Writing and Publishing

Writing Perspectives (Point of View)

Many beginning writers wonder about point of view in writing and which should they use. Though there are many books written on this subject, here’s a brief overview.

Note that most people use perspective and point of view interchangeably—that’s what I learned in High School English—but others make a distinction between them, claiming that point of view is the correct term for this discussion.

Here is a brief, basic overview of perspectives/points of view.

First Person Point of View

First-person perspective uses I, as in I said… or I went…

For example, I went to the bookstore to buy the latest book by my favorite author.

Second Person Point of View

Second person perspective uses you, as You said… or You went…

For example, you go to the store to buy a journal and pen.

Second person is hard to write (and to read), so most authors avoid it. As an exercise, I wrote a piece of flash fiction in the second person, present tense. It was tedious.

Third Person Point of View

The third-person perspective uses he, she, and they, as in He said… or They went…

For example. They went to a book signing to see the famous author.

Two Types of Third-Person Points of View

There are two flavors of third-person: Limited (only what the point of view character can observe or think) and Omniscient (where the narrator knows what everyone thinks).

Third-person omniscient is out of favor and seldom recommended any more—though many of the classics, including much of the Bible, is third-person omniscient.

Writing Tense

For each of these four options there are two choices: present tense (what is happening now) and past tense (what has already happened). This results in eight possible combinations to consider, but eliminating the second person and third-person omniscient, cuts our considerations down to four.

Past tense is easier to use, and the first person is more natural for most writers. After all, when we tell stories about ourselves to our friends, we use the first person, past tense.

Beginning writers should start with first person perspective, past tense, as in “I wondered which point of view I should use.” Then try third person, past tense, if you wish.

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Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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