Have you read a book and wondered from whose eyes you have been walking through? Point of View will tell you who is the narrator and his or her relationship with the characters in the story.
In storytelling, first thing is to decide the point of view that the story will take. Whether it will be in the first person, second person, or third-person point of view. With the first and third-person used more frequently, the second person point of view is used less frequently but still, it is being taught in writing classes.
The differences between the first person and third-person point of view are many. How do you identify which one is the story using? The pronouns come into play when you need to know from whose perspective the story is being told.
The pronouns I, we are first-person and refer to the author himself. The pronoun ‘you’, which is used for both singular and plural antecedents, depicts the usage of a second-person point of view. Lastly the pronouns he, she, they refer to the usage of third-person point of view.
You can easily identify a narrative and classify them as first person, second person, or third person based on the pronouns used.
First Person point of view
In the first-person point of view, the narrator or the author is writing the story from his own independent perspective. You will see the pronouns I (or we if the author is a group of people or representing a group or a team).
The first-person point of view gives you more insight into the perception and the attitude that is being carried by the main character of the story. Whatever you will see, feel, perceive will be through the main character’s eyes only. Putting it simply, your main area of focus would be the main character and what’s happening in his life only.
If all of this seems overwhelming, do read the small excerpt from the old classic Jane Eyre below –
There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but since dinner (Mrs. Reed, when there was no company, dined early) the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further outdoor exercise was now out of the question.
I was glad of it: I never liked long walks, especially on chilly afternoons: dreadful to me was the coming home in the raw twilight, with nipped fingers and toes, and a heart saddened by the chidings of Bessie, the nurse, and humbled by the consciousness of my physical inferiority to Eliza, John, and Georgiana Reed.
— Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, 1847
Jane Eyre is narrated by the story’s main character who is a governess. Everything that is told is based on her past memories and impressions be it of weather, Mrs. Reeds dining habits, and getting a lecture from Nurse Bessie.
From the above excerpt, it is indeed clear that we come to know that is known by Jane herself and we cannot get the idea of what the other characters know. Whatever information that is unknown to Jane, is also unknown to us.
Second Person Point of View
Unlike the first-person point of view, the second-person point of view is driven by the character who is ascribed to the reader, one known as you. Narrating the story from the second-person point of view is more engaging for the reader. The reader is immersed in the narrative as a character in the story.
The reader can be the protagonist in these stories and must make choices that can determine the plot and the ending. Many classic authors such as Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, speak directly to the reader, involving them in the story.
Even contemporary writers today write blogs and non-fiction addressing the reader as “you” whenever they offer advice or share insights with them.
One of the finest examples in fiction for second-person narrative is Jay McInerney’s novel Bright Lights, Big City.
At the subway station, you wait fifteen minutes on the platform for a train. Finally a local, enervated by graffiti, shuffles into the station. You get a seat and hoist a copy of the New York Post. The Post is the most shameful of your several addictions.
— Jay McInerney, Bright Lights, Big City, 1984
The second-person point of view makes the reader the central character of the story and the reader then immerses themselves into the narrative, enhancing what is at stake for the characters and the readers.
Third Person Point of View
The third-person point of view is the most widely used narrative. In the third person, the author or the narrator of the story stays outside the events happening in the story. The narrator relates to the actions of the characters by referring to their names or by using third-person pronouns he, she, or they.
Going deeper into the third person, it is classifiable into three categories – omniscient, limited, and objective.
The meaning of the term Omniscient is “all-knowing”. In a third-person omniscient narrative, the author is well aware of the emotions, feelings, thoughts, and motivations of each and every character of the story, even if they don’t reveal anything to other characters in the story.
Here’s an example that well relates to the third-person omniscient narrative is written below –
“When the dead doctor’s daughter saw Mr. Smith emerge as promptly as he had promised from behind the cupola, his wide blue silk wings curved-forward around his chest, she dropped her covered peck basket, spilling red velvet rose petals. The wind blew them about, up, down, and into small mounds of snow. Her half-grown daughters scrambled about trying to catch them, while their mother moaned and held the underside of her stomach.” – Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon
The story is not being told from the point of view of Mr. Smith, the dead doctor’s daughter or anybody else. It is narrated from the point of view of an observer who is carefully observing each character’s feelings, thoughts, actions, and emotions. Closely check out the usage of character’s names and third-person pronouns he, she, his, her, them et al.
If you see in this example, it is evident that the narrator of the story is omniscient. He knows about the characters’ thoughts and about the next steps the character is about to take.
Third Person Limited
In the third-person limited narrative, the author is still outside the story events but has limited knowledge about the thoughts or motivations of all the characters. In this case, the story is driven by one of the characters, and the reader is given a closer peek into that character’s psyche than the others.
Have you read Harry Potter novels by J.K. Rowling? The author utilizes a third-person limited narrative. Have a look at the following excerpt –
Three days later, the Dursleys were showing no sign of relenting, and Harry couldn’t see any way out of his situation. He lay on his bed watching the sun sinking behind the bars on the window and wondered miserably what was going to happen to him.
What was the good of magicking himself out of his room if Hogwarts would expel him for doing it? Yet life at Privet Drive had reached an all-time low. Now that the Dursleys knew they weren’t going to wake up as fruit bats, he had lost his only weapon. Dobby might have saved Harry from horrible happenings at Hogwarts, but the way things were going, he’d probably starve to death anyway.
— J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, 1999
Here, the narrator is not Harry as Harry is referred to as “he” but still the reader is immersed in his thoughts. Like Harry, we are also uncertain about other characters’ thoughts.
Third Person Objective
In third-person objective narration, the author narrates the story and the events taking place without knowing the thoughts or motivations of any of the characters in the story. We are not aware of what is driving the plot till we hear them speak or observe their actions. Have a look at the following example –
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.
— Shirley Jackson, “The Lottery,” 1948
Which point of view do you use in your writing? Do share with us your take on this on firstname.lastname@example.org.