Write Lara Write | Comparing and Contrasting different Points of View #writing

POV Part 2—v.s. (compare and contrast)

Write Lara Write | Comparing and Contrasting different Points of View #writing

Today is my second in a short series on Point of View. First was an introduction to terms. Now, a comparison of the different choices of narration. Coming up next, examples of each type. As always, feel free to ask any questions in the comments!


  1. Introduction
  2. First Person
  3. Third Person Omniscient
  4. Third Person Limited Omniscient
  5. Third Person Objective/Cinematic


For each of the categories below, I’ll talk about pronouns used for the protagonist; the “number of heads,” that is, the number of POV characters; intimacy, or how connected the reader feels to the characters;  whether the narration style is presentational or representationalif the story or the writing style is more crucial; and in which circumstances you should use each (Should you use it?).

First Person

Pronouns: I, we, me, my, us, our

Number of heads: Just one, the “I” talking. Other chapters might feature a different “I,” though.

Intimacy: Pretty intimate. We feel like we are reading a diary or listening to a friend telling a story. But limited third can be even more intimate, as you’ll see below.

Presentational vs representational: A bit of both. A first-person narrator is aware of the audience and speaks to the audience, which can make it presentational. But if it’s presented in the form of a diary or an interview, it also represents real life, so it feels less fictional.

Story vs. Style: The voice of the narrator is more important than what’s going on in the story. It’s crucial that the writing style is intriguing, interesting, or amusing. The plot of the story doesn’t matter as much as what’s going on in the narrator’s head. One of my guilty pleasures is the Georgia Nicolson diary series by Louise Rennison. There are ten books, and each book has exactly the same plot. But Georgia’s voice never ceases to make me howl with laughter, to the point of abdominal pain, so I own all the books, and have read the first book several times.

Should you use it? First person will work better for you if you have a history in acting. You need to become the character and find his or her voice, not just replicate your own. I could listen to Benedict Cumberbatch read the back of a cereal box and be hanging on his every word. Because he has a great voice. If you can 1) take a menial task and 2) make it interesting and not boring for 3) readers that aren’t on your Christmas list, then you could probably write first person successfully. Just don’t include the cereal boxes in your manuscript.

Another thing to remember about first person is that if the narrator wasn’t physically present for an event, it can only be depicted through after-the-fact dialogue, or seeing it on the news, or some other way of portraying the action. If it’s an important scene, the narrator HAS to be present for it, or the reader will feel cheated. If it’s not an important scene, consider summarizing. If it’s important but the narrator is unconscious or dead, then you’re going to have to switch narrators.

Third Person Omniscient

Pronouns: he, she, it, they, his, hers, her, their, theirs, him, them

Number of heads: limitless. Omniscient means “all-knowing,” so an omniscient narrator can see into everyone’s thoughts. Omniscient narrators are also omnipresent, so they can go to any time or place. If you’re trying to establish a setting by using people as texture, then you can consider starting with omniscient and segue into limited omniscient.

Intimacy: Omniscient is the least intimate. The more heads the narrator jumps into, the weaker the connection the reader has with anyone. However, in comedy, you might want that comic distance.

Presentational vs representational: Omniscient narration is the most presentational. In real life, there’s no way you can see into everyone’s thoughts. (You aren’t Bruce Almighty.) Since it’s presentational, your narrator needs to be just as well crafted as a first-person narrator. The narrator can have a neutral point of view, but the writing style still needs to be interesting.

Story vs. Style: The reason to write omniscient is to see into other’s heads. If you’re going into more than one head, then the story has to carry the reader through the transition, or else the narrator does. You’ve got to have a fantastic story or an incredible narrator to justify not focusing on one character.

Should you use it? If you’re hilarious, yes. If not, just pick one or two heads and go with limited omniscience. Epic fantasy can sometimes get away with omniscience, but the most successful bits of epic fantasy are told in limited third. Readers want to get attached to characters. Let them.

