- First Person POV. The first person narrator is considered the more intimate as the narrator is a person in the story. But, also because the narrator is just one person it is limited. In other words, your detective walking the crime scene cannot know what the criminal is thinking as he flees the country. Let’s look at an example of first person POV from Lee Child’s novel Kill Floor, the first of his Jack Reacher series: “I was arrested in Eno’s Diner at twelve o’clock. I was eating eggs and drinking coffee. A late breakfast, not lunch. I was wet and tired after a long walk in heavy rain. All the way from the highway to the edge of town.” Using first person POV you’re able to enter the head of your narrating character, explore his thoughts and feelings, his wants and dislikes. But, you can’t do that with anyone else in the story.
- Second Person POV. I must confess I’ve never read a novel that used the second person POV. It’s very rare and takes an accomplished writer to pull it off. We usually think of writing in the second person POV for technical writing, advertising, or song lyrics. In the novel or short story it can sound like one of those “chose your own adventure” games if not done correctly. When written well, the second person can pull you into the action and increase the sense of urgency and intimacy of your story. After all “you” are in the story. Here’s an example of the second person POV from Jay McInerny’s Bright Lights, Big City: “You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy.”
- Third Person POV. The third person POV is probably the most familiar POV to most people. After all that’s how we tell a story about someone else. You know: “He went to the store just at closing time and when they wouldn’t let him it, he kicked in the door.” The third person POV can be subdivided into third person limited and third person omniscient. In the limited POV, a character is discussed in the third person and everything is seen through that person’s eyes. This form of POV has the advantage of providing some of the intimacy of the first person POV and the luxury of changing to a different character’s point of view. The disadvantage is that it is limited like the first person POV so that the POV character cannot know what others are thinking. One example of third person limited POV comes from Earnest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea: “He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. In the first forty days a boy had been with him.” In contrast, the omniscient POV narrator sees and knows the thoughts and actions of every character. We can see this in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin: “They attacked him in various ways; with barefaced questions, ingenious suppositions, and distant surmises; but he eluded the skill of them all; and they were at last obliged to accept the second-hand intelligence of their neighbour Lady Lucas. Her report was highly favourable. Sir William had been delighted with him. He was quite young, wonderfully handsome, extremely agreeable, and, to crown the whole, he meant to be at the next assembly with a large party. Nothing could be more delightful.”
Next time I’ll review the details of various do’s and don’ts for writing different points of view.