In fiction, point of view, or POV, generally refers to the use of first, second, or third person.
What is First Person Point of View?
If first person, the story is narrated by a character in the story. An example of a sentence written in first person would be, “I walked to the shops.’
The narrating character does not necessarily have to be the central character of the tale. Such as Dr. Watson in Sherlock Holmes.
However, sometimes it’s hard to define what constitutes a ‘central character’. For instance the protagonist in Donna Tartt’s The Secret History is arguably not the central driver of the action in that tale, or the person with the biggest problem.
However, we experience the entire tale from their perspective, and are given access to the impact of the events on the narrator. In this sense, the narrator is the protagonist, and a central character.
‘Voice’ may be particularly strong in first person tales.
For instance Huckleberry Finn, in which the accent, and characteristics of a person from a particular place and time are communicated very clearly and powerfully to great effect.
In first person sometimes the tale is told from a person with limited knowledge about the events, or limited self knowledge.
This can open up an interesting ironic gap between the way that the character perceives themselves and the way the audience sees them.
For instance, when a character thinks they are a hero, but the audience isn’t so sure.
What is Second Person Point of View?
Second person is used far less frequently by authors than first or third person. In second person, the narrator refers to the central character in the story as ‘You.’ For instance, ‘You walk to the shops.’
It can be quite engaging because it actively encourages you to imagine yourself in the tale. Perhaps the emotions are more immediate in this way
But it raises questions. Firstly, its not the way we are used to be being told tales. First and third are the most common way we are told stories.
Secondly, I think it raises questions about tense. For instance, if the narrator is saying ‘You walked down the shops’, I immediately to start to wonder when I was supposed to have done this thing … maybe this is naive but it is less intuitive than first or third person, where this question will not arise.
One interesting and unsettling effect that can be utilised in second person is making the reader complicit in an action that makes them feel uncomfortable.
This might perhaps make the reader aware of how strongly they reject the action being described.
For instance, ‘You take no pity on the worker who comes to you to complain about workplace bullying.’
Doesn’t that make you wish you have been more supportive of the poor person?
What is Third Person Point of View?
Third person is used far more commonly, and features a narrator describing the events of a person who is not the narrator. For instance, ‘She walked to the shops.’
Third person is often omniscient or limited.
In third person omniscient the narrator knows everything about the world being described, as though the narrator were a God in the world.
For instance, ‘The universe unfolded in this way until Harry looked into his soul and decided to walk to the shops. Little did he know that across the world thousands of others were preparing to do the same thing.’
A style that is very popular at the moment is third person limited. This is when the narrator has roughly the same amount of knowledge as the character they are describing, and can more or less only know what the characters know or what the audience can infer from the narration.
Free Indirect Discourse Explained with Examples
This is a technique that is described by literary critic James woods. It’s a way to bring the narrator in third person into closer alignment with the consciousness of the character they are describing, so that the narrator appears to enter the mind of the character, and be the character for a moment.
For instance, ‘I must go to the shops, he thought. He set out quickly because the shops would likely fill up any second and that annoying old man with the nose hair would try to talk to him.’
In this example the narrator has described the actions of character as though the narrator has intimate access to the interior spaces of the character, without having to write ‘he thought.’