Choosing the point of view in story writing is an important decision that can heavily impact how the reader perceives and reacts to the story. There are three basic options: first-person, second-person, and third-person point of view. The most common point of view used by writers of fiction is the third-person point of view. The least common point of view in fiction is the second-person point of view.
This article will briefly explain all three points of view in writing. Examples of each will be given, as well. However, the main focus will be the second person point of view (POV) and what makes it stand out so starkly from the other, more common points of view in stories and novels.
The More Popular Points of View
Just because many writers choose to write in first or third person, POV doesn’t mean that you can’t write or find a great story or novel in second-person POV, or even shifting or alternating point of view. First and third views give us different points from which to gain perspective of the characters and plot, and they are each great when writing narrative novels.
The first-person point of view occurs when the author is the first-person narrator. The narrator is a character in the story and uses first-person pronouns like “I” and “me” when speaking singularly. The narrator also used plural first-person pronouns when speaking about himself and other characters such as: us, we, our.
First-person POV limits the reader as to what internal thoughts and feelings they are privy to. The main character is often the narrator of first-person short stories and novels, so you are able to know the main character’s thoughts, but that’s all.
The only other thoughts that you get to know as the reader are whatever thoughts other characters in the story tell the narrator. The narrator, who is also usually the protagonist, is the only one we get to know completely.
One example of well written first-person POV is the classic novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. The first-person perspective of this timeless story doesn’t take anything away from the reader, and it’s a highly celebrated work of fiction. Another is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby. In that story, the narrator narrates the story as he watches it play out.
Another example of first person is the poem Annabel Lee by Edgar Allen Poe. In this poem, the narrator is Poe, and first-person gives the poem a weight that readers most likely wouldn’t feel if it were written from any other point of view. The story just wouldn’t be the same.
In Annabel Lee, a man deeply in love with a woman is telling you the story of how she suffered death and left him all alone. The POV works so well in this poem because we really feel the man’s anguish at the loss and heartbreak of loss. The character of Annabel Lee herself almost takes a backseat to the distraught feelings of the narrator.
There are two types of third-person perspectives when it comes to the point of view. There is third-person omniscient and third-person limited. Each offers a different perspective to the story. Third-person pronouns are used for both that include: them, he, she, her, him, and they.
In third-person point of view, the narrator is not a character in the story being told. This is much like when you run into a friend, and they tell you stories of what has gone on in the life of another person you haven’t seen in a while. The third-person point of view just narrates the story without having a personal role in it.
Third-Person Omniscient Narrator
In the third-person omniscient point of view, the narrator is all-knowing. They are outside of the story, but have access to all the characters’ thoughts and feelings, whether they are spoken aloud or not by the character. The narrator describes how the conflict feels for the protagonist and can also reveal the feelings and motives of the antagonist and all the other characters.
This point of view is incredibly common, and the fact that it offers the reader different points of view depending on which character we’re getting the thoughts of makes the person reading feel empowered and invested in the story. This sort of third-person narration gives the narrator endless power, all while he or she stays outside of the story.
Third-Person Limited Narrator
Third-person limited point of view still uses third-person pronouns, but the story is told only from one character’s point of view. We aren’t able to get the feelings and thoughts of all the characters. We are let into the mind and emotions of one character, but not the others, giving readers distance from the antagonist and minor characters and focusing the bond on the one character we are given insight to.
The reader feels close to this character because of the limited POV and attempts to understand that character’s perspective, not caring much about anyone else’s perspectives. There are a lot of books written in this form of narrative.
Examples of Third-Person Point of View in Literature
Most books are written in the third person point of view. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, and The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien are all told by a third-person narrator. This works so well because it allows the author to fully immerse the reader into the story. We get to know all of the characters. Therefore we are able to relate to and bond with more than one. This can deepen a reader’s interest in a book.
Second-Person Point of View
Second person point of view is often overlooked and ignored because it can be tricky to execute. When you write in second-person point of view, you risk losing the reader’s interest if the work is a novel or a short story. You want them to invest emotionally in the characters you’ve written and the plot, and when you keep them outside of the story, you run the risk of alienating the reader from the story.
The second-person point of view is when the narrator speaks to the reader directly. This is also known as breaking the fourth wall. Think of movies or television shows that do this, and then consider the impact that it has.
Eddie Murphy, a famous comedic actor, broke the fourth wall and looked directly at the camera, making eye contact essentially with the viewer, in most of the movies that he was in. Ryan Reynolds did it in Deadpool.