Third Person Limited Omniscient

Pronouns: he, she, it, they, his, hers, her, their, theirs, him, them

Number of heads: Just one per scene, but technically limitless.

Intimacy: The more time we spend in a character’s head, the more intimate it gets. Which means the fewer the POV characters, the better. Remember in part 1 when I talked about filtering and deep vs light penetration? Limited third person allows the reader to experience things not just as a friend of the protagonist, like in first person, but as the protagonist. I talk a bit more about it in part 3.

Presentational vs representational: A limited omniscient third person narrator is the least presentational apart from the cinematic narrator. It is generally neutral about the characters in the novel and will disappear during the deep penetration scenes.

Story vs. Style: Because the narrator is pretty neutral in tone, story is more important with limited third person. However, the voices of each of the POV characters still need to be distinct during deep penetration scenes.

Should you use it? Limited Third Person is the novel standard because it’s the best of all worlds. It allows you to pick more than one POV character if necessary. But please, don’t give every secondary and tertiary character their own few paragraphs in the spotlight. It’s annoying. Writers using limited omniscience third person effectively will limit the omniscience and the number of persons involved.

Third Person Objective/Cinematic

Pronouns: he, she, it, they, his, hers, her, their, theirs, him, them

Number of heads: Zero. Any thoughts and emotions have to be shown through speech or actions. The narrator is silent and objective.

Intimacy: While this doesn’t sound very intimate, because we never see anybody’s thoughts, it’s as intimate as you can get with people in real life. Readers feel connected to the characters because they get to know them by their words and actions, not by the perception of a narrator. We never get into Darcy’s head, but how many people have fallen in love with Mr. Darcy?

Presentational vs representational: Representational, for the above.

Story vs. Style: It’s difficult to do objective narration well, without boring your readers to death. It really is showing versus telling. Nobody tells the reader what to think of certain characters, the reader has to figure them all out, even the protagonist. Things have to happen to the characters in order for them react, so story is important. But figuring out how to flesh out all of the characters while not commenting on them might take some figuring.

Should you use it? If you’re the next Hemingway, go for it. He did it. Whether he was successful or not is up to the readers. But if it doesn’t work for you, try writing limited third person instead of blowing your brains out.

Actually I’m reading a book right now that is written in first person, but the love interest had been written in an objective way for the first part of the book. And it’s spectacular. The protagonist mentioned what she observed this guy doing, and what he said, but she never commented on him or his actions. I was able to get to know him apart from her opinions. And that meant that I, as reader, was able to “fall in love” at the same time as the protagonist. Of course, later on, she realizes that she loves him, and then starts describing him from a biased point of view, but until that point, any opinions were completely my own. What a refreshing change from the books that assume you have to like a character just because the narrator keeps telling you to! Bottom line: experiment with objective storytelling, showing who a character is rather than telling what he is.

Read Part Three: Examples of the Different POVs.

POV Part 1—intro (Person)

POV part 1—introduction to person | writelarawrite

From Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway:

“[Point of view] ultimately concerns the relationship among writer, characters, and reader. Who speaks? To whom? In what form? At what distance from the action?”

Today is my first in a short series on Point of View. First, an introduction to terms. Next, a comparison of the different choices of narration. Then, examples of each type. As always, feel free to ask any questions in the comments!


  1. Pronouns
  2. First Person
  3. Third Person
  4. Presentational and Representational
  5. Penetration and Filtering
  6. Combining POVs


Pronouns are words that we use in place of nouns so we don’t sound tediously repetitive and so we can tell the difference between ourselves and others. First person pronouns refer to ourselves—I, me, my, we, us, our. Second person pronouns are directed at someone or a group of people—you, your (singular and plural). Third person pronouns refer to someone else—he, she, it, him, her, they, them, their, his, its.

