Point of view (PoV) refers to the writer’s perspective as they explain what’s happening around them or tell a story. We describe writing as being in the first, second, or third person.
First person PoV
First person PoV uses pronouns like I, me, us, our, and we.
- When you read a passage written in first person, it’s as if you’re inside that person’s head, seeing through their eyes. You think what they think, see what they see, and know what they know.
- The strength of first person is in the way it shares emotional intensity. We feel what the narrator feels. We respond to events along with them.
- The weakness of first person is its lack of significant information. We only know what the narrator knows; we can’t get into the heads of other characters who are nearby. We also only see what that narrator sees; we can’t see what else is going on around them or even around the next bend in the road. The first person narrator’s knowledge of all the story’s events is limited.
- Writers tend to use first person when they want to convey emotional intensity, as in a personal narrative, or when they want us to know the narrator intimately.
“I could picture it. I have a habit of imagining the conversations between my friends. We went out to the Cafe Napolitain to have an aperitif and watch the evening crowd on the Boulevard” (from Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises).
Second person PoV
Second person PoV uses pronouns like you, your, and yourself.
When you read a passage written in second person, it’s as if the writer is talking directly to you.
- The strength of second person is in a direct connection with narrator and reader; when reading second person, you feel as if you’re having a conversation with the narrator. This is especially effective when they are giving instructions.
- The weakness of second person is that it limits the audience by making it seem the narrator is talking to only one person. It can create a strange “dreamy” tone that may make the text feel strange. It can also feel aggressive or accusatory.
- Writers may use second person when they want to talk directly to one reader, give instructions, or create a dreamy or meditative passage.
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know” (from Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go!).
“You are walking through a forest…. It is peaceful…. You breathe deeply and slowly as you listen to the forest sounds around you…. You hear the sounds of leaves underfoot as you follow the path…. You find a fallen log…. You sit down” (meditation sequence).
“When you fill out the form, use a #2 pencil” (instructions).
Third person PoV
Third person PoV uses pronouns like she, he, it, them, and their and omits “I.”
- When you read a passage written in third person, you experience a perspective that is all-seeing and all-knowing. A third person narrator can see past, present, and future; they can also know whatever any character knows as well as how that character feels and thinks. They have a full view of whatever is in front of, behind, beside, above, or below them. In short, they can see the entire scene. Third person is all about facts.
- The strength of third person is its ability to be informative. It sees all, knows all, and shares this with the reader. Because it does not use the “I” voice, it feels objective and smart.
- The weakness of third person is its lack of intimacy. It’s focused on information and thus tells us little about emotion and feelings. We end up knowing a lot about the setting and events and not much about the human nature of the characters, what they’re thinking, or what they plan to do next.
- Writers tend to use third person when they want to write objectively without sounding emotional or biased. Much college, research, and professional writing is done in third person. And note that there are a number of sub-forms of third person; you may hear more about these if you study creative writing.
“The seller of lightning-rods arrived just ahead of the storm. He came along the street of Green Town, Illinois, in the late cloudy October day, sneaking glances over his shoulder. Somewhere not so far back, vast lightnings stomped the earth. Somewhere, a storm like a great beast with terrible teeth could not be denied” (from Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes).