Gross Anatomy of a Novel: Point of View

Gross Anatomy of a Novel: Point of View



Firsts in Fiction

Gross Anatomy of a Novel: Point of View

Continuing our look at Gross Anatomy of a Novel, this week we discuss Point of View.

    1. First, let’s define “Point of View.” Simply put, point of view is the eye through which the narration is seen. There are three main types (and several subtypes.)
    2. 1st Person: Protagonist is narrating the story. (I, me, mine)
      Reliability of narrator: Do you trust the person telling this story? Are they changing things? Hiding things?

      1. From A is for Alibi, by Sue Grafton:
        My name is Kinsey Millhone. I’m a private investigator, licensed by the state of California. I’m thirty-two years old, twice divorced, no kids. The day before yesterday I killed someone and the fact weighs heavily on my mind.
      2. Special types of 1st Person
        1. Interior Monologue: Someone speaking to himself or herself. 
        2. Dramatic Monologue: We overhear one person speaking to another person. Narration sounds like dialogue.
        3. Letter Narration: Monologue or dialogue. Letters exchanged/sent to other characters.
        4. Diary Narration: Entries of a diary or journal that spell out a story.
        5. Subjective Narration: One person’s side of an event, it is subjective and therefore unreliable.
        6. Detached Autobiography: A telling of a significant event in narrator’s life, but told later in life with a new perspective.
        7. Memoir or Observer Narration: Narrator is observer of action or another character, not necessarily involved in events (think Great Gatsby here).
    3. 2nd Person: Reader is the protagonist (narrator speaking of reader who is involved in story—You, your)
      1. A is for Alibi in 2nd person POV
        Your name is Kinsey Millhone. A good name for a thirty-two-year-old female private detective in California. You’ve been divorced twice and have no kids. That bothers you some. Yesterday, you killed someone and that bothers you a lot. It weighs heavily on you. Today, you’re sitting in one-room “bachelorette” situated over someone’s garage
      1. This can be confusing. Search the Internet for 2nd Person and you’ll find a broad definition (this sentence was written in the imperative 2nd pov)
      2. We need to distinguish between the “imperative 2nd person” from narrative 2nd person.
      3. Imperative mood indicates a command or direction given. Advertising makes use of this: “Flying the friendly skies,” “Sit down, take a load off, you deserve it.” A recipe is usually written in the imperative: “Add five pounds of butter and a rasher of bacon, then stir.”
      4. Narrative 2nd person is not (it seems to me) truly in the imperative. It doesn’t give a command or direction, instead it describes the actions of a character as if the reader is the character.



    1. 3rd Person: Narrator and reader are uninvolved in story, they are only observers. (He, she, them)
      1. A is for Alibi in 3rd person pov
        Kinsey Millhone is a private investigator and has a license from the State of California to prove it. She is thirty-two years old, been divorced twice, and has no kids. The day before yesterday she killed someone. That fact weighs on her–a lot.
      2. Omniscient: All knowing, can see what all characters are thinking and feeling (but should separate these by scene). Sometimes called the “God POV.”
        1. Can be described as…
          • Omniscient distant (Narrator sees into every mind and bounces from head to head.)
          • Omniscient close (Narrator deals with one character at a time. Never “jumps heads.”
    2. Choosing which is right: Each story you write must have a COMPELLING reason to be in a certain point of view. Avoid simply picking one because that’s how it sounds in your head. If that is the best choice, fine, but at least ask: Why this POV? What does this perspective add to my novel? Does it limit it in any way?
      1. The writer serves the story and serves the reader, never him/herself.
      2. A neat trick to overcoming writer’s block is to experiment with the differing POVs. Try writing a scene in each, and see which is better. Just be sure whichever POV you use, you’re consistent throughout your manuscript.


  • Some Reasons Why


    1. 1st person considerations
      1. Develops a close bond between protagonist and reader.
      2. Allows writer to conceal information—works well in mysteries.
      3. Limited in scope—can’t get too close to other characters.
      4. Can’t reveal all information, usually  makes for smaller books/stories.
      5. Can cause issues in narration (the man walked up behind me, I opened the door, got in the car, started the engine, and drove off…)
    2. 2nd Person considerations:
      1. Unique and memorable
      2. Run the risk of alienating reader
      3. Works better in short stories.
      4. Is really an extension of “first person.”
    3. 3rd Omniscient
      1. Can be close to many characters.
      2. Can reveal information, helps to create suspense.
      3. So many characters, reader may not identify with any and just be lost.
      4. Can be confusing to reader if head-hopping.
    4. 3rd Limited:
      1. See first person. However, 3rd definitely has a different flavor.

2 thoughts on “Gross Anatomy of a Novel: Point of View”

  • Thank you, Aaron, for clearing up the confusion about the POVs. I enjoyed your post quite a bit! Personally, I prefer first person POV, when it’s done without head-hopping. It can be so intimate.

    • Our pleasure, Mark. Glad the cast was helpful. I find those who prefer to write and read in first person are pretty passionate about it, even more so than those who prefer third person. 🙂

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