Who’s on First? Exploring Point of View

A story begins as a spark that needs to be coaxed to life. As writers, we do all the things needed to get its little story heart beating. We mull it, ponder it, play with it, plot it, daydream it. But before the first word can be written, this formula needs to be solved:

Point of View (POV) + Point in Time (tense)= Foundation

It’s this blend of POV and tense that gives the story its atmosphere, its underpinning. It’s important to get them right the first time because even though rewriting a novel to change the POV and tense won’t kill you, it may come close.

The most common points of view used in fiction are:

First person point of viewThe story is told from the “I” perspective by a character in the story who is directly relating experiences and feelings.

Third person limited–The story is told from a he/she perspective by an unseen narrator who is relating the experiences and feelings of a specific character.

Third person omniscient–The story is told from a he/she perspective by an unseen narrator who has access to all thoughts and experiences of all the characters in the story.

Not sure which would be best for your story? The examples below might help you decide.

Present tense

First person:

“When I break into the clearing, she’s on the ground, hopelessly entangled in a net. She just has the time to reach her hand through the mesh and say my name before the spear enters her body.”
― Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games

Third person limited:

“…he is unlike the other customers. They sense it too, and look at him with hard eyes, eyes like little metal studs pinned into the white faces of young men […] In the hush his entrance creates, the excessive courtesy the weary woman behind the counter shows him amplifies his strangeness. He orders coffee quietly and studies the rim of the cup to steady the sliding in his stomach.”
― John Updike, Rabbit, Run

Third person omniscient:

“At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done–then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.”
― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

Past tense

First person:

“I did not want anyone with me. Not even Maxim. If Maxim had been there I should not be lying as I was now, chewing a piece of grass, my eyes shut. I should have been watching him, watching his eyes, his expression. Wondering if he liked it, if he was bored. Wondering what he was thinking. Now I could relax, none of these things mattered. Maxim was in London. How lovely it was to be alone again.”
― Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca

Third person limited:

“It was not often that she was alone like this and she did not like it. When she was alone she had to think and, these days, thoughts were not so pleasant.”
― Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind

Third person omniscient:

“What happened was: they became a team, a family of two. There had been times before they ran away when they acted like a team, but those were very different from feeling like a team. Becoming a team didn’t mean the end of their arguments. But it did mean that the arguments became a part of the adventure, became discussions not threats.”
― E.L. Konigsburg, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Here are some tips from Nancy Kress to use when deciding on a point of view for your story:

  • If you want to write the entire story in individual, quirky language, choose first person.
  • If you want your POV character to indulge in lengthy ruminations, choose first person.
  • If you want your reader to feel high identification with your POV character, choose first person or close third.
  • If you want to describe your character from the outside as well as give her thoughts, choose either close or distant third person.
  • If you want to intersperse the author’s opinions with the character’s, choose distant third.
  • If you want low identification between reader and character, perhaps because you’re going to make a fool of your character, choose distant third.

Helpful links:

Should I Write in First Person Point of View? @ Editor’s Quill
Point of View in Writing @ The Write Practice
What Point of View Should You Use in Your Novel? @ Writer’s Digest



8 comments on “Who’s on First? Exploring Point of View

  1. Thanks Dawne! I’ve been working on a rewrite of a short story where I’ve changed it from third person past tense to first person present tense. First person present tense seems more exciting.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That makes sense, Carol. Did you enjoy writing it more when you changed it?


    • Yes I enjoyed writing in first person present tense. The story seemed to perk up and flow faster. I’m also trying that with poetry and like it as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m working on another young adult book and debating between close third and first person. YA is usually written in first person and I’m not sure if I want to shake it up or stay with tried and true.


  3. Does this work with verbal presentations as well as writing? For instance, let’s say I’m I in the doghouse, I should try first person or close third to weasel my way out?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You should try gifts. Flowers and mochas are your best bet.


  5. Excellent summary, Dawne. I would add that to really be successful with 3rd person omniscient, you (as author) must know all your characters very well so the voice varies. Also, with this POV, the reader has less identity to any one character–even the protagonist. 🙂

    I’m trying to decide on first versus 3rd limited in the novel I’m kicking around in my head. Decisions decisions!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m doing the same. Good luck.


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