Point of View: The Narrative Trinity

An important part of describing is determining the point of view of your story. Generally, there are two ways that book editors would advice you to tell a story (“you” is the silent member of the Trinity, assumed yet unassuming):

First person

This POV is when an “I” is telling the story.  Sometimes this “I” can be merely an observer, like Dr. Watson or Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, or the “I” can be the main character in the story like Sammy in Updike’s A&P.

The use of “I” should be carefully determined, as it works differently for the authors and for the reader. An author sees the “I” as a stand-in for him- or herself, but the reader sees “I” quite differently, for the “I” is stand in for the reader.

Detective stories are particularly good for this kind of narrative, since the reader sees what the detective sees and can truly “match wits” as the mystery unfolds.

Third person

This POV is the most common.

  • Omniscient is when the narrative voice is aware of all details, including people’s emotions and motives.
  • Limited is when the narrative voice is allowed only into the head of the main character (or protagonist).
  • Objective is when the narrative voice only describes what can be seen or heard.

How does POV work?

In the following passage, we can see how point of view works:

Desmond walked by the ornate door carefully, still embarrassed by interrupting his hosts’ argument, and picked up the heirloom phone to call his shiftless brother-in-law for a ride home.

  • We are allowed into Desmond’s emotional state (he’s embarrassed) but someone is calling the brother-in-law shiftless. Who?

No point of view is superior to another, but when performing your book editing it is important to be sure that your narrative is consistent. So, if you set off to write in a limited perspective, the story should remain limited.
–Dr. Dan