How To Use Point Of View In Writing (Examples Of 1st, 2nd, 3rd & 4th)
One of the main tools you’ll have in writing fiction is ‘point of view.’ This, alongside tense, are two of the most fundamental mechanics of any piece of writing.
Before you start, you’re going to need to decide what point of view your story or piece will be written, and this will be the foundation that all of your prose will spring from.
But what different points of view are there? If you’ve ever written a story before, there’s a good chance you’ll know what 1st and 3rd are—but what about the much lesser-used 2nd?
Is there such a thing as the 4th point of view? The truth is that this is actually a much deeper topic than you might have initially thought, and if you’ve been wondering about it then you’ve come to the right place!
In this article we’re going to be taking you through everything there is to know about point of view in writing. We’ll break down each with examples, and go a little deeper into how they are used within fiction and other forms of writing.
We’ve also made sure to include an extensive Frequently Asked Questions section at the end of this article to help answer any questions you may have left over at the end.
Brief Overview Of Point Of View
Point of view is the concept we use to describe the perspective that the piece of writing is being told. We can break them up into four main categories:
1st Person Perspective – this is simply ‘I wrote the article.’ It is usually a singular narrator recalling their experiences.
2nd Person Perspective – a much lesser known perspective which would be ‘You wrote the article.’ It’s used in more obscure forms of literature such as Choose Your Own Adventure Novels.
3rd Person Perspective – this is the most classic story-telling perspective and would be something like: ‘The woman wrote the article.’
These are the main three main forms of POV that you will see be used within popular fiction across all genres. There is a 4th perspective, but that’s a little more complicated and something we will cover in detail below.
Whichever a writer chooses to use will have a massive effect on the type of story they’re trying to tell. There are certain kinds of stories that can only be told from one perspective, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages.
In the sections below, we’re going to give you a comprehensive overview of each and how they have been used by authors to create rich stories and unique characters.
1st Person Perspective
1st Person POV is one of the two ‘kings’ of literature. For the purposes of this article, we’re just going to refer to it as ‘1st.’ Most authors choose either 1st or 3rd perspective for their stories as these are considered to be the most intuitive when it comes to telling a coherent story.
Stories written in 1st person are usually shown from the perspective of one character, either recounting or experiencing their story (depending on the tense.)
It is one of the most limited forms of perspective you can use within a story, however it comes with a level of character intimacy that can be perfect for stories with a deep focus on character.
1st person allows you to more easily connect the reader to the character retelling the events. It can help with description, as you can easily describe internal senses and passing moments as they experience them.
It also allows you to easily explore a character’s thoughts, fears, and inner turmoil.
When it comes to tense in 1st, writers generally use either past or present. Past can be very useful when creating a character who is looking back upon their life, whereas present can be useful to better ground the reader within a scene.
Whichever one you choose will have a huge impact on the kind of prose you’re able to create, as well as the form that your story will take.
Some great examples of popular novels written in 1st include The Great Gatsby, Great Expectations, The Martian, Ready Player One, and The Name of The Wind.
If you’d like to get a good base understanding of how this tense can be used to create captivating stories, these are some great novels to start with.
1st Person Perspective And Multiple Viewpoints
In 3rd POV (which we will cover in more detail below,) you’re able to easily swap perspectives depending on the form of your story. However, at 1st it is seen as much more difficult to effectively.
But that’s not to say you can’t do it, and there are many stories that use 1st POV with multiple viewpoints.
The most difficult part of this is making sure the reader knows which character is currently narrating the story, and because of this writers will usually only swap perspectives at clear breakpoints such as new chapters or sections.
1st Person Perspective And Unreliable Narrators
Another key strength of 1st person is if a writer is looking to create an unreliable narrator. Unreliable narrators can enrich stories, particularly on re-reads, and allow you to create layers of depth within the plot, character, and events going on in your prose.
A perfect example of a 1st person narrator who is unreliable is Holden Caulfield in J.D Salinger’s legendary novel The Catcher In The Rye.
Without straying into spoiler territory if you haven’t read it before (which you totally should, by the way,) many of the events, thoughts, and feelings expressed by Holden within this story are implied to be unreliable.
Because he is a flawed human he sees the world in a different way than the reader might, and it does wonders for making the story complex and layered.
Techniques such as crafting unreliable narrators are some of the more advanced things you can do within 1st person prose, and highlight some of its key strengths. The more limited the perspective, the more you’re able to explore a character’s heart.
2nd Person Perspective
In many ways, you can look at 2nd person perspective as the black sheep of POV. It is much less frequently used by authors and is generally considered hard to use well.
But that’s not to say you should stray away from it, and it can be a great tool in your box to create a unique and interesting story.
2nd person tends to use second-person pronouns such as ‘you’ or ‘your.’ It’s easy to see why this could be difficult for a story because it requires the reader to take an additional jump to place themselves within a story.
To elaborate, let’s take a quick look at an example of how 2nd looks on a page:
“You moved into the dark cellar and felt a sudden drop in temperature, causing the hairs on the back of your neck to rise.”
As you can see, this puts the reader in a scenario where they are experiencing the story. This is one of the greatest strengths and weaknesses of this perspective, as it increases the sensory closeness of the reader but limits how much you’re able to do with the central character.
But even though it is a more difficult perspective to work with, there are some examples of authors creating impressive pieces of writing with it. A great example of this is the novel If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino.
In this book, Calvino uses the perspective as a tool to create a postmodernist story that directly involves the reader.
2nd is also used frequently within Choose Your Own Adventure Novels, which employ the perspective as a way of creating a more immersive gaming experience.
In these stories, the plot and characters are determined by the choices of the reader as well as RNG (random number generated) combat or stat-check scenarios.
