Point of View: First, Second, and Third Person POV
Before you write a single word of your future masterpiece, you need to make one of the most important decisions of your story’s life. You need to decide which point of view you’ll use to tell your story. The good news is that you can choose between four points of view: first person, third person limited, third person omniscient, and second person. The challenge: picking which one best suits the story. In this post, we’ll go through each of the four major POVs (in a tour that includes over 70 point of view examples) to help you better understand point of view. If you're just here for our sweet infographic, you can jump straight to it right here. But if you’re ready to see what each POV looks like in text, let’s dive in.
What is point of view?
Point of view refers to the perspective from which a narrative is told. This narration mode is so important because it indicates who is telling the story and how the information is being filtered to the audience. When POVs are common in a genre, it tends to be for a good reason. Modern detective novels rarely have omniscient narrators, as the fun of the book often involves trying to solve a mystery alongside the protagonist. Young Adult novels are often in the first person: it allows the main characters’ voices to come to the fore — and perhaps emulates the confessional nature of teenage diaries. Popular POVs in literary genres include:
- Young Adult: A lot of first person, but third person limited is also popular
- Epic Fantasy: Third person omniscient and limited
- Mystery and Thriller: Third person limited
- Romance: First person and third person limited
Once you’ve identified the prevailing trend within your genre, ask yourself: ‘Will you write to the trend, or subvert it?’ Bear in mind that subverting expectations for the sake of it is rarely a good idea. Your decision should ideally be backed by one of the following factors.
First Person Point of View Examples
The first person POV is an extension of the way that we tell stories ourselves. Very often, the first-person narrator will be the protagonist, such as in Life of Pi. But first-person narrators might also be a secondary character, like Ishmael in Moby Dick (to continue the nautical theme). The pronouns most associated with the first person are I, mine, and my, as in:
- “Bring me the prisoner,” I told my chief of police.
- That turkey sandwich was mine!
To date, this is one of the most widely used POVs in literature. From Robinson Crusoe (seen by some as the very first 'novel') to Hunger Games (one of the latest books to top the charts), the first person POV has dominated the history of the story. And it’s simple to see why.
When used correctly, the first person POV can…
Build an immersive reading experience
First person narrative is commonly seen as the most intimate POV: the character is speaking directly to the reader, acting as their guide through the story. This, in turn, brings readers right up close to the action and allows readers to easily understand the character’s motivations. Because readers spend so much time in the protagonist’s brain, it's not unusual for them to quickly build a rapport with the narrator in question.
Let’s take a look at a few first person POV examples:
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
It’s this detail, the untucked blouse forming a ducktail, that brings me back to myself.
“Prim!” The strangled cry comes out of my throat, and my muscles begin to move again. “Prim!”
I don’t need to shove through the crowd. The other kids make way immediately allowing me a straight path to the stage. I reach her just as she is about to mount the steps. With one sweep of my arm, I push her behind me.
“I volunteer!” I gasp. “I volunteer as tribute!”
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
I give Pirrip as my father's family name, on the authority of his tombstone and my sister,—Mrs. Joe Gargery, who married the blacksmith. As I never saw my father or my mother, and never saw any likeness of either of them (for their days were long before the days of photographs), my first fancies regarding what they were like were unreasonably derived from their tombstones.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Once we got around the circle, Patrick always asked if anyone wanted to share. And then began the circle jerk of support: everyone talking about fighting and battling and winning and shrinking and scanning. To be fair to Patrick, he let us talk about dying, too. But most of them weren't dying. Most would live into adulthood, as Patrick had. (Which meant there was quite a lot of competitiveness about it, with everybody wanting to beat not only cancer itself, but also the other people in the room. Like, I realize that this is irrational, but when they tell you that you have, say, a 20 percent chance of living five years, the math kicks in and you figure that's one in five ... so you look around and think, as any healthy person would: I gotta outlast four of these bastards.)
