Point of view is the perspective from which a story is told. We may choose to tell our story in
- first person, using “I” or “we”;
- third person (“he,” “she,” “it”), which can be limited or omniscient; or
- second person, “you,” the least common point of view.
As a writer, you must think strategically to choose the point of view that will allow you to most effectively develop your characters and tell your story.
First person limits the reader to one character’s perspective. With a book such as On the Road, for instance, the first person point of view puts us right there in the car with Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty; we follow Sal’s every exhilarating thought as they careen across the country. First person feels more personal. What about unreliable narrators and first person? See an example of unreliable narrator from Chang-rae Lee’s A Gesture Life.
Though first person can be powerful, as the examples above illustrate, third person is actually the more versatile point of view. Third person allows you to create a much richer, more complicated universe. A book such as Anna Karenina, for example, could only have been written in third person. One reader, Wendy, put it this way: “When I write in first person, I tend to make the story more personal to me, which can limit how far I will go with a character. Third person isn’t as much about me, and I can be much freer with the plot.”
Nevertheless, beginning writers tend to fall back on first person, either because it’s easier or because they are indeed writing about themselves. Even if your story is autobiographical, consider trying third person. Doing this will actually help you to view your story more dispassionately and therefore allow you to tell it more effectively. It might also show you directions for the story you haven’t considered before.
At first, it may be easiest to use third person limited, which still adheres closely to one person’s point of view. As your plots become more complicated, you may find you need more than one point of view to tell your story and begin to use omniscient.
If you keep hitting a wall in a story or novel, consider switching point of view. For most people, this will involve going from first person to third. Beginning writers may groan at the idea of rewriting an entire story, but for professional writers, such experimentation is par for the course.