POV: First Person/Second Person/Third Person

POV is one of the most important building blocks of a story. If you’re feeling stuck, or like your story is lacking something, try a different POV.

POV means point of view. POV is how a story is told.

First Person: She hit me. My arm stung and I felt the bruise welling up underneath the skin. I can hear my boss already, “Gee, Mick, did you get tossed out of the club again?”

In first person, we are inside the main character’s head. It is his thoughts we hear, his pain we feel, and his body through which we experience the story. We can only hear/see/smell/taste what he is experiencing. First person is great for feeling intimacy with the main character. The reader can get right inside and experience the story through them.

Third person: She hit him. His arm stung and he felt the bruise welling up underneath the skin. He could hear his boss already, “Gee, Mick, did you get tossed out of the club again?”

In third person, we are outside the main character, but we get his thoughts and feelings though the narrator. Third person is the default. It is the most common and the most used, for a reason. It’s easy to read and to write.

Third Person Limited is the most common form of POV in fiction. Harry Potter is written in third person limited. We see the story as told through Harry’s eyes. We aren’t in his head. We aren’t hear his thoughts unless told me the narrator. Everything that we see/hear/feel is what Harry sees/hears/feels. We don’t switch mid-chapter to Ron’s POV. If something happens off-camera (in a scene where Harry isn’t present) then another character must tell Harry about it.

Second person isn’t used for long works. Do not think you’re going to be different and “new” by writing a novel in second person. Second person is best for short works, like flash fiction, poetry, or songs. Second person is daunting, demanding, and exhausting to read. Please, stick with first and third when writing longer works.


First person: Alex’s eyes were the same chocolate as the seat in front of me, deep and lovely, like fine leather. Had he meant what he said? The man in the seat in front of me grunted; I’d been tapping his seat. I removed my foot and mumbled a quick apology.

Third person: Sally tapped her foot on the back of chair in front of her. The man sitting in the seat glared over his shoulder, but Sally didn’t notice. She couldn’t stop thinking about Alex.

Third person limited: Sally couldn’t stop thinking about Alex. His eyes were the same color as the seat in front of her, deep and lovely, like fine leather. Had he meant what he’d said? The man sitting in the seat grunted. He glared over his shoulder. Sally removed her foot. She hadn’t noticed she’d been tapping the back of it.

See the difference? In first person, we are inside Sally’s head. We only see what she sees. In third person, the line is thinner. The narrator can choose to tell the reader things that Sally doesn’t yet know, like the man glaring. In third person limited, we are inside Sally’s thoughts. We can only see what she sees and when, much like first person.

There is also the omniscient narrator, which is more common in older stories. Omniscient means all-know. The narrator knows all the characters, their motives, their personalities, and tells the story through that POV. The narrator reveals thoughts of any characters, their feelings, their desires, at any time. Like I mentioned before, this was more popular fifty year ago. Stories written in the omniscient POV now seem old-fashioned, like the author is trying to mimic Dickens or Austen. Don’t mimic anyone. Be yourself.

There’s also the ‘fly-on-the-wall’ POV. The narrator is a fly on the wall, and only sees what is happening. In this POV we don’t know the inner thoughts of the characters; we are on the outside. Think: movie script. The Maltese Falcon has this POV. The reader is a fly on the wall, observing.

Confused yet? Don’t worry. The more you write and read the easier all this will come to you. Be persistent. If you quit, you’ll never reach the top.

Exercise: take a piece of something you’ve written, a chapter or a few pages or a few paragraphs, and rewrite it in another POV. If it’s in third person, write it in first person, and vice versa. If it’s written in past tense, write it in present tense.

I write in third person and third person limited, but I’m trying to branch out into first person. What’s your default POV? Why?

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