Understanding point of view is crucial to novel writing. I have found that POV issues are the most common problem in the manuscripts and submissions I read. POV issues are not an easy fix– almost an instant rejection from agents and publishers who don’t have the time to help you correct them.
From the writing classes I’ve taught, I’ve found POV issues arise because writers don’t know how many point of views there are. Writers are always surprised when I tell them there are FIVE POVs.
Yes, five, not three. Many writers can tell me there’s a first person, a second person, and generally a third person, but not the other two.
Here’s a list of all five point of views:
-Third person (objective)
-Third person omniscient
-Third person limited
I’ll dedicate a post about each point of view in the future, but for now here’s a brief definition for each one.
The main character narrates the story, using “I” and “we” pronouns. The character is speaking directly to the reader, who is inside the character’s head.
This narration addresses the reader as the protagonist, using “you” and “your” pronouns.
This POV is rarely seen in literature, though there are a few second person novels, such as the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. It’s more common in how-to books, help guides, opinion articles, poetry, lyrics, and other non-fiction.
Third Person Objective:
A “narrator” narrates the story, using “he”, “she”, and “they” pronouns. This “narrator” can only narrate the characters’ external actions—anything they express or do. This “narrator” does not know the characters’ internal feelings, emotions, and opinions. This POV is sometimes just called third person.
While not as rare as second person, you won’t normally find this POV in modern day literature. It’s usually more for non-fiction and short stories.
Third Person Omniscient:
A “narrator” narrates the story, using “he”, “she”, and “they” pronouns. This “narrator” knows everything, including but not limited to events before and after the story and all the feelings, emotions, and opinions of every character, whether the characters express them or not. However, the “narrator” is a separate being. The narration should NOT contain the voices of the characters.
Usually, the author considers him or herself the “narrator”.
Third Person Limited:
There are two ways to look at third person limited.
1. A “narrator” narrates the story, using “he”, “she”, and “they” pronouns, but this narrator only knows the thoughts and feelings of only one character, usually the main character. This narrator follows the main character throughout the story and stays in this character’s perspective.
2. The main character narrates the story but, instead of using “I” and “we”, uses “he”, “she”, and “they” pronouns. The main character is indirectly speaking to the reader. The character’s voice is in the narration. While the reader is not completely inside the character’s head, the reader is not separated from the character either. Some people call this POV third person close or deep third person limited.
The first definition is the traditional definition of third person limited, though more of today’s books are being written in deep third person limited. Deep POV means going into the head of the character, allowing the reader to experience what the character is doing, thinking, and feeling. Deep third person limited eliminates that third-party “narrator”, and since third person limited uses third person pronouns, the main character is indirectly telling the reader the story.
Is it Ever Okay to Switch Point of Views?
POV issues arise when the writer (unintentionally) switches POVs within a sentence, paragraph, or scene. POV should be consistent throughout a scene (usually a chapter). However, you may switch POVs at a line break, scene break, or chapter break, and the reader should be able to see that you are intentionally switching POVs.
Most books stay in one POV throughout the novel, but there are some that switch back and forth from first person to omniscient or omniscient to limited. Again, these switches are intentional and used for creative purposes. Most POV switches I see in manuscripts are unintentional and problematic.
Switching Perspective Among Characters:
Currently, many published books have multiple main characters who give their accounts of the story. These narratives are for first person and third person limited (which is then called third person subjective rather than called limited). There are two types of narratives with multiple perspectives.
Dual narrative is when there are two perspectives instead of one. The story switches back and forth between each narrator/character.
Multiple narrative is when there are more than two perspectives, usually several. POV changes between characters are at intervals. Writing multiple perspectives for third person is called third person subjective.