Room by Emma Donoghue
Today I’m five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I’m changed to five, abracadabra. Before that I was three, then two, then one, then zero. “Was I minus numbers?” “Hmm?” Ma does a big stretch. “Up in Heaven. Was I minus one, minus two, minus three — ?”
Create an unreliable narrator
First person characters all come with a subjective viewpoint and are inherently biased. They will only tell readers what they want them to know, which is why it’s ripe territory for an outright unreliable narrator: a narrator who cannot be trusted to tell a story truthfully, whether it’s because he or she is biased, forgetful, or outright deceitful. A skilled writer (such as Charles Dickens) can use this to create situations of profound narrative irony. Have a taste of some famous first-person unreliable narrators in literature:
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
My name is Kathy H. I'm thirty-one years old, and I've been a carer now for over eleven years. That sounds long enough, I know, but actually they want me to go on for another eight months, until the end of this year. That'll make it almost exactly twelve years. Now I know my being a carer so long isn't necessarily because they think I'm fantastic at what I do. There are some really good carers who've been told to stop after just two or three years. And I can think of one carer at least who went on for all of fourteen years despite being a complete waste of space. So I'm not trying to boast.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
When I think of my wife, I always think of her head. The shape of it, to begin with. The very first time I saw her, it was the back of the head I saw, and there was something lovely about it, the angles of it. Like a shiny, hard corn kernel or a riverbed fossil. She had what the Victorians would call a finely shaped head. You could imagine the skull quite easily. I’d know her head anywhere.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
This is a murder mystery novel. Siobhan said that I should write something I would want to read myself. Mostly I read books about science and maths. I do not like proper novels. In proper novels people say things like, ‘I am veined with iron, with silver and with streaks of common mud. I cannot contract into the firm fist which those clench who do not depend on stimulus.’ What does this mean? I do not know. Nor does Father. Nor do Siobhan or Mr Jeavons. I have asked them.
Establish a distinctive tone and style
Every character is unique, and there’s no perspective that illustrates this better than the first person. When readers tap into a character’s mind, it’s not just the character’s emotions and thoughts that the reader will experience: it’s also the character’s style of talking and thinking. What’s the range of their vocabulary, for instance? What do they ponder the most? Are they accustomed to thinking in long spiels or short sentences? First person lets you figure all of this out and nail down a voice that’s truly individualistic. Let’s take a gander at examples of distinctive first-person voices:
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Tom's most well now, and got his bullet around his neck on a watch-guard for a watch, and is always seeing what time it is, and so there ain't nothing more to write about, and I am rotten glad of it, because if I'd a knowed what a trouble it was to make a book I wouldn't a tackled it, and ain't a-going to no more. But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can't stand it. I been there before.
Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days. An expedition, I should say, which I will undertake alone, in the comfort of Mr Farraday’s Ford; an expedition which, as I foresee it, will take me through much of the finest countryside of England to the West Country, and may keep me away from Darlington Hall for as much as five or six days. The idea of such a journey came about, I should point out, from a most kind suggestion put to me by Mr Farraday himself one afternoon almost a fortnight ago, when I had been dusting the portraits in the library.
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Progris riport 1—martch 5 1965 Mr. Strauss says I shud rite down what I think and evrey thing that st happins to me from now on. I dont know why but he says its importint Is so they will see if they will use me. I hope they use me. Miss Kinnian says Ie maybe they can make me smart. I want to be smart. My name is Charlie Id Gordon. I am 37 years old and 2 weeks ago was my brithday. I have nuthing more to rite now so I will close for today.
The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot
My name is Mia Thermopolis. I’m fourteen years old and I live in New York City. I live in an apartment in Greenwich Village, on the west side of the city. I live with my mom, Helen, and my cat, Fat Louie. My mom is an artist. She paints pictures.
