I’ve recently begun to notice that many writers don’t exactly understand the concept of certain points of view. Some don’t label it correctly. Others don’t know when they break point of view (PoV).
I feel like I should at least try to clarify this whole thing for those of you who aren’t too familiar with PoV and how/why it’s used.
PoV is a very important tool when crafting a story. It’s so important, in fact, that if you break PoV it can be jarring and seem completely amateur, and if you pull it off well, you’ll end up seeming like a professional.
Whether you’re a new writer or have been around the block a few times, actually spending time on improving your understanding of PoV will definitely pay off.
Limited And Omniscient:
Before we even get to the different points of view, you need to understand the importance of scope.
Scope is the way in which you interact with the different viewpoints. It determines how much your reader knows and how intimately your reader will get to know your characters.
Limited: Limited scope is generally used when you only want your reader to only know what your character knows. If your character doesn’t know that there is a guy standing behind him with a knife, then your reader won’t know. If your character can’t see the trap right in front of them, then your reader likely can’t either. Limited, well, limits what information is revealed to the reader at any given moment.
Omniscient: Omniscient is the exact opposite of Limited. If you want your reader to know something, but your characters to stay in the dark, it’s totally possible. If there’s a group of people and one of them is about to pull a gun out and start shooting, you can easily spell it out without having the protagonist know at all.
These are the two main scopes you can use in conjunction with your point of view. Luckily, the two different points of view are easy to remember as well!
First-Person And Third-Person:
Now that you’ve gotten scope down, you need to actually know the difference between the two main points of view before you can get started.
Most people will tend to only write one or the other throughout their careers. A good writer will learn to write both and use both throughout their works.
First-Person: First-Person PoV is when you write from the direct perspective of your character. Instead of using “he said, she slept, they jumped”, you’ll use “I said, I slept, we jumped”. You’re in the mind of your character and experiencing the story through their eyes. Because of its very nature, you can’t really write First-Person with an Omniscient scope without confusing the hell out of your reader.
Third-Person: Third-Person PoV is basically the opposite of First-Person. You’re writing from the perspective of the narrator. You know what your character thinks, sees, and experiences, but you’re telling it from the perspective of an invisible narrator who is there alongside your character. You will use “he said, she slept, they jumped” instead of “I said, I slept, we jumped”. Because Third-Person allows for a lot more freedom, you can use whichever scope you want with it.
Now that you know the different points of view and the different scopes, you’ll need to know how to combine them effectively.
How And Why It’s Used:
Combining the different scopes with the different points of view are far easier than you’d think. In fact, let me give you the different combinations in an easy list.
- Third-Person Limited
- Third-Person Omniscient
- First-Person Limited
You’ll notice there is no First-Person Omniscient. This is because the very nature of First-Person demands that you only see what the character does. Combining First-Person with Omniscient wouldn’t really work.
If you’re an avid reader (and you really should be), you’ll find that certain genres generally lean more towards one of the three than the other. Here is another list based on my findings of the most common combination for a few genres.
- Epic Fantasy: Third-Person Limited
- Urban Fantasy: Third-Person Limited
- Any Genre of Young Adult: First-Person Limited
- Romance: First-Person Limited
- Science Fiction: Third-Person Limited
- Paranormal: Third-Person Limited
- Horror: Third-Person Limited
- Suspense: First-Person Limited
- Autobiography: First-Person Limited
In general, Third-Person Limited is the most popular choice because it allows just enough freedom for the story to be told well without spilling too much information. First-Person Limited is often used in genres where the reader needs to understand the deepest feelings of the characters and relate to them on a more personal level.
Third-Person Omniscient is very rarely used, and even then in only a small selection of genres (e.g. Epic Fantasy). There reason for that is because it is very difficult for writers to pull it off well enough to be better than the other option. When it’s done well, it’s done really well. When it’s bad, it’s incredibly bad.
These were just the basics of PoV to help anyone who might not fully understand it. The discussion becomes more complex when you introduce tenses, but I’ll save that for another day.
For now, just try to understand the difference between the different points of view and why they’re used.
Which PoV do you prefer?
Let me know in the comments!
If you liked this post, you might also enjoy: