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Point of View Explained

Are you confused about the difference between first person and third? Between omniscient and selective? Here are some examples to help you distinguish between the many varieties of POV.

First person: (includes the thoughts and perspective of one main character, who's telling his/her own story)

             As I walked up the hill, I realized that the atmosphere was just too quiet. There was no sound from the cardinal who was nearly always singing from the top of the maple tree. I thought I saw a shadow move high up on the slope, but when I looked again it was gone. Still, I shuddered as I felt a silent threat pass over me like a cloud over the sun.

 Second person: (turns the reader into the character)

             As you walk up the hill, you realize that the atmosphere's just too quiet. There's no sound from the cardinal you know is almost always singing from the top of the maple tree. You think you see a shadow move high up on the slope, but when you look again it's gone. You shudder as you feel a silent threat pass over you. You feel cold, like a cloud just passed over the sun.

 Third person selective singular: (includes the thoughts and perspective of one main character)

             As she walked up the hill, she realized that the atmosphere was just too quiet. There was no sound from the cardinal who she so often heard singing from the top of the maple tree. She thought she saw a shadow move high up on the slope, but when she looked again it was gone. Nevertheless, she shuddered as she felt a silent threat pass over her. It felt like a cloud creeping over the sun.

 Third person selective multiple;: (includes the thoughts of more than one main character but only one at a time. The scene break--*****--indicates a change from one POV to the other)

             As she walked up the hill, she realized that the atmosphere was just too quiet. There was no sound from the cardinal who she so often heard singing from the top of the maple tree. She thought she saw a shadow move high up on the slope, but when she looked again it was gone. Nevertheless, she shuddered as she felt a silent threat pass over her. It felt like a cloud creeping over the sun.

*****

            He saw her start up the hill, and he moved quickly behind the shelter of the huge old maple tree. If she saw him now, everything would be ruined, but if he could stay hidden until she came within range--well, then she'd have to talk to him. Wouldn't she?

Third person dual: (includes the thoughts of two main characters)

             As she walked up the hill, she realized that the atmosphere was just too quiet. There was no sound from the cardinal who she so often heard singing from the top of the maple tree.

            He saw her start up the hill, and he moved quickly behind the shelter of the huge old maple tree. If she saw him now, everything would be ruined.

            She thought she saw a shadow move high up on the slope, but when she looked again it was gone.

            If he could just stay hidden until she came within range, he thought, then she'd have to talk to him. Wouldn't she?

            She shuddered as she felt a silent threat pass over her. It felt like a cloud creeping over the sun.

 Third person omniscient: (all-knowing; can include thoughts and perspective of all characters)

             As the girl walked up the hill, she realized that the atmosphere was just too quiet.

            The cardinal tipped his head back and drew breath to sing, but just as the first note passed his beak he heard the crack of a dead branch far below his perch high in the maple tree. Startled, he looked down, cocking his head to one side and watching with great interest while the man rattled the blades of grass as he tried to hide himself behind the tree.

            As the man saw her start up the hill, he moved quickly into the shelter of the huge old maple tree. If she saw him now, everything would be ruined.

            She thought she saw a shadow move high up on the slope, but when she looked again it was gone.

            The man thought if he could stay hidden until she came within range, she'd have to talk to him. Wouldn't she?

            The girl shuddered as she felt a silent threat pass over her. It felt like a cloud creeping over the sun.

 Third person detached: (no thoughts; the POV of screenplays)

             The girl walked up the quiet hillside.

            In the top of the maple tree, the cardinal tipped his head back and drew breath to sing. A dead branch cracked on the ground below the bird's perch.

            The man stepped on the branch and rattled the blades of grass as he moved behind the tree. He watched the girl come up the hillside toward him.

            Her gaze shifted quickly and warily from one shadowy area high on the slope to another, and she shuddered.

 Factors which affect POV choices:

            What kind of story is it--external (action) or internal (psychological)? A story loaded with events is more likely to use third person selective multiple or third person dual, while a story filled with the psychological workings of a character's mind is more likely to be first person or third person selective singular. How long is the story--will there be time to develop the reader's identification with and sympathy for more than one viewpoint character?

            The characters: Who is the main character? Whose story is this? Is any one character is in a position to observe all the major events of the story? Is the main character sympathetic in nature, one the reader is likely to identify with? Is the character able to express himself well and clearly?

            The audience: What is the intended market, and what viewpoint style does the targeted publisher prefer?

This exercise is copyrighted material and is offered for the individual's own use. Further distribution or sale is not permitted without permission of the copyright holder. Copyright 2013 Leigh Michaels.

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