Highlight another character
In a plot twist, the first-person narrator is sometimes not the main character. Instead, he or she cleverly serves as the reader’s mirror to the real protagonist of the book. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series, wherein John Watson documents Sherlock Holmes’ triumphs, is perhaps the most famous example of this technique. You can see how the narrator sheds light on the protagonist in the below first person point of view examples:
"The Red-Headed League" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I had called upon my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, one day in the autumn of last year and found him in deep conversation with a very stout, florid-faced, elderly gentleman with fiery red hair. With an apology for my intrusion, I was about to withdraw when Holmes pulled me abruptly into the room and closed the door behind me.
"You could not possibly have come at a better time, my dear Watson," he said cordially.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I said if he wanted to take a broad view of the thing, it really began with Andrew Jackson. If General Jackson hadn't run the Creeks up the creek, Simon Finch would never have paddled up the Alabama, and where would we be if he hadn't? We were far too old to settle an argument with a fist-fight, so we consulted Atticus. Our father said we were both right.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.
More first person point of view examples: Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes; Life of Pi, by Yann Martel; The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway; On the Road, by Jack Kerouac; The Martian, by Andy Weir; Insurgent, by Veronica Roth; The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky; Bridget Jones’s Diary, by Helen Fielding; Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë; The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
Third Person Limited Point of View Examples
In general, the third person point of view describes a narrator who uses third-person pronouns such as “he” and “she” to relate the story, as in:
- “Bring me the prisoner,” she told her chief of police.
- He knew that that turkey sandwich was his.
Once we zoom into it further, we see that the third person POV can be split into two categories:
- Third Person Limited, where the narrator can only reveal the thoughts, feelings, and understanding of a single character at any given time.
- Third Person Omniscient, where an all-knowing narrator can reveal anything that is happening, has happened or will happen in the world of the story.
Third person limited, which is this section’s focus, restricts the narrator to the point of view of one character — hence, the reader is “limited” to that perspective character’s mind. Watch Brandon Sanderson, bestselling fantasy author of Mistborn, explain the technique in a lecture:
When used correctly, the third person limited point of view can…
Easily gain the reader’s trust
Since the third person limited point of view puts readers close to (but not exactly in) a character’s brain, it enjoys much of the same trust-building advantages that the first person POV does. In fact, this point of view goes one step further: it’s much rarer to find an unreliable narrator in a third person limited story — simply because that would make the entire narrative come across as authorial deceit. To see how this trust is earned, see these third person limited point of view examples:
The Giver by Lois Lowry
It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened. No. Wrong word, Jonas thought. Frightened meant that deep, sickening feeling of something terrible about to happen. Frightened was the way he had felt a year ago when an unidentified aircraft had overflown the community twice. He had seen it both times. Squinting toward the sky, he had seen the sleek jet, almost a blur at its high speed, go past, and a second later heard the blast of sound that followed. Then one more time, a moment later, from the opposite direction, the same plane.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
But Ender knew, even as he thought it, that Peter wouldn't leave him alone. There was something in Peter's eyes, when he was in his mad mood, and whenever Ender saw that look, that glint, he knew that the one thing Peter would not do was leave him alone. I'm practicing piano, Ender. Come turn the pages for me. Oh, is the monitor boy too busy to help his brother? Is he too smart? Got to go kill some buggers, astronaut? No, no, I don't want your help. I can do it on my own, you little bastard, you little Third.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Something very painful was going on in Harry's mind. As Hagrid's story came to a close, he saw again the blinding flash of green light, more clearly than he had ever remembered it before — and he remembered something else, for the first time in his life: a high, cold, cruel laugh.
Hagrid was watching him sadly.
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
In Faith’s mind, it was always that. She never gave it another name, for fear of yielding it yet more power over her. That was an addiction, she knew that much. That was something she was always giving up, except that she never did. That was the very opposite of Faith as the world knew her. Faith the good girl, the rock. Reliable, dull, trustworthy Faith.
