Who’s on First: How to Write First, Second, and Third Person POV

When it comes to writing a narrative, perspective plays a big role. It may not be something readers particularly notice—in fact, if done well, readers won’t notice at all!—but point of view changes the experience of a story. Reading a book that looks at all of the characters from afar is different from reading a story told from one character’s POV. Here’s a quick and easy guide to writing in the first, second, and third person points of view.

 

First Person POV

I win the game. Sam tells me he feels like a loser.

A first person POV tells the story from a character’s point of view. These stories will read with “I,” “me,” and “my.” The benefits of this perspective include more opportunities to have a fun, familiar voice (when you write as a character, their personality comes through in every sentence; it’s like writing a book of dialogue), and more flexibility in focus (if the POV character is the type to get distracted or go off on small tangents, you can get away with it—within reason, of course).

This perspective can also be limiting, however, in that other characters’ thoughts and feelings cannot be tapped into (For example, “I win the game. Sam feels like a loser.” doesn’t work, unless Sam directly tells the POV character about feeling like a loser; similarly, “I win the game. Sam thinks about the first time we played together.” doesn’t work, because the POV character doesn’t know what Sam is thinking).

First person POV is very common in young adult literature. If you like writing snarky dialogue and aren’t as interested in flowery language and descriptions, first person POV is a good choice for you.

 

Second Person POV

You win the game. Sam tells you he feels like a loser.

A second person POV uses “you” to tell the story where first person POVs use “I” and third person POVs use “he/she/it.” In a second person POV, the narration tells the reader what their action is; the reader becomes the point of view character. This is considered the trickiest POV for most writers to accomplish successfully, and, to be fair, a lot of readers don’t like it because it doesn’t read as naturally as the other two. This POV takes the best of both worlds; it has the personal touch of first person POVs because it engages the reader directly into the narrative, but it’s also a little distant because readers aren’t experiencing the story in terms of “I,” “me,” and “my.” The pronoun “you” distances the reader and character just as much as it unites them.

Books that are written to “you” are not second person POVs. If the story is told from the perspective of a character speaking to “you” (such as in letters or dialogue), then the book is in the first person POV. In second person narratives, “you” is the protagonist driving the narrative.

 

Third Person POV

Anna wins the game. Sam tells her he feels like a loser.

A third person POV uses pronouns like “he,” “she,” “they,” and “it” to describe its characters. The reader may be limited to one focal character, or the third person POV can be omniscient and tap into multiple characters’ points of view. This is the most common POV choice and is easy both to write and read.

 

What’s your favorite POV to read? To write? Share your thoughts in the comments!

 

Happy writing!

xo P

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Who’s on First: How to Write First, Second, and Third Person POV

  1. Great post, and good points about the benefits/drawbacks of all different POVs. :) Up until recently I wrote almost exclusively in first person, but in the past couple of years I’ve started to appreciate third person more and more. As you pointed out, first person can be very limiting––and it’s hard to make it work well unless your protagonist has a very strong/interesting voice. Personally, my problem with first person is that I tend to get too caught up in writing internal monologues and whatnot; writing in third person helps me to focus more on the story.

    1. Thank you! First person can be such a cathartic perspective to take when writing, but I agree with you that it requires a strong voice and for the author to be aware of moving the plot along. Some stories only work in first person, like Laurie Halse Anderson’s SPEAK, or have the most impact in first person, like Mildred D. Taylor’s ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY. It isn’t the only way to tell a good story, though!

      Third person doesn’t only offer the reader a comfortable distance, it offers that to the writer as well. When the writer isn’t slipping into a character’s skin to write from their point of view, it’s easier to stay aware of the story and the goals the plot has to achieve.

      I’ve actually got a huge soft spot for second person myself; I’d love to see more writers tackle it in mainstream literature!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s