Point of View in Literature

The discussion of point of view in literature is one of the touchiest craft-debates among writers and editors. Yet choosing your point of view in literature is one of the most important things you will do as you plan your story. And to do it well, one must be aware of the intricacies of viewpoint and consider how the viewpoint will impact the story.

Artists don’t generally like “rules” and so they balk when advised not to write in first person present tense because it is too hard to sell—or told that they shouldn’t use the omniscient viewpoint because it simply isn’t done very often these days. I can understand these feelings. As a writer myself I want to stretch my abilities and try different styles and forms. In fact, if there are a lot of rules, I’m apt to rebel.

Yet as an editor I can see the other side of the coin as well. Editors have seen omniscient viewpoint done poorly more often than not. True omniscient is very hard to do well. Yet there is no denying the mastery of Joseph Conrad, who wrote books in which the point of view might change with each sentence, sometimes five times in one paragraph. In most instances, the effect would be dizzying, but Conrad could pull it off so that you always knew who was talking and it felt perfectly natural.

Rules are made to assist the writer—to eliminate some of the greater difficulties, however if you feel confident, go ahead. Break the rules. But be sure that your choice of POV makes the most of your story. And never forget that story is everything to the reader. He/she is not interested in the writer’s angst or cleverness if it does not fit well within the story.

The key to successful choice of viewpoint is understanding thoroughly how your choice of POV will impact your story.

We often hear of point of view referred to by the pronouns we use to tell our story.

First Person Point of View
Second Person Point of View
Third Person Point of View