POV (point of view) in prose is a vital storytelling element; it even finds a place in nonfiction articles. It is like the camera of the reader. Imagine looking through the eyes of one person for the entire story. Maybe it switches to another character as the story progresses.
This article will give an introduction to perspectives, the different types of perspectives, how to use them, and the attributes associated. If you’re a new or aspiring writer, mastering POV is crucial—and this article is for you.
In nature, we are all born in first person perspective. Even as you read this article, your brain absorbs it from a first-person perspective. I, me, my, we, ours—these pronouns define the first-person viewpoint.
Don’t be afraid to explore the character’s inner universe. Stick to one character’s perspective per scene, if possible. Show the character’s emotions, why they do what they do. First-person is also popular in articles, as it adds anonymous credit to the author when needed, without specifying who.
Examples of First-person
I woke to the strident calls of my alarm clock, the morning rays stinging my eyes. My heart pounded in my ears, my neck wet with sweat.
Flashes of my previous day returned. I was back with my friends. We had finished our activities at school. Then, we saw it, the one thing a highschooler wishes he would never see.
Attributes of First-person
- The narrator becomes the character
- Creates an emotional and intimate experience with the reader
- Makes prose more objective
- The plural of first-person is “we,” the singular is “I”
- ‘We’ or “our’ is an anonymous way to strengthen formality in articles
You are reading this article. I am talking to you or you all in second-person. This is second-person POV. The narrator, instead of jumping inside the character’s head, dictates to the protagonist what is happening. In this way, the actor “hears” the narrator rather than becoming one and the same.
Second-person is often used in emails, tutorials, and other dictatorial pieces. The narrator brings the reader into the story and encourages them to engage in the plot or prose rather than from the remote standpoint of a character. In this way, second-person is more intimate than first-person.
Attributes of Second-person
- Dictatorial POV in prose, more often used in the present tense
- The reader is in the story rather than inside a character’s mind
- The pronoun “you” can be singular or plural; can also use “you all“
- More intimate and emotional with the reader than first-person
- Excellent for tutorials, certain novels, and articles
- Perspective strictly limited to the reader
- Works poorly in research papers or dissertations
Examples of Second-person
You wake to the strident calls of your alarm clock, the morning rays stinging the eyes. Your heart drums in the ears, neck wet with sweat.
Flashes of the previous day return. You were back with classmates. You all had finished school activities. Then, you saw it, the one thing highschoolers wish they would never see.
This perspective pops up in many kinds of novels, particularly romance or fantasy. The narrator refers to characters by their name or as “he,” “she,” or “it.” Third-person finds popularity in news reporting and business writing, whereas the prose stays objective and accurate to a report or statistical paper.
There are a few types of third-person perspective, as it’s one of the more complex perspectives.
With this perspective, the reader is a separate entity from the characters. The narrator tells the story from the perspective of a single character.
Third-person Multiple opens additional information that Limited cannot convey. Multiple character perspectives are included, rather than just one.
The narrator acts as god and reports any and every thought or development between characters. This is perhaps the most difficult POV in prose, as it includes a large amount of detail and multi-tasking, otherwise known as “head-hopping.” Omniscient is a powerful perspective that can shorten prose and travel anywhere in a character’s history, but it can also be overwhelming for the reader if done wrong.
If you use this perspective, watch out for data dumps that slog the pace or may confuse the reader.
This perspective comes from a neutral perspective as if the reader is an invisible spectator at the scene. The reader—separate from the characters—watches the scene play out. Descriptors that describe internal emotions are to be avoided here.
Subjective perspective can use internal dialogue strictly through the words of the narrator. In subjective, the narrator takes a larger role in telling the story, rather than letting the characters do all the work. This creates distance between readers and the characters but may improve pacing.
Attributes of Third-person
- Places the reader in spectator mode, watching characters
- Offers a variety of perspectives to suit the narrative
- May provide a higher volume of information for the reader
- Less intimate than first-person or second-person
- Easier to confuse multiple third-POVs
To maintain a proper perspective in third-person, always ask yourself what character holds the camera. Maintain that perspective and avoid ‘head-hopping’ where possible.
Examples of Third-person
Tom woke to the strident calls of his alarm clock, the morning rays stinging his eyes. Tom’s heart pounded, his neck wet with sweat.
Flashes of his previous day returned. Tom was back with friends. They had finished their activities at school. Then, Tom saw it, the one thing a highschooler wishes he would never see.
—Final Remarks on POV in Prose—
There are many types of POV in prose. Selecting the proper perspective can alter the narrative drastically—and favorably if done right.
Questions to Ask Yourself
This isn’t an exhaustive list, so feel free to include your own questions as needed.
- How does the story relate with the perspective of the characters? The reader?
- What do I (the author) feel about watching the characters from a particular viewpoint?
- What emotions or traits should be presented in the story? What POV best suits this objective?
- What should readers feel as they progress through the book?
- How should readers connect with the characters?
- Is there an underlying message associated with the perspective chosen?
I hope this article has provided you with a good introduction about POV in prose and how to select one appropriate for your prose. Knowing your characters and how they relate to the story—and to your audience—is the gist of it.
Thank you for reading. See the provided links below for further reading. Love and gratitude. 🙂
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