Point of View
The Point of View
of a book is the type of narration a writer uses to convey a story to the reader. There are several types:
- First-Person Narration: I, me, we, us. A story told in first-person is written as if the Sympathetic P.O.V. were narrating directly to the reader. We get to know this narrator very well, but are limited by the fact that we can't see what the narrator doesn't. If something important is happening on the other side of the world and there's no way to get the narrator there, then it can't be witnessed first-hand; they'll have to hear about it from somebody else after the fact. Furthermore, this opens up the possibility of an Unreliable Narrator: a narrator who isn't telling the truth, either due to lack of awareness ("Why do people always react to me like that??") or deliberate lying. In addition, it also raises the question of how the narrator remembered the events in such detail, down to the exact dialogue, unless they explicitly have photographic memory. In a first-person story, the narrator is normally the main character; aversions are covered by the trope First-Person Peripheral Narrator. See The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, The Virgin Suicides (a rare example of a novel told entirely in the first-person plural), Animorphs, and Twilight.
- Note that this is different from a story with a Narrator in it. If a character is talking about what happened to Pooh Bear, he's a Narrator. If the character doing the talking is Pooh Bear, it's 1st-Person. A First-Person Peripheral Narrator can blur this line.
- It's also possible for a work to use Switching P.O.V. and feature multiple first-person perspectives. Sometimes it can become tricky to follow which character is speaking at a given time. The Rules of Attraction is an example of this.
- Second-Person Narration: You. The story is told about the reader, who is addressed as if s/he were a character in the story ("You dashed your drink across Sam's face, offended that he would even suggest such a thing"). Rarely used outside of dialogue, song lyrics, bad fanfic and Interactive Fiction stories: it gets taxing in long doses, and, well... What if that's not what the reader would actually do in this situation? Putting words in the reader's mouth that way can kill the Willing Suspension of Disbelief. 2nd-person can try to to compensate by making the reader a Featureless Protagonist, but that doesn't always work either (in addition to reducing the interestingness of the character, and thus the reader's investment in him/her/it). Examples of 2nd-person stories include Aura by Carlos Fuentes and Bright Lights, Big City.
- Third-Person Narration: 3rd-person uses he, she, them, they; there is no "you" or "I", except in dialogue. It comes in a number of flavors:
- Objective/Dramatic is an infrequently-used mode in which the story only relates observable phenomena, without ever delving into any character's thoughts or feelings (Confession Cam notwithstanding). Makes the piece feel like a documentary. Often used in graphic novels.
- Limited/Subjective is the most common POV choice in modern literature. This narration adheres to a Sympathetic P.O.V. the way 1st-person does, getting the reader inside that character's head but also allowing the depiction of reactions or other things the character isn't aware of (The Nose Bleed, for instance). If the pronouns could be changed to first person without losing any comprehension, this is the POV you're in. See the Harry Potter series, Nineteen Eighty-Four.
- The analogy between first-person and third-person limited is strong enough that fanfic writers will say that a third-person limited section is in a character's POV — that is, this character would be "I" if the section were shifted to first person. This is not standard, in part because it's dangerously easy for third-person to slip into omniscient on short notice.
- Multiple narrators: the story describes the actions and thoughts of more than one character. The different points of view might be separated by section breaks (Stephen King's The Dark Tower), by chapters (George R. R. Martin's 'A Song of Ice and Fire), or even just by shifting to a new paragraph (Frank Herbert's Dune; warning: Don't Try This at Home). This gives the reader a much wider breadth and depth of knowledge, by allowing the reader to see multiple events, or the same event through a number of different eyes; if used carefully, it can even make the reader doubt what they saw in the first place. However, it can be difficult for the reader to decide who the main character is (if there is one), which some readers dislike, and the switching can break Willing Suspension of Disbelief if handled badly.
- True omniscient: the story is described from an external perspective, and any character's thoughts and feelings may be delved into. Often confused with multiple narrators. A truly omniscient narrator doesn't need scene breaks to switch to a different point of view, and won't stick to one character for a whole scene, because then the scene would be in third person limited. This was the most common POV in literature before the twentieth century. In modern times it is particularly associated with works with an "epic" feel to them, such as The Lord of the Rings.
- Universal omniscient, in which the narrator has access to information that nobody in the story could logically know ("Little did they know that the dog was actually Count Basingdorfer in disguise!!"). See Lemony Snicket's interjections in A Series of Unfortunate Events.
- Multiple-viewpoint: This is any story which combines any or all of the above narrative modes (Tad Williams' Otherland).
- This does not cover things like stylistic blend (having a single authorial aside in the Universal Omniscient style) or occasional rule-breaking (for instance, Harry Potter should theoretically never have chapters that are not from Harry's point of view, but in total there are quite a few, including a Dream Sequence and a partial-chapter slip in Book 1 Chapter 11). See Switching P.O.V., which is a bit more lax about that last.