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First and Second Person Point of View in Fiction

Updated: Oct 31, 2022

Here are the definitions of the various points of view available to writers, as well as examples of Point of View in first and second POV from a few different works of fiction:

1. First Person, which uses “I.” I did this, I did that. (The narrator’s reliability is called into question, as I mentioned, though not always); but it tells the story subjectively. First person narratives are very common, but I’ve always thought of them as cheating in a way—but again, that’s just my view. There are great novels written in the first person so take my comment with a grain of salt.

Pros: You’re immediately right there with your reader, meaning you feel, see, hear, know and experience everything your narrator knows and is experiencing.

Cons: You can only write from one perspective. This perspective limits what the reader can know, because they can only know what the narrator knows.

Here's an excerpt from my novel, “The Losses”:

This is what I was thinking: There’s a kid, small, like a fetus. A catchy title that’s two words max, maybe a book that they make into a movie, a play off Broadway or out in London somewhere, a pseudohorror flick of some sort, something with eerie organ music, a cherubic, angel-looking fetus in a Victorian getup—all black. The kid’s giving a monologue, pacing back and forth on stage, a little itty bitty solemn-looking character, tough like a Dickens’ orphan tough, but a little uh-oh-scary a-la The Shining or The Ring, the original version of it, the Ringu version with subtitles. Something like that. Maybe I tell Lettie, Sammy’s sister, about it, let her write it all up, give her a good story to really write about, just in case she doesn’t have any good ideas already.

I couldn’t help thinking it. I thought it all the time. A boy and a girl, crawling on Berber carpet, riding Big Wheels, kneading too-wet dough to bake bread in Easy Bake ovens. Not never-born kids, I guess, but definitely never happened ones—aborted ones, snuffed out by Sammy and me before we got married, before we wanted children. Now that we’re older, not being able to have what you want, not having what your friends have, kills us. Especially when before you didn’t think twice about driving to a clinic, filling out some forms—her laying down for a bit, me reading about bone fishing in the Keys, her crying—not sobbing crying, but enough, distant for a few hours, thinking of what could have been.”

2. The next POV you can use is the Second Person point of view. This POV uses the pronoun “You.” “You run to the store and open the door. You look inside. You see the man with the gun at the back of the store. You approach him with your hands out in front of you.” Second person is the least common POV used by novelists, but there are some famous novels written in the second person including Jay McInerney’s “Bright Lights, Big City,” and Italo Calvino’s “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler.” Give it a shot; you never know, second person may just be the POV that gets your writing flowing.

Pros: You, the writer, builds a very quick (albeit strange) closeness with your reader, and the reader is thrust into the author’s world instantly as she becomes the work’s protagonist.

Cons: It’s a very difficult point of view to pull off for an entire novel. The reader may not relate to a narrator telling them what they’re (the reader) is doing, or worse, they may not like the narrator at all.

Here’s an excerpt from Calvino’s novel: “With a zigzag dash you shake them off and leap straight into the citadel of the New Books Whose Author Or Subject Appeals To You. Even inside this stronghold you can make some breaches in the ranks of the defenders, dividing them into New Books By Authors Or On Subjects Not New (for you or in general) and New Books By Authors Or On Subjects Completely Unknown (at least to you), and defining the attraction they have for you on the basis of your desires and needs for the new and the not new (for the new you seek in the not new and for the not new you seek in the new).

All this simply means that, having rapidly glanced over the titles of the volumes displayed in the bookshop, you have turned toward a stack of If on a winter's night a traveler fresh off the press, you have grasped a copy, and you have carried it to the cashier so that your right to own it can be established.”

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23 oct 2023
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Gotta have the right POV to pull your readers along

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