Zoom in and out of a character’s inner thoughts
Third person limited has the advantage of controlling “camera angles.” For instance: do you want the narration hover right next to your character’s brain? Or do you want to back away a bit from your character and let a certain section of the story unfold from a more wide-angle perspective? Unlike the first person point of view, third person limited isn’t obligated to perpetually remain directly inside the character’s head. There’s more room to adjust, depending on what the story demands at a given moment. Let’s dive into a few more third person limited examples:
1984 by George Orwell
In its second minute the Hate rose to a frenzy. People were leaping up and down in their places and shouting at the tops of their voices in an effort to drown the maddening bleating voice that came from the screen. The little sandy-haired woman had turned bright pink, and her mouth was opening and shutting like that of a landed fish. Even O’Brien’s heavy face was flushed. He was sitting very straight in his chair, his powerful chest swelling and quivering as though he were standing up to the assault of a wave.
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
On those, Robert Neville was never sure when sunset came, and sometimes they were in the streets before he could get back.
If he had been more analytical, he might have calculated the approximate time of their arrival; but he still used the lifetime habit of judging nightfall by the sky, and on cloudy days that method didn’t work. That was why he chose to stay near the house on those days.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Yet the Zemeni ambassador was dead. Kaz hated a puzzle he couldn't solve, and he and Inej had concocted a hundred theories to account for the murder - none of which satisfied. But they had more pressing problems tonight.
She saw him signal to Jesper and Big Bolliger to divest themselves of weapons. Street law dictated that for a parley of this kind each lieutenant be seconded by two of his foot soldiers and that they all be unarmed. Parley. The word felt like a deception - strangely prim, an antique. No matter what street law decreed, this night smelled like violence.
Alanna: the First Adventure by Tamora Pierce
Suddenly Alanna frowned. A picture was forming in the fire. That was impossible— she wasn’t supposed to See anything. Maude was the one who had cast the spell. Maude was the only one who should See anything. Ignoring all the laws of magic Alanna had been taught, the picture grew and spread. It was a city made all of black, shiny stone. Alanna leaned forward, squinting to see it better. She had never seen anything like this city. The sun beat down on gleaming walls and towers. Alanna was afraid—more afraid than she had ever been. . . . Maude let go of the twins. The picture vanished. Alanna was cold now, and very confused. What had that city been? Where was it?
Switch between multiple third-person limited point of views, if necessary
If the prospect of sticking with one character for the length of a whole story makes you uncomfortable, consider writing third person limited from multiple POVs. This technique, which works best for large casts of characters, grants the flexibility to branch out character-wise and mix things up every chapter. Authors such as George R.R. Martin, Ken Scholes, and Justin Cronin made this practice famous in fantasy. (You might have already come across it in a little series called A Song of Ice and Fire.) We’ve plucked out a couple of passages in third-person multiple books for you:
A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
‘‘Mercy!’’ Catelyn cried, but horns and drums and the clash of steel smothered her plea. Ser Ryman buried the head of his axe in Dacey’s stomach. By then men were pouring in the other doors as well, mailed men in shaggy fur cloaks with steel in their hands. Northmen! She took them for rescue for half a heartbeat, till one of them struck the Smalljon’s head off with two huge blows of his axe. Hope blew out like a candle in a storm.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
XTC was no good for drowning out the morons at the back of the bus.
Park pressed his headphones into his ears.
Tomorrow he was going to bring Skinny Puppy or the Misfits. Or maybe he'd make a special bus tape with as much screaming and wailing on it as possible.
He could get back to New Wave in November, after he got his driver's license. His parents had already said Park could have his mom's Impala, and he'd been saving up for a new tape deck. Once he started driving to school, he could listen to whatever he wanted or nothing at all, and he'd get to sleep in an extra twenty minutes.
