Understanding Point of View in Literature

What is a point of view in literature?
117 Imagery/Moment/Getty Images

When you read a story, have you ever thought about who is telling it? That component of story-telling is called the point of view (often abbreviated as POV) of a book is the method and perspective an author uses for conveying the story. Writers use point of view as a way to connect with the reader, and there are various ways in which a point of view can impact the experience of the reader. Read on to learn more about this aspect of storytelling and how it can enhance the emotional impact of the narrative. 

First-Person POV

A "first-person" point of view comes from the narrator of the story, which may be the writer or the main character. The storyline will use personal pronouns, like "I" and "me,"  and can sometimes sound a little bit like reading a personal journal or listening to someone talk. The narrator witnesses events first hand and expresses how it looks and feels from his or her experience. The first-person point of view can also be more than one person and will use "we" when referencing the group. 

Check out this example from "Huckleberry Finn" -

"Tom's most well now, and got his bullet around his neck on a watch-guard for a watch, and is always seeing what time it is, and so there ain't nothing more to write about, and I am rotten glad of it, because if I'd a knowed what a trouble it was to make a book I wouldn't a tackled it, and ain't a-going to no more."

Second Person POV

A second person point of view is seldom used when it comes to novels, which makes sense if you think about it. In second person, the writer speaks directly to the reader. This would be awkward and confusing in that format! But, it's popular in business writing, self-help articles and books, speeches, advertising and even song lyrics. If you are talking to someone about changing careers and giving advice for writing a resume, you might address the reader directly. In fact, this article is written in second person point of view. Check out the introductory sentence of this article, which addresses the reader: "When you read a story, have you ever thought about who is telling it?" 

Third Person POV

The third person is the most common type of narration when it comes to novels. In this point of view, there is an external narrator who is telling the story. The narrator will use pronouns like "he" or "she" or even "they" if they are talking about a group. The omniscient narrator provides an insight to the thoughts, feelings, and impressions of all the characters and events, not just one. We receive information from an all-knowing vantage point—and we even know what’s going on when nobody is around to experience it.

But the narrator can also provide a more objective or dramatic point of view, in which we are told events and allowed to react and have feelings as an observer. In this format, we are not provided the emotions, we experience emotions, based on the events we read about. While this may sound impersonal, it is just the opposite. This is much like observing a film or a play—and we know how powerful that can be!

Which point of view is best?

When determining which of the three points of view to use, it's important to consider what type of story you're writing. If you're telling a story from a personal perspective, such as that of your main character or of your own perspective, you'll want to use the first person. This is the most intimate type of writing, as it is quite personal. If what you're writing about is more informational and is providing the reader with information or instructions, then second-person is best. This is great for cookbooks, self-help books, and educational articles, like this one! If you want to tell a story from a broader point of view, knowing everything about everyone, then the third person is the way to go.  

The importance of point of view

A well-executed point of view is a crucial foundation for any piece of writing. Naturally, the point of view provides the context and backstory you need for the audience to understand the scene, and helps your audience best see your characters and interpret the material in the way you intend. But what some writers don't always realize, is that a solid point of view can actually help drive the crafting of the story. When you take narration and point of view into account, you can decide what details need to be included (an omniscient narrator knows everything, but a first-person narrator is limited to just those experiences) and can bring inspiration for creating drama and emotion. All of which are crucial to creating a quality creative work. 

Article edited by Stacy Jagodowski

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Fleming, Grace. "Understanding Point of View in Literature." ThoughtCo, Sep. 9, 2021, thoughtco.com/point-of-view-1857650. Fleming, Grace. (2021, September 9). Understanding Point of View in Literature. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/point-of-view-1857650 Fleming, Grace. "Understanding Point of View in Literature." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/point-of-view-1857650 (accessed March 20, 2023).