As a general rule of thumb, 2nd person POV is not considered a beginner-friendly perspective to use if you’re a new writer. That said, if you find yourself with a story idea that fits well, then you should use the best tool available to you.
3rd Person Perspective
3rd Person Perspective is the other most commonly used POV by authors. In short, 3rd is like the author explaining the events of someone else’s story. It uses third-person pronouns such as ‘he,’ ‘his,’ ‘she,’ and ‘her,’ as a way of describing character and motion.
3rd is generally considered to be the most versatile of the perspectives that writers have at their disposal and is often chosen for any story that involves large casts of characters.
For example, 3rd is a perfect match for epic fantasy or huge sci-fi stories. It allows you to cover vast distances of the world you’ve created, and share multiple perspectives of different events happening across the world.
Because it is so widely used and developed, 3rd person prose can be split up into two categories that we’re going to explore below.
3rd Person Limited
This is a very popular version of 3rd person perspective and can be seen as a happy middle-ground between 3rd and 1st. In 3rd person limited, the story is written in 3rd person but limited to the character that you are narrating.
For example, let’s say you have a character who is walking through a dangerous cave. In the shadows, there is a dragon waiting to come out and breathe fire on them.
The character you’re narrating in 3rd limited does not know about this hiding dragon, so you cannot describe the dragon outside of their perspective.
To expand, let’s say you have two characters speaking. The character you are currently narrating in limited form has no way of knowing what the other is thinking, so as an author you can only describe what they can see and think themselves.
The moment you change perspective mid-scene, or explicitly tell the reader something that the character does not know, you are breaking limited and your prose will transform into 3rd omniscient.
So then—why would you want to use 3rd limited? Limited allows you to create unique characters who think and feel independent of others. In this way, able to do a lot of the same things mechanically as you would with 1st.
It also allows you to hide secrets from the reader that you may want to reveal later on in the story.
A really great example of 3rd limited is George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, in which there are countless limited perspective characters, who all walk their own separate stories and are all written to be unique and flawed.
It’s worth noting that 3rd limited is the current dominant form of 3rd POV chosen by authors, particularly in the genres of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. It is considered one of the easier POVs to write in, but newer writers often struggle with breaking limited and slipping into omniscient.
3rd Person Omniscient
3rd omniscient is considered to be one of the most versatile, yet complex forms of perspective that a writer can use.
It differs from 3rd limited in one key way—an author using this form is able to flit between different perspectives and describe things that the characters cannot see. When used correctly, omniscient can be a great way to give additional scope to the reader.
You might then be wondering—who exactly is the narrator in a 3rd omniscient narrative? Well, it is the omniscient narrator! You should think of it as most similar to old stories like fables, fairytales, or sagas.
These were narrated orally by a singular person who knows everything about the story and is able to give a wide scope of different perspectives and events happening.
Omniscient is considered one of the most tricky forms of writing, as an author will need to be able to know when to switch perspectives without breaking the flow of the story. It was used much more frequently in the past but is still tackled by more ambitious writers today.
Probably the best example of 3rd omniscient is Frank Herbet’s sci-fi behemoth Dune, where he uses omniscient narration to great effect. If you’re looking to learn more about it, Dune is a great place to start.
4th Person Perspective
Now we come to the least used form of POV, and one only picked up by writers who are experimenting and trying to create something truly unique. 4th uses fourth-person pronouns like ‘one,’ ‘someone,’ ‘somebody,’ ‘anyone,’ and ‘anybody.’
If this seems foreign to you, then you aren’t alone! It’s a very difficult form to use properly and doesn’t have much practical use within fiction.
This perspective is extremely restrictive and there aren’t many examples of it being used to create effective pieces of writing.
Still, it’s a good place to experiment with more abstract forms of writing, and who knows—perhaps one day there will be a classic piece of fiction written in 4th.
Which Form Is Best For Your Story?
This is a difficult question to answer, but one of the most important things you’ll want to consider before you start writing. For a new writer, we would suggest you either pick 1st or 3rd limited, as these are the most simplistic to get started with.
1st person is great if you want to really get into the shoes of your character. If you want to create a piece of writing that deals with internal strife, or requires a limited perspective, then this is a great choice for you.
Conversely, if you’re looking to write a story that has multiple perspectives, then we’d suggest going with 3rd limited. You won’t lose much in terms of how well you can explore a character, and you’ll be able to have multiple perspectives.
If you’re set on using omniscient, then we won’t say anything to dissuade you, just know that it can be more tricky to work with, and you’ll want to research a little to see how authors have used this in the past.
As for 2nd and 4th – feel free to experiment, but just know that they’re much more difficult and you’ll need the right story for them to fit.
We hope that this guide has taken you through the main points of view that writers use when crafting stories. Each one is a separate skill that takes a long time to learn, and we’d generally suggest getting used to one or two before moving on to the next.
All perspectives are valid here, you just have to make sure that they properly fit your story.
We wish you the best of luck in your writing endevours, and hope that the artform gives you a lot of happy hours and catharsis; no matter what story you need to tell.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is There Such Thing As 5th Person?
There isn’t really such thing as 5th person perspective. Some people have suggested classifications for this term, but it’s generally not excepted as something that exists.
Can You Write With A Mixture Of Perspectives In A Story?
In fiction, there are opportunities for you to mix perspectives, but it is less frequently done because it can throw the reader off and detract from the story you’re trying to tell.
Earlier in the article, we mentioned the novel Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss, which is a good example of a perspective switch.
The beginning of the story is written in 3rd person omniscient, then it switches to 1st person when a certain character begins telling their story.
This is used as a narrative device and fits the story very well—so if you’re thinking about using something like this, make sure it’s suitable for your story!
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Stuart Conover is a father, husband, published author, blogger, geek, entrepreneur, horror fanatic, and runs a few websites including Horror Tree!