Cuckoo Calling by Robert Galbraith
The knowledge that he would be sharing his office again on Monday added piquancy to Strike’s weekend solitude, rendering it less irksome, more valuable. The camp bed could stay out; the door between inner and outer offices could remain open; he was able to attend to bodily functions without fear of causing offense. Sick of the smell of artificial limes, he managed to force open the painted-shut window behind his desk, which allowed a cold, clean breeze to wipe the fusty corners of the two small rooms.
A special note on Third Person Limited Objective
Though this technique is more rarely seen, third person limited can allow for a narrator who is entirely objective. In practice, this unbiased narrator would simply report the events as they occur and allow the readers to interpret what they mean. Ernest Hemingway is the most famous example of this technique. His short story, “Hills Like White Elephants,” and his novel, For Whom The Bell Tolls, are as close to neutral narrators as you can get. To see third person objective in action, you can refer to this example:
“Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway
The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building. It was very hot and the express from Barcelona would come in forty minutes. It stopped at this junction for two minutes and went to Madrid.
More third person limited point of view examples: How to be a Normal Person by TJ Klune; The Ambassadors by Henry James; The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan; The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley; The Foxhole Court by Nora Sakavic; A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness; Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell; Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
Third Person Omniscient Point of View Examples
Similarly, third person omniscient narrators use third-person pronouns to narrate the story. The key difference is that third person omniscient narrators are all-knowing — meaning that they’re able to reveal anything that is happening, has happened, or will happen in the world of the story. What’s more, readers have access to all of the details that this God-like narrator is willing to share. For instance:
- He thought that Sarah was fantastic, but she could not quite think the same of him.
This perspective is generally considered to be one of the hardest to pull off. But the pay-off can be hugely rewarding, as you’ll soon see.
When used correctly, the third person omniscient POV can…
Conduct multiple character studies
Impressed already by the way first- and third-person limited POVs conduct thorough inquisitions of one character? Now expand it and you’ve got a sense of the reach of the omniscient narrator. The power of third person omniscient is such that the narrator can slip into minds of several characters — at any given moment. This not only gives the author plenty of room to experiment with the pacing of the story, but also presents a unique opportunity to delve into the psychology of multiple characters.
Let’s take a couple of third person omniscient point of view examples:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Elizabeth, having rather expected to affront him, was amazed at his gallantry; but there was a mixture of sweetness and archness in her manner which made it difficult for her to affront anybody; and Darcy had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her. He really believed, that were it not for the inferiority of her connections, he should be in some danger.
“Brokeback Mountain” by Annie Proulx
During the day Ennis looked across a great gulf and sometimes saw Jack, a small dot moving across a high meadow, as an insect moves across a tablecloth; Jack, in his dark camp, saw Ennis as night fire, a red spark on the huge black mass of mountain.
Hard Times by Charles Dickens
In truth, Mrs. Gradgrind’s stock of facts in general was woefully defective; but Mr. Gradgrind in raising her to her high matrimonial position, had been influenced by two reasons. Firstly, she was most satisfactory as a question of figures; and, secondly, she had ‘no nonsense’ about her. By nonsense he meant fancy; and truly it is probable she was as free from any alloy of that nature, as any human being not arrived at the perfection of an absolute idiot, ever was.
The simple circumstance of being left alone with her husband and Mr. Bounderby, was sufficient to stun this admirable lady again without collision between herself and any other fact. So, she once more died away, and nobody minded her.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
The fair boy was peering at the reef through screwed-up eyes.
“All them other kids,” the fat boy went on. “Some of them must have got out. They must have, mustn’t they?” The fair boy began to pick his way as casually as possible toward the water. He tried to be offhand and not too obviously uninterested, but the fat boy hurried after him.
“Aren’t there any grownups at all?”
“I don’t think so.”
The fair boy said this solemnly; but then the delight of a realized ambition overcame him. In the middle of the scar he stood on his head and grinned at the reversed fat boy.
The fat boy thought for a moment.
