I. What is Point of View?
Point of view (POV) is what the character or narrator telling the story can see (his or her perspective). The author chooses “who” is to tell the story by determining the point of view. Depending on who the narrator is, he/she will be standing at one point and seeing the action. This viewpoint will give the narrator a partial or whole view of events as they happen. Many stories have the protagonist telling the story, while in others, the narrator may be another character or an outside viewer, a narrator who is not in the story at all. The narrator should not be confused with the author, who is the writer of the story and whose opinions may not be those written into the narrative.
II. Examples of Point of View
Sandra Cisneros wrote a story called “Eleven.” The point of view is the perspective of 11-year-old Rachel. The story takes place at school during her birthday and is about her humiliation of receiving an old sweater. Throughout the story, she speaks in the first-person point of view, sharing her thoughts as events unfold.
“Only today I wish I didn’t have only eleven years rattling inside me like pennies in a tin Band-Aid box. Today I wish I was one hundred and two instead of eleven because if I was one hundred and two I’d have known what to say when Mrs. Price put the red sweater on my desk” (Cisneros).
A fun activity is to rewrite the story from each character’s point of view. What is the teacher thinking as she tries to get rid of this ugly red sweater in her classroom? Maybe it reminds her of her demanding mother! How does the sweater feel being tossed and pushed around, unwanted and unloved? Maybe some sweet old lady had knitted it with love for a granddaughter who now has rejected it. Why does Sylvia say it belongs to Rachel? Is she jealous of Rachel for some reason? Each character will have a slightly different story from his or her perspective.
III. Types of Point of View
First person: The example above with little Rachel is told in the first-person point of view, meaning that we are seeing events through the eyes of the character telling the story.
Second person: In second person, the narrator is speaking to YOU. This isn’t very common in fiction, unless the narrator is trying to talk to the reader personally. We see second-person point of view mostly in poems, speeches, instructional writing, and persuasive articles.
Third person: With third-person point of view, the narrator is describing what’s seen, but as a spectator. If the narrator is a character in the story, then we are reading what he or she observes as the story unfolds. This narrator has three possible perspectives.
- Limited – In limited third-person, the narrator sees only what’s in front of him/her, a spectator of events as they unfold and unable to read any other character’s mind.
- Omniscient – An omniscient narrator sees all, much as an all knowing god of some kind. He or she sees what each character is doing and can see into each character’s mind. This is common with an external character, who is standing above, watching the action below (think of a person with a crystal ball, peering in).
- Limited Omniscient – The limited omniscient third-person narrator can only see into one character’s mind. He/she might see other events happening, but only knows the reasons of one character’s actions in the story.
IV. The Importance of Point of View
Point of view is important in a story because it helps the reader understand characters’ feelings and actions. Each character will have his or her own perspective, so whoever is telling the story will impact the reader’s opinion of other characters and events.
As in the example above with Rachel and the red sweater, each point of view could be an entirely different story. Perhaps Rachel had embarrassed Sylvia horribly one day, so the sympathy we feel for Rachel in her perspective may change to sympathy for Sylvia if the point of view was switched.
Additionally, reading the story from a character in the story versus an external character changes the amount of information a reader has as the story unfolds. With an omniscient third-person, we can see everything before other characters do, which gives us forewarning about other events. With a limited third-person, we are not allowed to see other events until the narrator does so. This may leave us with more surprises as we read.
V. Examples of Point of View in Pop Culture
A very popular (and very old!) game is Mario Brothers. A gamer took the game and made a video of it in first-person point of view. It’s almost a dizzying experience to see Mario catch coins and jump around from his viewpoint.
Arcades have had games with a first-person POV for years. You sit in the console to drive the car in a race, or use the pistol and fire at targets. Racing games are probably the easiest to play as a first-person. With most games, you control the character in a game, but almost from a second-person POV. You can see your character as you control it within the game space just as another character would.
VI. Examples of Point of View in Literature
“Diary of a Wimpy Kid” by Jeff Kinney has been cracking kids up since 2007, as the protagonist, Greg Heffley, details his experiences in his trusty journal; he claims it’s NOT a diary. He even supplies stick drawings with bubble speech to illustrate special, usually devastating or hilarious, occurrences. Written in the first-person POV, we follow him through his days with his friends and family. Greg’s dry sense of reality as he tells his sad tales leaves us giggling sympathetically – you can’t help but feel sorry for him, and many kids can relate to his frustrations. There are nine books as of 2015, each one focusing on specific conflicts Greg must overcome as he makes his way through middle school and attempts to fit in with his family.
“First of all, let me get something straight: This is a Journal, not a diary. I know what it says on the cover, but when Mom went out to buy this thing I specifically told her to get one that didn’t say “diary” on it.
Great. All I need is for some jerk to catch me carrying this book around and get the wrong idea” (Kinney 1).
The book is so popular, that it was also made into a movie.
VII. Related Terms
Narrator: The narrator is the person who tells the story. There are different types of narrators, such as internal and external. Each narrator will have his or her own perspective or point of view as the story is told.
Viewpoint: Viewpoint is the perspective at which something is seen. If three people see an accident, each person will have his or her own version of what happened depending on where the person was at the time it happened.
Point of view is an important part of all writing. It makes stories interesting, gives research its serious tone, poems and persuasive works their personal tone, and allows readers to easily follow all writing. Keeping in mind the different types of POV and when to use them will make your writing stronger.