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Point of View in Fiction

What is a point of view in fiction? Point of view in fiction can be defined as the narrative voice a writer chooses to use to tell their story. An author’s point of view determines the tone and mood of a work. The type of narration can also change the intimacy a reader feels while reading the piece of literature. The point of view could be told by one character from the work, from multiple perspectives in the book, or from a party that sees and knows all about the characters in the piece but is not one of them.

First Person Point of View

The first person point of view is when one individual character is narrating the story. A narrator of this type of point of view uses first-person pronouns such as ”I”, ”me”, ”we”, and ”us” to tell their story, giving away the perspective to the reader.

It gives intimacy and a deeper look into a character’s mind but can be considered a limited perspective. The narration from this point of view can only give what the narrator knows about the story from their perspective, which will cause events to not appear in the story that is outside of their perspective.

Second Person Point of View

The most uncommonly used perspective is the second-person point of view. This is when the narrator uses ”you” in their narration, drawing the reader into the story as a character. The narrator uses this perspective to speak to the reader directly.

Third Person Point of View

Another perspective writers use in literature is the third-person point of view. When writing from this perspective, the author uses third-person pronouns such as ”he,” ”she,” ”them,” and ”they” to tell the story. There are three different types of the third person perspective that a writer can write in: third person omniscient, third person limited, and third person objective.

  • Third Person Omniscient: Third person omniscient point of view is a narrator in a story that can see all that happens in the story. They can see the actions happening around the characters and what happens in their minds. These narrators are external characters in the story and are able to know things in the story that the characters may not.
  • Third Person Limited: The perspective of third person limited is when the narrator of the story can only see into the mind of one of the characters within the story. They stick close to one character and give this character’s thoughts, feelings, and opinions.
  • Third Person Objective: This point of view is when a narrator can give the events that occur in the story without knowing the motivations or thoughts of the characters in the story. They do not have access to the characters’ inner lives and are more matter-of-fact.

Multiple Points of View

Many works of fiction have experimented with having multiple points of view within the same work, especially in modern fiction. When writing from different points of view, an author can use a first-person perspective of the characters, a third-person perspective of the characters, or a mixture of both.

Point of View Examples

Examples of First Person Perspective:

  • One example of the first-person narrative would be Albert Camus’ The Stranger. The novel is told from the perspective of the main character Meursault. ”I looked up at the mass of signs and stars in the night sky and laid myself open for the first time to the benign indifference of the world.”
  • Some other examples of books written in the first person perspective are The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (which is narrated by Katniss Everdeen), The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (narrated by Nick Carroway), and Moby Dick by Herman Melville (narrated by Ishmael).

Examples of Second Person Perspective:

  • Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novels are some of the most famous examples of the second-person perspective used in literature. A great example of this would be the novel by Ryan North, called To Be or Not to Be, a choose-your-own-path book that is a take on Hamlet by William Shakespeare. Ryan has the reader play throughout the book as the characters of Hamlet, Ophelia, or even Hamlet’s father, and he uses the pronoun ”you” to get the reader involved in the plot. ”This was a really amazing part of your adventure, Hamlet. You’re sure that, should you ever one day write a book about this story or perhaps a stage production, you’d DEFINITELY include this scene. Why, you’d have to be literally crazy to write a story where you journey to England, get attacked by pirates – actual pirates! – but then just sum up that whole adventure in a single sentence.”
  • Some other famous examples are The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

Examples of Third Person Limited:

  • One example of limited third-person narration is the Harry Potter novels by J. K. Rowling. The books are not directly from Harry’s perspective; he is referred to as ”he” throughout the story. The narration follows his story and gives his thoughts about what is happening. ”Something very painful was going on in Harry’s mind. As Hagrid’s story came to close, he saw again the blinding flash of green light, more clearly than he had ever remembered it before.” –Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling,
  • Another famous example of limited third-person narration is The Giver by Lois Lowery (which focuses on the character of Jonas).

Examples of Third Person Omniscient:

  • A great example of the third-person omniscient perspective would be the novel Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. In this novel, Louisa May Alcott gives the narration of the events of the March family. The narrator is not a character in the story and observes the interactions of the March Girls from the outside.

” ‘Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,’ grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

‘It’s so dreadful to be poor!’ sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

‘I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,’ added little Amy, with an injured sniff.

‘We’ve got Father and Mother, and each other,’ said Beth contentedly from her corner.

The four young faces on which the firelight shone brightened at the cheerful words, but darkened again as Jo said sadly, ‘We haven’t got Father, and shall not have him for a long time.’ She didn’t say ‘perhaps never,’ but each silently added it, thinking of Father far away, where the fighting was.” This quote does not only show a great example of the third-person omniscient perspective but also gives a look into each of the March girls as characters.

  • Some other famous examples of the third-person omniscient point of view are A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

Examples of Third Person Objective:

  • An example of this perspective would be in the short story The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. ”The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post office and the bank, around ten o’clock; in some towns there were so many people that the lottery took two days and had to be started on June 25th. But in this village, where there were only about three hundred people, the whole lottery took less than two hours, so it could begin at ten o’clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner.”
  • Another famous example of the third-person objective point of view is the story Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway.

Examples of Multiple Perspectives:

  • William Faulkner is one of the most famous examples of an author who has used multiple perspectives in his books. His novel, As I Lay Dying uses fifteen distinct character voices to tell the story. Another of his novels that used multiple perspectives was The Sound and the Fury.
  • Another author famous for his multiple perspectives is George R. R. Martin, who uses the third-person perspective for many of the characters in his The Song of Ice and Fire series.

Lesson Summary

The narrative voice that an author uses in literature is the point of view. Many different points of view can be used in a piece of writing, including first person point of view, second person point of view, third person limited, third person omniscient, third person objective, or multiple points of view. The first-person point of view is when the main character is the narrator of the story, and they use first-person pronouns such as ”I,” ”me,” ”we,” and ”us.” When an author makes the reader a character in their story and directly addresses them as ”you,” they are writing from the second-person point of view.

There are three different third-person points of view. Each third-person perspective uses third-person pronouns such as ”he,” ”she,” ”they,” and ”them.” Third-person limited is when the narrator describes one character’s internal thoughts, feelings, and motivation. If a story is written where the narrator doesn’t reveal or know anything about the characters’ inner thoughts, feelings, or motivations, it was written in the third person objective point of view. The final third-person point of view is third-person omniscient. Third-person omniscient is when the narrator knows and reveals at least part of the internal thoughts, feelings, and motivations of all the characters in a story. Along with these five different types of points of view, authors also write books using multiple perspectives.

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