Thinking About Point Of View


Whether you’re writing a short story, a novel, or a poem, point of view is important. There are many different ways to tell a story. You can tell a story from first person point of view in past tense (i.e. “I woke up and went to the store.”), third person point of view – limited (i.e. “She woke up and went to the store.”), third person omniscient (i.e. “She woke up and went to the store, and she wasn’t very happy about it.”), second person (i.e. “You woke up and went to the store.”) and a whole other variety of options.

How you choose to tell a story is just as important as what actually happens in a story. You can have the most complex and provocative plot, but if you aren’t using the best point of view, it may not come across. Here are a few questions you may want to ask yourself before deciding on a point of view.

Past or Present – How do you want the story to be revealed? Do you want to use past tense or present tense? Past tense implies that some time has gone by and the narrator is reflecting back to tell the story. This may change the way the story is told. For example, it’s usually unlikely that the main character dies if the story is being told in first person, past tense. (Not impossible, but unlikely.) If a story is in present tense, that make the reader feel like she is right there in the middle of the action. I thought The Hunger Games was a great use of present tense, for example, because the reader was right there with Katniss, wondering if she was going to survive.

Omniscient or Limited – Who’s side are you on? Do you want your readers to know the thoughts and emotions of one character, all characters, or no characters? Is the narrator an objective party that has his own thoughts and beliefs? I thought The Book Thief had a very creative use of point of view. It’s a brilliant decision to tell a World War II/Holocaust story from the perspective of Death. One thing to remember, here, is that the reader may have more sympathy for a character whose thoughts and emotions are known. This is not always true, of course, but aren’t you more likely to sympathize with someone when you understand why they are behaving the way that they are?

Reliable or Unreliable – Is your character telling the truth? Sometimes it can be really entertaining and rewarding to read a story from the point of view of an unreliable narrator. One of the most famous unreliable narrators in the coming of age genre would certainly be Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye. Of course, you could argue that any first person narrator is unreliable. Everyone tells a story with his or her own perspective, and that might not exactly match up with someone else’s perspective. If a car accident happens, for example, ten people can be watching it and tell you ten different version of events. So it’s important to think about exactly how reliable you want your narrator to be.

These are just a few things to consider when deciding on point of view for your story. What are your experiences with point of view?

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