Point of view and its importance in story writing

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When reading a short story or a novel, have you ever paid attention to whether a narrator is telling the story or the characters themselves? There are different ways in which an author can narrate the story. These are also known as points of view.

The point of view is an extremely important tool of literature. You might have read books with different kinds of points of view and never given much thought to it. It can also look like a random choice or just a personal preference of the author. However, there is so much more to it. The way we receive the story and the emotions depend highly on the point of view. It influences our relationship with different characters. Moreover, the whole narrative changes if you change the narrator or the point of view.

Authors carefully choose one or the other style of narration so that it fits the story and the genre of work. In order to become a better story writer, you must know these common points of view to choose from-

First-person

When the narrator is a character in the story itself, using the pronoun ‘I’ to refer to themselves, it is known as the first-person point of view. It is a popular way of narration but it comes with its own pros and cons.

When writing in first-person, the readers get to take a deep dive into the mind of a character. They build a very personal and intimate relationship with them. They start to know them even more than the other characters do. This hooks the reader into the story through a highly personal connection.

On the other hand, this keeps the motives and intentions of other characters hidden from the readers. We have absolutely no clue of what they are feeling or what might be their next step. Though, it is not always a bad thing. It maintains an element of surprise and mystery.

In most cases, the character narrating the story is the protagonist or one of the main characters. This is to allow the reader’s empathy to develop towards them. In some cases, however, the narrating character can be a side character or a passive observer. This creates a very interesting perspective.

Third-person limited

This is very similar to the first-person point of view in the way that we only get to know what one character is thinking or witnessing. The only difference is that there is a narrator who tells the story instead of the character himself. The narrator closely follows the life of this character and can read his mind.  The narrator uses third-person pronouns for the character they are tracing, as well as the rest. They cannot reveal the thoughts or experiences of other characters. This is why this point of view is known as third-person ‘limited’.

There is a flexibility that this style of narration offers in comparison to the first-person. As the narrator is observing, they can spot the flaws of the main character and present a more objective view too.

Third-person omniscient

This is by far the most popular style of narration in the world of literature. Aspiring writers often find themselves gravitating towards it for the ease and flexibility it offers. But with this, comes the responsibility of being a master juggler.

The third-person omniscient is a narrator that knows everything about everyone. It can get into the mind of any character at any time. They know what is happening at a given location. It is up to them, what to share with the reader and what not. In this point of view, the narrator refers to all characters by third-person pronouns. At the same time, they craftily decide what actions and thoughts to reveal about the protagonist, in order to incite the readers’ empathy.

As a writer, you can develop a very complex and layered perspective using this style of narration. It makes it easy to switch from one character’s perspective to another’s in the next chapter. This often helps in building emotional complexity or a sense of unease and disturbance too, if your work requires it.

All of this might make it tempting for you to rush towards this point of view, but it requires you to put a lot of thought into deciding what to share and what not to. You have to carefully choose when to shift perspectives and which character’s thoughts to reveal more during a certain event. These are all thoughtfully chosen decisions in order to serve the plot rightfully.

A great exercise to start getting comfortable with this concept is to take your favourite short story and rewrite it from a different point of view. For instance, if it is written in first-person, rewrite it in third-person omniscient. Take it upon yourself to imagine the perspective of other characters and weave them in.

When it is time to write an actual story, you can write different drafts of the first page in each of these points of view. Examine which one feels more natural to you and also suits the story. Then, you can go with that one.

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