Point Of View: Main Types And Mistakes To Avoid

Point of view is something most new writers struggle with. And how would they not? It can be overwhelming to learn all the rules, especially when so many great authors have successfully broken them. But, to learn how to run, you must first be able to crawl.

Why is point of view so important? It’s a tool that helps you tell your story and is one of the most easily noticeable signs of inexperience when not done right. Readers will lose interest in a novel with poorly done point of view, even if they’re not familiar with how point of view is supposed to be done. This is because many of the mistakes you can make are so jarring that they ruin the reader’s immersion. Always remember that point of view filters everything in your story, and can be quite powerful if you know what to do with it.

Point of view

Different Points of view

There are three main ways of using point of view. Each comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages, and some are limited to certain genres.

First person point of view

“It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.” – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

First person point of view uses pronouns such as I, me, or in some cases we. It’s used for autobiographical as well as narrative writing and was the first point of view ever used. It has since gotten many variations and forms, especially related to who the narrator of the story may be. Yet, one thing is always consistent: the story is told from the perspective of this person, and by them, whether they only observe the events or take part in them.

Many great authors have used the unreliable narrator to great effects: the narrator may not be telling the reader what actually happened, or they may be otherwise too unreliable to reveal all the key events. However, most beginners are probably better off not experimenting with this.

Mistakes to avoid

When using first person point of view, there are a few things you should be aware of. Naturally, as the readers will observe the world from your narrator’s perspective, they will be inclined to like them and take their side. This means there’s a lot you can get away with. The worst mistake you can make is have a flat, boring narrator/main character. It’s especially unforgivable in first person point of view because you get to show your narrator’s inner world and feelings. Your readers will have an insight into their actions and motivations. This is why anti-heroes are good for this point of view.

Second person point of view

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” – Henry David Thoreau

Second person point of view uses pronouns you, your and yours. You won’t see it in literature much – mostly it’s used when addressing an audience, such as in this article, or in ads.

Still, if you’ve grown up with Choose Your Own Adventure stories, you should be familiar with this point of view. Here, the reader roleplays as the character in the novel, and this point of view helps immersion.

Mistakes to avoid

The most important thing to remember is not to break this point of view. Most writers don’t have a lot of experience writing a narrative in second person, so it’s easy to get carried away into first or third person.

Third person point of view

“He is just what a young man ought to be,” said she, “sensible, good humoured, lively; and I never saw such happy manners! — so much ease, with such perfect good breeding!” Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice

Third person point of view uses pronouns he or she.

There are many ways of using third person point of view, but the main differentiation is between third person omniscient and third person limited. With omniscient point of view, you may show events that no characters are there to see (the proverbial tree falling in the forest, for example). Also, you may choose to show or tell how characters are feeling without being tied down to the perspective of a single character.

Another option is third person limited, which stays close to one character’s perspective. In his A Song of Ice and Fire, George Martin has several point of view characters through whose eyes we see all the events that take place. Each character brings their own unique perspective, and they all worry about different things, have different thoughts and desires.

Mistakes to avoid

A general rule of thumb is to keep the same point of view through one whole chapter or at least a scene. This prevents the so-called head hopping – when we’re in the perspective of one character, and then it suddenly shifts to another character mid-scene, without a proper break. Head-hopping is one of the problems of third person omniscient, but you can also see it happen in third person limited.

Most romance writers can get away with head-hopping as the focus of the story is the relationship between the two main characters. Therefore, for the readers it might be good to know what each of the characters are thinking in a single scene, with perspective changing back and forth. However, even in romance, head-hopping can be quite confusing, so it’s probably best to avoid it and keep your perspective shifts on a minimum.

Another thing to keep in mind is what your characters would pay attention to. You can show a lot about your characters this way and it’s a great way to deepen the point of view. For example, a trained soldier and an old lady would probably view the same park very differently – a soldier might notice weak defense spots, while the lady could perhaps pay attention to where the rest benches are.

 

Hopefully you found these tips helpful! Let us know what you think in the comments and keep following us for more writing advice.

Jana Glavonjić

Writer, freelancer, editor, avid reader of fantasy and the best sister in the world.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *