Wednesday, February 1, 2012

First Person vs. Third Person in Fiction: Character POV

If you're not familiar with the different "points-of-view" in fiction, there are two main types; first person and third person. Third person fiction can be further divided into two categories which include omniscient and limited.

First Person
Writing in first person means that you are writing as a character in the story; sometimes narrating and sometimes playing an active role. You pretend to be someone else, always use the pronouns 'I' or 'me' to refer to yourself as your character. There are many advantages and disadvantages to using this point-of-view. You do get a closer look at the thoughts of the main character in your story (which is very important to readers), but you have to 'stay with' your protagonist throughout the story. You can't really peek into the lives and thoughts of the other characters. The reader can only know as much as the main character knows at the time and the main character has no idea what goes on with the other characters when he's not around. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and Frankenstein are examples of first person.

Limited Third Person
Limited third person can listen to and experience many character's thoughts, but usually only one at a time. You don't switch from character to character very often, especially in one scene. It if it does switch between, characters it does so either between scenes or chapters. Limited third person is becoming very popular in modern fiction because it is easier to create the character-reader bond. One of the things I liked about Eragon (mostly a limited third-person book) is that it does a great job at at getting  inside each of the main characters' heads, develop their motives and how they think.

Omniscient Third Person
The complete opposite of limited third person, omniscient third person is just what it sounds like. It doesn't really stay with any one character's view. This is sometimes an advantage, but it is far less personal and I haven't seen it used often in modern literature. More and more readers want to read fiction that puts you inside the character's head. You can't do that effectively unless your writing stirs an empathy and understanding in the reader for the main character's feelings and it's hard to do that with third-person.
I believe omniscient third person is found in a lot of classic literature.

Deciding on a Point-of-View
When deciding on what point of view to write in there many things to consider. Will it work for your story? Is it too limited or will it give your readers the information they need to understand the plot?
Remember, you aren't just a writer. You are also a reader. When you write, use the knowledge you have as a reader to your advantage. Don't just think about it as a writer. Forget that you wrote it. Forget that you've ever written anything. Ask yourself, as a reader, do you genuinely like and enjoy the story? In order to create a convincing character that is interesting to the reader, you have to become that character. Climb inside his head. Think his thoughts. Justify his actions as he would justify them. If you don't know your character that well, how can you expect your reader to know them? The reader wants to feel what the main character feels and know his thoughts. Do that effectively, add a great plot and you'll have a good story.


  1. It is HIGH time you posted something else.... I mean come on! It's not like you have a life! :D

  2. By the way, since I didn't say it before, this is a very clear and well-written mini-expo on POV for fiction. Nice job.