Point of View in Literature -- Perspectives

In order to fully understand point of view in literature, we need to explore the different perspectives from which a story may be told. Bear in mind that the Perspective is the scene as viewed through the eyes/mind of the chosen character. The story, however, can be told from any one of several points-of-view regardless of the perspective chosen.

Single Major Character Viewpoint

The story can be told from first, second or third person POV but it is told throughout by just one character. The reader discovers everything in the story at exactly the same time as the viewpoint character does. You cannot hint at things that are to come if the main character doesn’t know they are coming. You cannot give the character unnatural foresight-unless of course he is psychic.

The single-character perspective is the most common viewpoint used in children’s literature and a lot of adult literature as well. It allows you all the descriptive forces of third person and almost as much intimacy as first person. It is much easier for the reader to identify with just one character.

point of view in literature

Minor Character Viewpoint

Again the story can be told from the first, second or third person POV. It is told from the perspective of only one character just like the example above--except it is a minor character doing the telling. This technique is used in The Great Gatsby. Nick is merely an observer of the story, while Gatsby is the protagonist.

This method isn’t chosen very often in modern literature, but can be used to good effect in literary works where you need to keep some distance to really see what is happening. Or perhaps you need a more sympathetic character than your protagonist. Or perhaps you need to keep information which is known to the protagonist secret from the audience in order to maintain an air of mystique as in the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Omniscient Viewpoint

Basically, omniscient perspective means that the story is not told by any one of the characters, but is rather commented on by a god-like, omnipotent being who can choose to dip into the head of any of the characters and reveal things that have occurred in the past or which will happen in the future.

This was once a very popular method of storytelling. It is less so now, especially in the North American market. But as I said earlier, Joseph Conrad was a master of this and, if it is done well, it can add dimension to your writing.

It is essential that each character have a distinctive voice so that the reader is never confused about who he is listening to at the moment. This is an interesting device for an epic novel which explores a theme with several tangled subplots. point of iew in literature

Multiple Viewpoints

This is another popular perspective in stories today. The story is told by only one character at a time, but the viewpoint character switches between two or more characters throughout the course of the novel. This can be a very effective tool when used for the right reasons. Remember, it has to add something to your story to have it told from different points of view because you lose intimacy and sometimes momentum by switching from one character to the next and then you increase the danger of losing your reader unless the transitions are well done.

Consider what are you going to gain from the switch: Needed information? A different perspective to explore a good subplot? A chance to switch locations?

Incidentally, this is probably my favorite perspective to write from. You aren’t stuck with the same character throughout the entire story and you get to reveal the story from several different angles which can keep the story fresh. This is a popular form in many genres including romance, horror, literary fiction, mysteries, and science fiction.

It can be done effectively, by switching viewpoints with alternating chapters or scenes. Or it can be done in a more relaxed manner where you slip from one mind to the next in a crowd, for example. One person bumps into the next and we change heads. You don’t always need to distinguish a point of view from one scene to the next. But as a writer you do need to know exactly whose head you’re in at any particular moment and the various voices must be different enough that your readers know as well.

It is a great device when it works well. If you aren’t sure which perspective is best for a particular scene, write it from both perspectives and then pick the one that works best.

To add to the confusion, the creative writer can also mix points of view. For example, in a novel with three or four different viewpoints you could use first person for the scenes in which your protagonist is the filter and then switch to third person for the other viewpoints as Justine Larbalestier does in her Magic or Madness trilogy. This gives us a clear, strong first person connection with the main character and the benefit of added angles of other viewpoints in third person.

Point of view is one of the most important tools for a writer and choosing the most effective POV can help you find the right voice for your novel. Once you have chosen your perspective and the POV, consistency is the key point. Understanding the workings of these creative devices will help you avoid annoying or confusing your reader.

point of view lesson

Point of View in Literature
First Person Point of View
Second Person Point of View
Third Person Point of View
Omniscient Point of View

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