Point of view, defined

What Is Point of View in Literature?

December 1, 2020
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A writer recently asked me if every chapter in a book must have a viewpoint.

All chapters in a story have a point of view, if not from one of the characters then from the omniscient (all-seeing, all-knowing) perspective. The question is: who is telling the story, or at least, who is telling the story in this particular scene or chapter?

Point of view is an integral tool of description in the author’s hands to portray personal emotions or characters’ feelings about an experience or situation. Writers use a point of view to express what they want the reader to see or know or feel.

“To be in a character’s viewpoint means to reveal thoughts and feelings.”

To be in a character’s viewpoint means to reveal thoughts and feelings. Because the writer is supposed to “be inside the person’s head,” he or she cannot also be inside other people’s heads at the same time.  As in real life, one can never know what your spouse or friend is really thinking or feeling, though you may know your own thoughts.

You can only infer the other person’s thoughts from their expressions and actions. The same is true in writing a story.

For example: If you are telling the story from Susie’s point of view, you cannot write that “John was furious.” You don’t know how he feels because you are not in his thoughts. But you might be able to assume he is made because his face contorted and his fists are clenched.

Think of yourself as if looking through the lens of a movie camera. You can see what the camera sees; that is all. You cannot see inside John or Susie’s head. But you can often guess what they are feeling from how they act and their tone of voice.  Telling the story through this lens will help you avoid viewpoint mistakes, such as telling us that John was furious.

These are the basic viewpoints:

  1. First person point of view involves the use of either of the two pronouns “I” or “we.”
    • I felt like I had been disgraced.”
  1. Second person point of view employs the pronoun “you.”
    • “Sometimes you cannot easily discern between a lie and the truth.”
  1. Third person point of view uses pronouns like “he,” “she,” “it,” “they,” or a name.

Generally, authors use the first and third person POV. The third person viewpoint often takes on an omniscient quality.

Here is a good definition from http://MasterClass.com:

“The third person omniscient point of view is the most open and flexible POV available to writers. As the name implies, an omniscient narrator is all-seeing and all-knowing. While the narration outside of any one character, the narrator may occasionally access the consciousness of a few or many different characters.

A story written from the perspective of a single person often feels more intimate, because the reader has direct, unfiltered access to the thoughts, emotions, and perceptions of a single character. But there are other kinds of stories that require a little more authorial involvement. In these situations, writers may reach for a style of narration that’s more omniscient or removed from the story and characters.”

From whose viewpoint will you tell the story? In some cases, you may tell the story from several different characters’ viewpoints, or you may choose to tell the story from one person’s perspective throughout the entire book. It depends on your style and the nature of the story.

 

 

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This post was written by Doris Booth

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