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So You Think You Know Point of View (POV) Part 1

Edited by DeShawn

As you start to write your fiction masterpiece, one of the first choices you should make is which point of view (POV) you want to use. Many writers believe this decision is easy. “I’ll just use first-person and tell my story that way.” Or, “Third-person works best for what I want to do.” Writers may also believe that POV isn’t important to nail down, and they change it as they go along.

Deciding on the POV of your story before you embark on your writing journey is just as important as choosing which tense to use or how you will map out the plot of your book.

The POV you choose helps to “ground” your readers. It gives them a consistent way of experiencing the world you are creating. It is essential in establishing the “voice” of your work, the lens through which your readers will see, hear, and feel the events of your story.


You can choose first-person POV if you want to be personally engaged with your reader, writing as the main character of the story. Everything will be seen through “your” eyes.  

  • For first-person POV, use “I, me, my, or we” pronouns throughout the narrative.
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If you don’t want to tell your story from a personal point of view, choose third-person POV.  Through this lens, you write as someone who observes the characters in the story and relay your observations to the reader; what these characters do, how they feel, what they say, etc.  

  • For third-person POV, use “he, she, or they” pronouns throughout the narrative.
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The last choice is second-person POV, and it’s seldom used. This perspective makes the reader the central character of the story. It can be done, but for reasons I’ll explain in a later post, it is very difficult to pull off for experienced and inexperienced writers alike. 

  • For second-person POV, use the “you” pronoun throughout the narrative.
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Keep in mind that when characters share a dialogue, POV doesn’t matter nearly as much. Your characters may describe what happened to them personally (using first-person) or relay information about what happened to others (using third-person or even second-person). The importance of POV mostly concerns the overall narrative voice you want for your piece.


Of course not. Is anything about writing that simple? Let’s take a deeper dive into first-person and third-person POVs, their strengths and weaknesses, and some common pitfalls you will want to avoid when using them. For this article, we’ll leave out the second-person POV and get back to it in the next installment of this article.


Using first-person POV may be the easiest way to tell your story since everything will be revealed by the “I” in the story. If your main character (MC) doesn’t see, hear – or hear about – information, it shouldn’t appear in the story unless other characters tell your MC about it.  

  • Keep in mind:
    • When you want to reveal new information to your readers, ask yourself, “How will my MC know about this?” 
    • Having all your information filtered through one character can restrict your “access” to information, especially if you have other characters whose inner thoughts and actions deserve time and attention. So, ask yourself, “How else could I get this information out to the reader?”
    • Some characters in your story might have little to no interaction with the MC. Ask yourself, “Do they deserve to have more attention paid to their story?”
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Almost certainly, your MC will be “wrong” about certain things they encounter in their journey. In this case, your MC would be called “an unreliable narrator.” Having an unreliable narrator is not necessarily a bad thing. Misunderstandings, and how characters try to correct them, can often form the core of conflict and tension in your book. But don’t forget, since all information is filtered through your MC, your reader will be clueless about these misunderstandings until the MC finds out about it!

  • Keep in mind:
    • If your MC constantly receives wrong or incomplete information, your readers may feel frustrated or like they’re being jerked around. This is especially true if your readers suspect the MC already knows the truth and is withholding it for the sake of creating a more suspenseful story. (See the next point.)

A subtle point about POV, especially with regard to first-person POV, is to think about when your MC is telling the story. If it is soon after the events of the chapter or section, has the MC had time to process what just occurred? Are they telling the story as if it just happened, or are they telling the story months, even years, after the events of the book have occurred? You can often spot the latter storytelling approach when the MC says something like, “If I had only known what was about to happen…”

  • Keep in mind:
    • The genre of your piece may help you determine when your MC is telling their story. If you are writing a thriller, mystery, or action story, it might make more sense to have the MC describe things as they happen to add suspense. With memoirs, reflective pieces, and literary fiction, you may prefer to have your MC tell the story years later with the benefit of hindsight. 


In third-person POV, you tell the story as an observer of your characters, not as those characters. As the observer, you are all-seeing and all-knowing.

Think of yourself as the camera in a movie, recording events and conversations in your story. Using third-person POV also allows you to provide information outside of your character’s experiences, such as past events or backstories. However, you need to be careful about how you do this.

Third-person POV helps you avoid some of the issues concerning an MC who is an “unreliable narrator,” though your character may still be wrong about what is happening around them.

Here are the two main forms of third-person POV:

Limited Omniscient (LimOm)

You may remember this term from your English classes in high school or college. In this form, you select a character to focus on, much like you do in first-person, and limit your observations to that character’s perspective. You show that character’s thoughts, impressions, and reactions to other characters and the events taking place in the story.

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  • Keep in mind:
    • Though not as restrictive as first-person POV, LimOm can feel just as limiting. Authors may be tempted to tell readers important information that comes from outside the character’s POV. Though permissible, it makes you, the author, almost part of the story.

Full Omniscient (FullOm)

As you can guess, this means you, as the author, are providing us multiple characters’ reactions to the events of your story, in addition to all their thoughts and feelings. FullOm was used a lot in writings from the 19th and early 20th centuries but isn’t used so much anymore.

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  • Keep in mind:
    • Think about how much readers will want to know EVERY character’s thoughts and all their reactions to the events in your story. Often you can use descriptive clues to show how characters feel without telling how they feel. Example: George threw up his hands and muttered, “Crap,” under his breath. This sentence may work better than a paragraph describing how George felt.

Additional angles: There are more third-person categories to choose from. You can read about them in the links posted at the end of this article.


Not at all! Many stories are told from mixed points of view. One example would be  The Incarnations, by Susan Barker. In this novel, the author alternates between chapters written in first-person and chapters written in third-person LimOM to create the effect of two characters living in different states of consciousness yet destined to cross paths.

You could, as most writers often do, switch perspectives as well, going from one character to the next. But think about how you want your story to unfold. Does every character deserve a full-blown POV chapter devoted to them?

Either way, be careful how you switch perspectives, or you may fall victim to the common, yet insidious, curse of head-hopping.

In the second installment of this post, I’ll cover head-hopping and how to switch perspectives like a pro.

For more on the additional perspectives you can achieve with various POVs, check out:

Curt Shannon

Hi! My name is Curt and I write stuff! By "stuff," I mean screenplays, action thriller novels, and short stories. I'm a longtime member of Atlanta Writes, a D&D dungeon master, and the local tough guy who goes by the nickname Punisher. Okay... I made up that last one. Couldn't find a third thing to complete the set. Go big or go home, right? If you enjoyed this article, let me know in the comments below. Thanks!