Point of View is one of those tools that every writer has. It’s also one that can be a little tricky to master.
Speaking to the definition only, point of view is the view from which the story is told. That is, it is the narrator’s view of the story and what’s happening. Typically, there’s three forms of point of view: first, second and third person. First and third are more common choices.
Within first person, the narrator is a character in the story. They are the ones telling what happened to them, usually by using ‘I’ statements. First person is limited strictly to viewpoint character. This can make it easier for devices such as an unreliable narrator, but may make it harder to impart information the narrator doesn’t know to the readers.
As an exercise: To get a little practice with first person, take a scene from your favorite show or story and rewrite it in the first person perspective of each character in the scene. Focus on how small details would change from one character to the next and what information they have that the other characters don’t. Once you’re finished, compare the overall narrative voice of each scene to find places where the narrators’ voices differ from each other. Consider how else you might use word choice or sentence flow to further differentiate them.
Third person perspective is characterized by a narrator or narrators outside of the story’s events. This gives you a little more space for devices like dramatic irony, but comes with challenges like head-hopping. Third person is characterized by using the correct he, she and they pronouns for every character.
Third person breaks into two forms of perspective. In omniscient view, the narrator knows everything that’s happening. With limited view, narrators are usually speaking about the experiences of one focal character at a time.
As an exercise: For omniscient practice, turn your narrator into a sports commentator. They can see everything happening on the field, but their job is to help guide the viewer (or reader in this case) to the most important things that are happening. Choose a scene in your story and make a note of what else would be happening at the same time. Go back through and have your narrator include those events alongside the original events of the scene.
As an exercise: To get practice with limited third, pretend one of the walls in your scene really can talk. If your scene is outside, use another inanimate object. How would it tell the story of what happened? Which character would it have the most insight for? Because that object can’t move, what things would it not know about the events playing out in front of it?
Finally, second person perspective. Unlike first and third person narrators, second person tells the story as if it was happening to the reader. To do so, it uses ‘you’ for the primary character of the story. This makes it a challenge and can be a turn-off for some readers. However, note that second person works excellently for poetry.
As an exercise: Pick a real-life example of someone you admire. Write a short story as if you’re telling them about a moment that made you admire them. Avoid using ‘I’ statements anytime you yourself would be involved. Instead, use a name or pronoun where you’re tempted to write I, me, or my.
What’s your favorite perspective to work in? Let me know in the comments below!