Deepen the worldbuilding
Because readers subconsciously accept that omniscient narrators are all-knowing, this kind of narrator has an easier time explaining backstory and exposition. Fantasy authors, in particular, use this technique to their advantage when explaining the history of an invented world to readers, as you’ll see in the point of view examples below. Here’s how authors use their omniscient narrators to worldbuild:
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.
The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
The face of Elrond was ageless, neither old nor young, though in it was written the memory of many things both glad and sorrowful. His hair was dark as the shadows of twilight, and upon it was set a circlet of silver; his eyes were grey as a clear evening, and in them was a light like the light of stars. Venerable he seemed as a king crowned with many winters, and yet hale as a tried warrior in the fulness of his strength. He was the Lord of Rivendell and mighty among both Elves and Men.
In the middle of the table, against the woven cloths upon the wall, there was a chair under a canopy, and there sat a lady fair to look upon, and so like was she in form of womanhood to Elrond that Frodo guessed that she was one of his close kindred. Young she was and yet not so. The braids of her dark hair were touched by no frost, her white arms and clear face were flawless and smooth, and the light of stars was in her bright eyes, grey as a cloudless night; yet queenly she looked, and thought and knowledge were in her glance, as of one who has known many things that the years bring. Above her brow her head was covered with a cap of silver lace netted with small gems, glittering white; but her soft grey raiment had no ornament save a girdle of leaves wrought in silver.
So it was that Frodo saw her whom few mortals had yet seen; Arwen, daughter of Elrond, in whom it was said that the likeness of Lúthien had come on earth again; and she was called Undómiel, for she was the Evenstar of her people. Long she had been in the land of her mother's kin, in Lórien beyond the mountains, and was but lately returned to Rivendell to her father's house. But her brothers, Elladan and Elrohir, were out upon errantry: for they rode often far afield with the Rangers of the North, forgetting never their mother's torment in the dens of the orcs.
Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett
Killing off a wizard of a higher grade was a recognised way of getting advancement in the orders. However, the only person likely to want to kill the Bursar was someone else who derived a quiet pleasure from columns of numbers, all neatly arranged, and people like that don’t often go in for murder*. *At least, until the day they suddenly pick up a paperknife and carve their way out through Cost Accounting and into forensic history.
Create a distinctive authorial voice
Omniscient narrators are unique in that they often have a personality and voice distinct from that of the actual cast of characters. As you might expect, authors have stretched this concept in all sorts of creative directions in the past. Sometimes the omniscient narrator takes on a snarky, observational tone in books. Other times the omniscient narrator sounds suspiciously like Death himself, as in Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses.
Ready to meet some memorable omniscient narrators? Here are a few examples:
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Mr Segundus had not told Mrs Pleasance that Mr Norrell was old and yet she fancied that he must be. From what Mr Segundus had told her she thought of him as a sort of miser who hoarded magic instead of gold, and as our narrative progresses, I will allow the reader to judge the justice of this portrait of Mr Norrell’s character.
Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
Out of thin air: a big bang, followed by falling stars. A universal beginning, a miniature echo of the birth of time . . . the jumbo jet Bostan, Flight AI-420, blew apart without any warning, high above the great, rotting, beautiful, snow-white, illuminated city, Mahagonny, Babylon, Alphaville. But Gibreel has already named it, I mustn't interfere: Proper London, capital of Vilayet, winked blinked nodded in the night. While at Himalayan height a brief and premature sun burst into the powdery January air, a blip vanished from radar screens, and the thin air was full of bodies, descending from the Everest of the catastrophe to the milky paleness of the sea. Who am I?
Who else is there?
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, one girl sitting on her own in a small café in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.
Sadly, however before she could get to a phone to tell anyone about it, a terribly stupid catstrophe occurred, and the idea was lost forever.
This is not her story.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
The people all saw her come because it was sundown. The sun was gone, but he had left his footprints in the sky. It was the time for sitting on porches beside the road. It was the time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. Mules and other brutes had occupied their skins. But now, the sun and the bossman were gone, so the skins felt powerful and human. They became lords of sounds and lesser things. They passed nations through their mouths. They sat in judgment.
