Hello, writer folk! This week I’ve been working on a short story written from a second person point of view. Although it’s been challenging, I’ve loved experimenting with second person and seeing exactly how influential narrative viewpoint is. Today I want to look at different points of view and discuss the effects they have on a story. Viewpoint is one of the first points of entry that a reader has to a piece of writing, so choosing the correct viewpoint for your story is essential. Here’s a brief rundown of the different narrative viewpoints and the impacts they have on the reader’s interaction with the story.
First Person Point of View
First person point of view is used frequently by new writers. This is when the narrator refers to himself or herself as “I.” Writing in first person most often means that it is a character within the story that is telling it, although sometimes the narrator a character external to the story (such is the case with Lemony Snicket and The Series of Unfortunate Events). However, this happens very rarely, so I am going to focus on the first person as being a character within the story. Most often, the character through which the story is told is the protagonist, however, it doesn’t have to be. In Sherlock Holmes, for example, his sidekick Watson narrates the tales, even though Holmes drives the action and makes all the decisions. When a reader encounters first person, they are tied very closely to the character. They are inside the characters head and are given very little distance. The downside of first person is that the reader only gets one perception of the story, and can only explore other characters through the eyes of the protagonist or narrator. This compared to some of the other points of view, can be limiting. When writing in first person, the narrator claims possession over the story and allows the reader to enter their thoughts.
Second Person Point of View
Second person is a complicated viewpoint and is most often found in shorter pieces because it’s very difficult to maintain over a lengthy story. In its most basic description, second person is the use of “you.” It can function in four distinct ways. First, “you” could be addressing the reader. If this tactic is used, the reader is given the sensation of interacting with the narrator. This concept of interaction is heightened in the second version of second person. “You” can also refer to the reader and is used to make the reader themselves a character in the story. The narrator may tell “you” that you’re walking down a dark corridor, or they may tell you how you are feeling. This takes the reader and places them in the story itself putting them close to the action, but distant from other characters. “You” can also refer to another character in the work. This then turns the piece into a sort of monologue from the narrator to this other character, which allows you to understand the relationship between characters on a deeper level. Finally, the “you” employed by second person narration can function as a sort of reversed first person. The narrator is referring to himself or herself as “you” in order to create distance between themselves and the subject that is being tackled by the piece.
Third Person Point of View
Third person point of view has a narrator that exists outside of the story. The narrator will refer to all characters as “he” or “she”. Third person narration can feature either a limited narrator or an omniscient narrator. A third person limited narrator acts as a sort of camera over the shoulder of a character. Although it is not the character themselves telling the story, the narrator follows a particular character and describes the story as that character would have seen it. The omniscient narrator is slightly different in that not a single character is followed through the story, but rather an all-knowing narrator presiding over the whole story. Omniscient viewpoint allows the reader to get into the mind of many characters. This narrator has an unlimited amount of knowledge, however, that does not mean the narrator has to reveal everything to the reader. Third person general puts distance between the story and the reader, making the reader feel like an observer rather than an active agent in the story.
Making sure your story is written in the appropriate viewpoint is essential. If your story isn’t working, try switching the point of view, and see what effect it has on the piece. Keep in mind exactly how the point of view will influence how the reader interacts with the story.