Point of View: Whose Point of View?

Vivian Gilbert Zabel
 


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In conversation and in literature, point of view, POV, means the way the speaker, writer, or reader look at things. In literature, POV means the vantage point or position from which a writer tells a story. POV determines how much information is given to readers by the writer. Someone has to tell a story, and that someone is called the narrator.

When we discuss point of view, we look at three possible positions, four if the two forms of third person are considered separately: first person, second person, and two forms of third person.

First person has the narrator as a character in the story. The narrator is able to tell only what he or she sees, hears, knows, and thinks. Any information about happenings out of the narrator’s hearing or sight must be revealed to him by someone or something else. A first-person narrator does not know the thoughts of other characters. The narrator can be a main character or a minor character and uses pronouns such as I, me, mine, my, we (if the narrator and one or more other characters are involved), us, our, and ours.

Example of first person point of view: Margaret spun toward me, a sneer twisting her face. “Leave me alone; just leave me alone. ”

Shocked and startled, I stammered, “Ma . . . Margaret, I . . . I . . . don’t understand. ”

Second person involves the reader. The pronouns you, yours, your are used other than in dialogue. This POV is best used in written instructions or directions. All expert sources advise writers not to use second person for essays (unless instructional), stories, or novels, because the reader is not part of the plot, action, dialogue. Writing as if the reader or readers were creates a distraction in the flow of what’s written.

Example of second person point of view: When you reach the interstate, turn north and travel six miles to the Nowater Road exit. Take Nowater Road three miles east to Funshine Drive.

Note that sometimes “you” is the understood subject rather than written in the sentence. Using an understood “you” makes the POV second person, too.

Third person has two forms: limited and omniscient. The narrator is not a part of the story or essay, only an observer, in both forms. The pronouns used, unless in dialogue, include he, him, she, her, it, they, them.

Third person limited allows the narrator to see, hear, and know anything that one character does, including that character’s thoughts and feelings.

Example of third-person limited Jackson watched the slaughter of animals in disgust. He couldn’t believe that others could be so cruel and ruthless. “I wonder how they can sleep at night?” he muttered to himself.

Third person omniscient gives the narrator access to the actions, words, thoughts and feelings of all the characters in the writing. The narrator sees all, hears all, and knows all.

Example of third-person omniscient: Jackson stumbled up the incline to his car, not knowing that hostile eyes followed his every movement. Royce stared after the other man. What is he doing sneaking around here? he silently asked himself. He decided to follow his former friend.

As Jackson climbed into his car, he caught sight of his reflection in the rearview mirror. “I look as if I’ve been crawling through the wilderness. ” He ran his fingers through his hair to remove some of the twigs and grass.

Some writers change from one POV to another, perhaps switching from chapter to chapter from first person to third person. If done well, that practice is an effective tool, but it is one difficult to do correctly. The most consistent method is to write in one point of view throughout the story/book/essay. The writer has less chance of confusing the reader.

Sources:
1. Notes and lesson plans from Vivian Zabel
2. Elements of Writing Third Course, Holt Rinehart Winston
3 Writer’s Companion High School, Prentice Hall

Vivian Gilbert Zabel taught English and composition for twenty-five years, honing her skills as she studied and taught. An author on http://www.Writing.Com/ , a site for Writers , with portfolio http://www.Writing.Com/authors/vzabel , her books, Hidden Lies and Other Stories and Walking the Earth: Life’s Perspectives in Poetry, can be found through Barnes and Noble or Amazon.com.

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