The Different Points of View in Storytelling


I want to do a post, at some point in the future, on how to choose which point of view to write in when you are planning/plotting your story. So I thought a brief reminder on the different points of view might be a good precursor to the post; especially if there are people out there in the world, who, like me, often forget what they were taught in primary school!


1st Person – This is when the main character or characters of the book narrate the story themselves. It is easily identified by the use of the pronouns – I, me, mine, my,

‘I neither expressed surprise at this resolution nor attempted to dissuade her from it. “The vocation will fit you to a hair,” I thought: “much good may it do you!”

When we parted, she said: “Good-bye, cousin Jane Eyre; I wish you well: you have some sense.”

I then returned: “You are not without sense, cousin Eliza; but what you have, I suppose, in another year will be walled up alive in a French convent. However, it is not my business, and so it suits you, I don’t much care.”‘ ~Jane Eyre -Charlotte Bronte

The character could be narrating events that took place in the past or could be narrating the tale as it is happening. However, the story is limited to what the character is able to witness with his/her five sense (or any extra senses he/she may have in a fantasy or sci-fi tale).

2nd Person – This is the rarest point of view. It can be identified by the use of the pronoun – you. Here, the reader is the character – the reader is encouraged to situate him or herself in the circumstances of the tale.

‘At the subway station you wait fifteen minutes on the platform for a train. Finally, a local, enervated by graffiti, shuffles into the station. You get a seat and hoist a copy of the New York Post. […]

The train shudders and pitches toward Fourteenth Street, stopping twice for breathers in the tunnel. You are reading about Liz Taylor’s new boyfriend when a sooty hand taps your shoulder. You do not have to look up to know you are facing a casualty, one of the city’s MIAs. You are more than willing to lay some silver on the physically handicapped, but folk with the long-distance eyes give you the heebie-jeebies.

The second time he taps your shoulder you look up. His clothes and hair are fairly neat, as if he had only recently let go of social convention, but his eyes are out-to-lunch and his mouth is working furiously.

“My birthday,” he says, “is January thirteenth. I will be twenty-nine years old.”

Somehow he makes this sound like a threat to kill you with a blunt object.

“Great,” you say, going back to the paper.’  ~Bright Lights, Big City- Jay McInerney

It is perhaps the most intimate form of storytelling and personally I think it is also the hardest to pull off successfully.


3rd Person – This point of view is from the outside looking in. It can be identified by the use of the following phrases: he, she, they. It can be further divided into 3rd person omniscient and 3rd person limited

3rd Person omniscient has been likened to a bird’s eye view of a landscape. The narrator can see everything that is going on. The narrator knows (and therefore, the reader) that the main character’s girlfriend is pregnant and that his wife has met his girlfriend; even though the main character is oblivious to all of this.

‘Then there was the hissing of a train, which drew up almost silently upon the wet rails, and the milk was rapidly swung can by can into the truck. The light of the engine flashed for a second upon Tess Durbeyfield’s figure, motionless under the great holly tree. No object could have looked more foreign to the gleaming cranks and wheels than this unsophisticated girl, with the round bare arms, the rainy face and hair, the suspended attitude of a friendly leopard at pause, the print gown of no date or fashion, and the cotton bonnet drooping on her brow.’ ~Tess of the d’Urbevilles – Thomas Hardy

On the other hand, 3rd person limited is similar to 1st person because the narrator only sees or knows what the main character sees or knows. It is not as intimate as 1st person because the voice narrating the tale is neutral.

‘‘Your mother made a scene.’

‘You’re angry,’ Odenigbo looked puzzled. He sat down in the armchair, and for the first time she noticed how much space there was between the furniture, how sparse her flat was, how unlived in. Her things were in his house; her favourite books were in the shelves in his study. ‘Nkem, I didn’t know you’d take this so seriously. You can see that my mother doesn’t know what she’s doing. She’s just a village woman. She’s trying to make her way in a new world with skills that are better suited for the old one.’ Odenigbo got up and moved closer to take her in his arms, but Olanna turned and walked into the kitchen.

‘You never talk about your mother,’ she said. ‘You’ve never asked me to come to Abba with you to visit her.’’ ~Half of A Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Adichie


So, there we are, points of views and all that. Personally, my writing so far has favoured 3rd person limited.

Keep writing!

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Oyinkan Braithwaite

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June 2019
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