Poussey Washington does it on Orange Is the New Black. When an actor in a show does this, it can lead to several reactions by the viewer.
For example, it can remind the viewer that what they are watching is just a movie and shouldn’t be taken too seriously (the effect that Murphy had), it can be to share a funny moment with the viewer and create a bit of a bond (the effect that Reynolds had), or it can be to grab someone’s attention and get them to focus on something that is important (the effect that Washington had).
The second-person point of view can have all of these effects and more. The writer draws you in immediately by using the second-person pronouns “you” and “yours.” The view belongs to the narrator and to you.
What Pronouns Are Most Likely to be Used in Second-Person Writing?
Below are the pronouns most likely to be used in second-person writing:
Examples of Second-Person Perspective in Fiction
Second-person narration is showcased famously in the book Bright Lights, Big City by James McInerney. In Bright Lights, Big City, the narrator goes around the big city, telling “you” what you’re doing or not doing, as he encounters “you” in different roles. Bright Lights, Big City, is well known for being a full-length novel that perfectly executes a second-person narrative.
Another example of second-person POV is The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid. In this work of fiction, the writer addresses the reader directly and casts the reader in the role of an American who is talking at a cafe with a Pakistani man, not long after 9/11.
The Pakistani man addresses the reader directly, which makes for a more emotional and intellectual impact. The Reluctant Fundamentalist tells a daunting tale that many Americans feel a sense of guilt or confusion with after having read it.
Lastly, another great example of second-person narration in fiction is ‘How to Be an Other Woman’ by Lorrie Moore. In this short story, you are in the role of the mistress of a married man. The writing is set up so that you feel as though you are living the life of a woman who is with an adulterous man. The writer puts you in this position to see things from the other hand, as most of us would condemn those sorts of actions.
This life is not one many of us are familiar with, and making the writing work this way can make the reader feel excited, ashamed, embarrassed, or any other combination of emotions that you would not get if it were told from any other point of view.
Second-Person Point of View Examples in Literature
Below we have provided some notable literary excerpts which have used second-person point of view:
“Are you aware that rushing toward a goal is a sublimated death wish? It’s no coincidence we call them ‘deadlines.”Tom Robbins, Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas
“This is the way of air travel: fellow passengers applaud because they didn’t die, and then they cut in front of you so they can exit four seconds earlier.”– Vendela Vida, The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty
“There are a few years when you make almost all of your important memories. And then you spend the next few decades reliving them.”– Charles Yu, Interior Chinatown
“And when you’re alone there’s a very good chance
you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants
There are some, down the road between hither and yon,
that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.”
– Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
Other Uses of Second-Person Point of View
The second point of view is used in many other forms of writing. Choose Your Own Adventure books are exclusively told in second-person. In these books, a person takes a perilous journey based upon a theme. Throughout the book, you are given options that will take you on different paths and ultimately to one of several different endings.
Song lyrics are also often told in second-person. The songwriter or singer does this so that you can better relate to the song, and they will then get more fame from the song.
The other major form of second-person point of view is in the form of self-help books. Self-help books act as a sort of counseling or therapy for some people, and in those cases, it is important that the book attempts to establish a close connection to the reader. So the narrator of these books speaks directly to the reader as though an intimate conversation is being had.
Why Second-Person Point of View is Important
It’s not as common as the first-person point of view or third-person point of view. However, second-person point of view can create intimacy and a connection between the author of a book and the reader. The Third-person has almost no connection to the reader. You are simply being told a story.
The first-person point of view gets a little closer as far as intimacy between the writer and the reader, but it doesn’t quite reach the level that the second person can. First-person is, “I’m telling the tale of something that happened to me, and everyone should listen to it.” You aren’t the only one invited in. It doesn’t feel exclusive.
The second-person point of view creates that bond. In this point of view, the narrator is saying, “I’m going to share this tale with you. Come closer, and I’ll share this information with you. Let’s do this together.”
Second-Person in Real Life
This intimacy applies to real life, as well, which is why so many people find comfort in a book written in second-person. It’s interesting when you overhear someone talking about an experience they had (first person), or when you are in a large group with a professional speaker, and they address the whole group to talk about the experience had by others (third person).
However, it feels much more personal and intimate when someone who has had an experience sits you down, sits across from you, looks you in the eye, and tells you about it one on one. It makes us feel special to be in that position.
It makes us care about the content of the experience we are being told about. We aren’t part of a group. We aren’t just overhearing the telling of something. We feel chosen. We feel seen. We feel included and special. This is the allure and the power that second-person point of view can give us.