Point of View Basics: What Is the POV in a Story, and How Do You Use It?

If you’ve read anything about creative writing, you’ve probably come across the subject of “point of view” (or POV for short).

POV is essentially the perspective with which you tell your story.

It’s which mind (or minds) you’re occupying as you move through the story, and how you’re experiencing the events unfolding.

And today we’re gonna talk about the types of POVs you can use to narrate your story.

Now, this isn’t an in-depth look at POVs in narration, but rather, a quick and easy reference guide to help you pick one that works best for you.

If you’re looking for a complete guide, I’d recommend MasterClass’s Types of POVs post.

With introductions out of the way, let’s start learning about POVs.

First-Person

First-person POV is telling the story from inside the mind of a single character.

(Although, you can do multiple first-person POVs, but we’ll talk about that later.)

Basically, we see the story through their eyes and experience the events based on their thoughts, feelings, actions, etc.

I like to think of it as the character telling you their own story from their perspective.

This POV gives you a much more intimate look into the character, and how they relate to what’s happening.

BUT, as Laura Whitcomb points out in Your First Novel, you are limited to what a single character knows and understands. (43)

Pronouns:

According to a Grammarly article by Brittney Ross:

We, us, our,[ ]and ourselves are all . . . . plural first-person pronouns. Singular first-person pronouns include I, me, my, mine and myself.”

Example:

I want to keep us both safe and worry-free, but I’ll have to tell Claire about my sprained ankle eventually.

Second-Person

Second-person is not a common POV, but it functions similarly to first-person in that you are put into the mind of the character.

It’s like you BECOME the character.

YOU are eating oatmeal.

YOU are tying your shoes.

YOU are going to the grocery store.

Again, it makes you very intimate with what the character’s thinking or feeling, and inserting yourself into that very role.

Pronouns:

According to a Grammarly article by Brittney Ross:

“. . . you, your, yours, yourself, yourselves.

Example:

You want to keep everyone safe and worry-free, but you’ll have to tell Claire about your sprained ankle eventually.

Third-Person

Third-person is a POV where you’re being told the story from outside the character’s mind.

To paraphrase Brittney Ross’ Grammarly post:

It’s like an over-seeing, all-knowing narrator that knows everything that’s happening.

The narrator is relaying the events and characters’ thoughts and feelings to the listeners.

Pronouns:

According to a Grammarly article by Brittney Ross:

“The third-person pronouns include he, him, his, himself, she, her, hers, herself, it, its, itself, they, them, their, theirs, and themselves.”

Example:

Steve wants to keep them both safe and worry-free, but he’s gonna have to tell Claire about his sprained ankle eventually.


Third-person is a bit more complicated because there are multiple ways to go about writing it.

Below are three types of third-person POVs presented in Your First Novel.

Omniscient/Unlimited

“With omniscient third person, the storyteller can look into the hearts and minds of anyone and everyone in the novel.” (44)

As Whitcomb points out further down the page, being able to experience everyone’s mind has the potential to make the story feel unfocused. Which can contribute to not feeling like you’re that attached to the protagonist.

Inner Limited

“Grammatically written in third person, inner limited is similar to first-person in that the storyteller is looking at life through only one character’s heart and mind.” (45)

She also points out how “you can use the vocabulary and thought patterns” (45) of the protagonist or someone who sounds completely different.

For example, you could give a sarcastic cowboy character a narrator that sounds very clinical and no-nonsense.

Outer Limited

“With outer limited, the storyteller gives us only what can be seen and heard, not what the characters are thinking.” (46)

As Whitcomb continues, she explains that this POV is written kind of like how you’d experience a play or movie. You’re watching the actions of the characters, but you don’t have access to their thoughts and feelings unless said out loud.

Again, this has a chance to disconnect readers from the story if nothing’s conveyed well.

Multiple Points of View

As I said in the first-person section, you can write in multiple POVs!

It can be tricky to write.

One complaint I’ve heard is not making each character’s voice distinct and all sounding the same.

You always want to give each character their own unique voice, but especially when you’re going to bounce between several people.

Sometimes people choose to write in third-person omniscient over multiple first-person POVs.

Try both and see how you feel!

Regardless, alternating character POVs between chapters or scenes is a good way to not blur the lines between characters too much.

Whitcomb from Your First Novel has these tips for avoiding this:

“3. Define where one narrator ends and another comes in. Use separate chapters, a different font type, or another device, like three asterisks in the center of the page.” (47)

Verb Tense

And last, but not least, verb tenses!

There are three verb tenses with which to write a story: past-tense, present-tense, and future-tense.

But what is verb tense?

According to MasterClass.com, “Verb tenses in writing are sets of verb forms that are used to convey the time at which an action occurs—past, present, or future.”

To give you an idea, here are some examples:


Past-Tense

I wanted to keep us both safe and worry-free, but I had to tell Claire about my sprained ankle eventually.

Present-Tense

I want to keep us both safe and worry-free, but I have to tell Claire about my sprained ankle eventually.

Future-Tense

I will want to keep us both safe and worry-free, but I’ll have to tell Claire about my sprained ankle eventually.


They all have their own uses and tones. It’s up to you to decide what works best for your story.

Past tense is the most common tense used in narration, and “. . . is a natural way to repeat a story: . . .” (43) according to Whitcomb in Your First Novel.

Both Wikipedia and Your First Novel say that present tense adds a sense of urgency and immediacy to the story events.

Future-tense is . . . a weird one. It’s not used often, and it can be difficult to write.

Wikipedia points out that “. . . so many future-tense stories have a prophetic tone.”

It uses words like “will,” “have been,” and “going to” for communicating events happening in the future.

I found a really interesting post that goes more in-depth about how it works at Hobby Lark.

I’d suggest giving it a read if you’d like to see how it’s done.

It can be a fun, weird challenge to try!

Conclusion

And those are some types of POVs (plus, some verb tenses)!

There isn’t really a one-size-fits-all for every story. You’re gonna have to look at your story and decide how best to narrate it.

But that can be part of the fun!

Take some time to think about your idea, try out a couple of the POVs, and see which one best moves your story forward.

And as always:

Thanks for reading, and happy writing!

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