Seeing the woman as she was made them remember the envy they had stored up from other times. So they chewed up the back parts of their minds and swallowed with relish. They made burning statements with questions, and killing tools out of laughs. It was mass cruelty. A mood come alive, Words walking without masters; walking altogether like harmony in a song.
"What she doin coming back here in dem overhalls? Can't she find no dress to put on? — Where's dat blue satin dress she left here in? — Where all dat money her husband took and died and left her? — What dat ole forty year ole 'oman doin' wid her hair swingin' down her back lak some young gal? Where she left dat young lad of a boy she went off here wid? — Thought she was going to marry? — Where he left her? — What he done wid all her money? — Betcha he off wid some gal so young she ain't even got no hairs — why she don't stay in her class?"
More third person omniscient point of view examples: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman; Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf; Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy; Middlemarch by George Eliot; A Room with a View by E.M. Forster; Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein; The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne; Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Second Person Point of View Examples
The second person point of view endows the reader with the narrative point of view, asking them to place themselves directly in the headspace of a particular character: either the protagonist or a secondary personality. The pronouns associated with second person include you, your, and yours, as in:
- You instruct the chief of police to bring the prisoner to your office.
- That turkey sandwich was yours!
Out of all the POVs, this one is the least popular — in part because it requires such a large suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader. Rob Spillman, the editor of Tin House, once said: "I have a pet peeve against the second person that I call the second–person accusatory: 'You are walking down the street.' I go, 'No, I am not walking down the street!'" But it can become something else entirely in a skilled writer’s hands. Author Jay McInerney, one of its most famous practitioners, once described the second-person as an unspoken invitation: “Come on in.”
When used correctly, the second-person POV can…
Bring the reader closer to the story
Call it an assault of the senses. When readers are addressed as a “you,” they’re thrust into the role of the active participant and told what they ought to be feeling, thinking, smelling, touching, and seeing. As you might expect, this creates the ultimate intimacy with the text. Instead of being told the story, readers experience it first-hand. Here are some second person point of view examples:
Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney
You have friends who actually care about you and speak the language of the inner self. You have avoided them of late. Your soul is as disheveled as your apartment, and until you can clean it up a little you don’t want to invite anyone inside.
If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller by Italo Calvino
You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade.
Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
You are she. She is you. You are Essun. Remember? The woman whose son is dead.
Reinforce ideas and themes
What better way to drive an idea than to make readers live through it themselves? In this following example, for instance, Mohsin Hamid uses the second-person point of view to put the reader in Pakistan and bring home the realities of poverty.
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid
The whites of your eyes are yellow, a consequence of spiking bilirubin levels in your blood. The virus afflicting you is called hepatitis E. Its typical mode of transmission is fecal-oral. Yum. It kills only about one in fifty, so you’re likely to recover. But right now you feel like you’re going to die.
Your mother has encountered this condition many times, or conditions like it anyway. So maybe she doesn’t think you’re going to die. Then again, maybe she does. Maybe she fears it. Everyone is going to die, and when a mother like yours sees in a third-born child like you the pain that makes you whimper under her cot the way you do, maybe she feels your death push forward a few decades, take off its dark, dusty headscarf, and settle with open-haired familiarity and a lascivious smile into this, the single mud-walled room she shares with all of her surviving offspring.
More second person point of view examples: The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida; Stolen: A Letter to My Captor by Lucy Christopher; Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas by Tom Robbins; Booked by Kwame Alexander; Self-Help by Lorrie Moore
Download: Point of View Cheat Sheet
Are you still not sure which POV is right for your book? Maybe you’re a visual thinker — in which case, we’ve compiled the major strengths and liabilities of the four major points of view in this handy cheat sheet.
How do YOU choose the POV for the stories you write? Leave any questions or comments in the box below.