand the motivations of the main character
The Disadvantages of First Person Point of View
- You can’t hop heads, and must stick to telling the story from one point of view
- Your narrator can’t know everything or be too self-aware
- Too much self-reflection can slow down a story
- It can limit the way the reader experiences a story
- The writer can over-do character biases, thus slowing down the overall piece
- It can be difficult to describe the character from a neutral, outside perspective
When to use First person
First person point of view is best utilized when you’re looking to tell the story from a distinct perspective. Books such as American Psycho, A Clockwork Orange, and The Great Gatsby all use narrators who have their own way of seeing the world. The main character introduces the reader to the setting through the way they perceive events and conflict.
Writers can also make use of the unreliable narrator, which is where the speaker of the story isn’t the most trustworthy. For example, the story of Wuthering Heights is told primarily through one of the characters while the main character listens. Other books that make use of the unreliable narrator use it to justify the actions of the main character or keep the culprit a secret in a mystery novel.
Another reason writers choose first person perspective is when a story is emotionally driven. First person gives readers access to a character’s immediate thoughts and actions that third person can’t. First person allows readers to see the main character grow as they struggle through the plot to attempt to achieve their goals.
What is Second Person Point of View?
Second person point of view refers to when the author directly speaks to the reader. Pronouns such as “you,” your,” and yours” are the main words used to address the speaker in this point of view.
Second person point of view is less common for novels and is often used for directions, blog posts, business and technical writing, poetry, songs, speeches, social media posts, and advertising.
Examples of Second Person Point of View
- To open the bottle, you should twist the lid until it pops.
- If you want your cookies to bake properly, keep them in the oven for twenty minutes.
- If you’re looking to start a blog, you should first decide on a topic.
- If you want to keep the boss happy, then you should make sure you come to work on time.
The Advantages of Second Person Point of View
- Allows you to speak directly to the reader
- Reader feels connected to what the writing is saying to them
- Gives the reader a sense of participation
The Disadvantages of Second Person Point of View
- The reader must feel like what you’re saying directly applies to them, or you’ll lose credibility
- The reader might potentially feel disconnected from a work in second person
When to use second person
Second person point of view is best used when you need to speak directly to your reader. When using second person, you’re looking to immerse the reader in what you’re saying. You want to bring them along for the ride while presenting information that’s helpful to them.
Consider this example below.
You’re finally ready to start your journey of blogging. You’ve outlined your posts, decided on a social media promotion plan, and found imagery that matches your website. However, there’s one barrier you need to tackle: the web page layout.
As opposed to a third person approach:
Soon enough, many people feel ready to start their journey of blogging once they’ve finished outlining their posts, deciding on a social media plan, and finding the right imagery. However, many people need to tackle one last barrier: the web page layout.
As you can see, the first example grips the reader and prepares them for the rest of the piece. The third person version distances the reader from their problem because it uses an outside perspective. Consider using second person when you’re looking to strike a connection with the reader to help solve a problem or tell them something interesting.
What is Third Person Point of View?
Third person point of view refers to the point of view from an outside perspective. The pronouns “he,” “she,” “it,” and “they” are used in this point of view.
This point of view can be further broken out into two parts: omniscient and limited. Omniscient third person refers to when the reader knows everything the characters feel, do, and say. Limited third person refers to when the reader follows one specific character’s adventure.
Examples of Third Person Point of View
- She went to the ball in a glistening green dress.
- He wanted to punch his brother but decided to lower his fist in the end.
- They waddled across the street into the supermarket.
- It looked at the girls with its red beady eyes.
The Advantages of Third Person Point of View
- Third person is the most versatile point of view because it is used in both academic and fiction writing
- You can talk about multiple characters
- It is the most objective point of view
- The narrator is trusted because of the objectivity
- You have the ability to give the reader as much information as you want about characters
- It gives the writer more freedom to character and world build
The Disadvantages of Third Person Point of View
- You can’t ever get inside the head of a character to rationalize their thoughts
- You must remain consistent in how this style is written, and switch speaking about characters tastefully
- You must always show, don’t tell
When to use Third Person
Third person point of view shines best when the author is looking for a sense of objectivity. The narrator and the character are two different people, meaning that the main character is portrayed in an unbiased manner. For example, if you were to describe yourself, you’d most likely speak positively on your features and skill set; however, a third party will more likely to describe you as you are.
Another reason you might choose to write in third person is to world build. When you speak objectively, you can describe the life of people in your book exactly how it is. You won’t have to worry about a character being biased about something in your world because you can always provide context on how things are supposed to be. The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter both use third person point of view to paint a world in the reader’s mind.
Third person narratives can also feel immediate. They show readers the action like it’s a cut scene from a movie. In third person, you have the ability to write events as they occur.
The Final Verdict
Whether you decide to write in first, second, or third person point of view depends on the goals you have for your writing. Take a moment to think about why you might want to choose one point of view over the other, and how your story might change by choosing a different viewpoint. If you have the time, experiment with different styles to see what works best for you.