Anonymous asked: Could you give advice on choosing a point of view to write a story from? I always like the personal appeal of writing from a first person point of view, but the detail that I can include with third person is always inviting. But I’m not sure which would be more appropriate for the plot I’m writing.

There are pros and cons to each. Let’s go through the basics of each perspective (also called point of view and viewpoint), shall we?

Firstly, what is perspective?

Perspective: The grammatical perspective from which a story is perceived.

Awesome. So, what exactly are the types of narrative perspective? You may well ask! They are first-person, second-person, and third-person.

First-person: This point of view refers to the person speaking; pronouns and verbs used to refer to the speaker or writer of the language in which they occur.

First-person is, as you said, more personal. You can delve into the speaker’s thoughts and feelings and emotions in a way you can’t with second- or third-person. However, in first-person, the reader only knows as much as the perspective character does, and receives all or nearly all information from the perspective character’s point of view, which is often unreliable. The types of stories told in first-person are often character-driven and heavily based in emotion. As the character’s perspective is limited, first-person stories can have problems with the passage of time and with narrative processes like scene changes.

First-person can be taken in the present, future, or past, as in, “I go to the store”, “I will go to the store”, and “I went to the store”. First-person present is hardly ever perfect, as transitions are difficult to maneuver. The future tense in narrative is extremely rare.

An example of first-person (present) prose:

“Lindsay, you better stop that,” I say jokingly as she continues to snap pictures. “I’m serious.”

"Oh, come on, Blake," she teases, letting the camera drop from her face. She fiddles with a few buttons on the device before bringing it back up. "Smile!"

First-person stories require a strong and interesting voice, careful treatment of setting and character description, and, above all, take practice. 

Second-person: This point of view refers to the person to whom the speaker is talking; pronouns and verbs used to refer to the person addressed by the language in which they occur.

Second-person is rarely used in fiction. In fact, second-person is often completely omitted from articles discussing narrative point of view. Though it  enables the reader to feel more involved in the story, the repetitive “you” this and “you” that often makes for a very dull story unless written carefully and thoughtfully. This point of view is not nearly as popular as first- and third-person, and is most widely used in expository works and interactive fiction.

Second-person can be taken in the present, future, or past, as in, “You win a gold medal”, “you will win a gold medal”, and “You won a gold medal”. The future tense in narrative is extremely rare.

An example of second-person (present) prose:

"Lindsay, you better stop that," you say jokingly as she continues to snap pictures. "I’m serious."

"Oh, come on, Blake," she teases you, letting the camera drop from her face. She fiddles with a few buttons on the device before bringing it back up. "Smile!"

Be quite sure that the story you are telling is one in which the reader will feel a welcome part of the narrative, as second-person includes the reader as a character.

Third-person: This point of view refers to persons from a third-party’s viewpoint; pronouns and verbs that are used to refer to something other than the speaker or addressee of the language in which they occur.

Third-person is a popular writing style because the reader benefits from the knowledge and understanding of a larger scope of the story rather than just the main character’s viewpoint. However, a reader may become detached from the story and characters due to the lack of personal connection in much the same way that a person may become detached to violence if he or she sees it all the time but does not personally experience the pain. Be sure your characters stand up to outside scrutiny when writing in the third-person.

Third-person can be taken in the present, future, or past, as in, “He is chased by zombies”, “He will be chased by zombies”, and “He was chased by zombies”. The future tense in narrative is extremely rare.

An example of third-person (present) prose:

“Lindsay, you better stop that,” Blake says jokingly as Lindsay continues to snap pictures. “I’m serious.”

"Oh, come on, Blake," she teases, letting the camera drop from her face. She changes the settings on the camera to monochrome before bringing it back up. "Smile!"

There are several types of third-person point of view worth noting:

There is no right perspective, though the most common is arguably third-person past. Your best bet will be to write a scene in one point of view then switch it to another and see which flows best with your style. Remember: Perspective is a style choice, not a mandate. It’s up to you to decide what you prefer.

Further reading:

For examples of point of view (viewpoint, perspective) in published fiction, check out WriteWorld’s page on Narrative Point of View.

One more thing. Here’s a great video outlining narrative perspective:

Thank you for your question!

- Laikyn and C


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