Most books are written in third person. The protagonist (main character) is he or she or it or they. Many are written in first person, with the narrator being the “I” talking. This is more common in YA novels. Very few are written in second person, but choose-your-own-ending books and some short fiction will be written in second person. Recipes and directions are written in second person, and so are advertisements, so writing with “you” as the protagonist comes off feeling commercial.

First- and third-person narratives can be divided further. Note, the following terms for categories have been borrowed from Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. I recommend picking up a copy of the book for a reference if you want to know more than what I’ll be posting in the next week. The following information is a summary of her sections of point of view, mixed with other knowledge I’ve picked up over time.

First Person

There are two types of first person:

  • Central narration
  • Peripheral narration

In central narration, the protagonist is the narrator. The narrator is present for every action, and the action revolves around him or her. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is written with a first person, central narration.

Less common, but still prevalent, is peripheral narration, in which the narrator is not the protagonist, but is attached to the protagonist enough to tell a story about him or her. Examples of peripheral narrators are Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby and Dr. Watson in the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Third Person

There are three types of third person narration: omniscient, limited omniscient, and objective or cinematic narration.

An omniscient narrator is not limited by time, place, or person. It can jump into the minds of any person, can sum up the history of 500 years in a few lines, and can change from place to place. Because the omniscient narrator is attached to no single person in particular, it is detached from everyone. Think of a person with few friends but hundreds of acquaintances. Or a politician, because omniscient narrators also call attention to themselves.

A limited omniscient narrator can see into the mind of just one character at a time. It may switch to a different character in a new scene or chapter, but it sticks to one person. Think of a parrot sitting on the shoulder of a pirate. It sees what that pirate sees, and the pirate might speak his thoughts aloud to the parrot, for no one else to hear. The parrot can then land on somebody else’s shoulder and have a similar relationship. This parrot may or may not share the views of the pirate, and might speak differently. Likewise the narrator’s voice can be separate from the POV character. (I’ll get more into limited omniscient narration and its subcategories in the next post).

An objective or cinematic narrator is neutral and never sees into anyone’s mind. Think of a fly on a wall, observing what is going on. Or a Vulcan journalist, that has no emotional connection to any of the characters in order to have a bias. Feelings and motivations of the characters can only be gleaned from their actions and dialogue.

Presentational and Representational

(These terms are borrowed from Characters and Viewpoint, an insightful read by a now infamous author.) “Presentational” and “representational” are related to how visible the narrator is in fiction. Representation pretends to be real—it represents real life. The narrator is invisible. Presentation acknowledges it isn’t real—it presents the story to the reader. The narrator has a distinct voice and may interfere with or comment on the story as it happens. The narrator in Stranger than Fiction isn’t just presentational, she’s present in the story.

It’s difficult to use movies as examples for the presentational/representational dichotomy, because like theatre, nearly all movies are presentational, whether they have a narrator or not. They might have some similarities to real life, if they are a mockumentary or are first-person filmed (like Cloverfield or The Blair Witch Project). But movies are generally unrealistic in form, which is why adding in representational elements like shaky-cam or lens flares can sometimes seem awkward and out of place. It’s presentation masquerading as representation.

So when we are talking about presentational or representational fiction, we’re talking about what the narrator is doing. Is the narrator saying, “I present to you, THIS STORY”? Or is the narrator silent? Usually these terms are only applied to third-person narrators, because first-person narrators are both. Sort of.

Penetration and Filtering

I know.


But Card distinguishes between light penetration and deep penetration when talking about Third Person limited omniscience. If you’ve ever taken a writing class or read about strengthening your fiction, you’ve probably heard of filtering. (Actually, I thought I’d written a post about it, but not yet, apparently.) If you’re using filtering language, then the reader is experiencing the character experiencing something.

If you read, “Abraham Lincoln saw snowflakes out the window,” you’re probably picturing a window with snowflakes falling down, the view slightly obstructed by the president’s trademark stovepipe hat. But if you read, “Abraham Lincoln went to the window. Snowflakes were falling and sticking to the glass,” you see Mr. President going to the window, and then you see what he is seeing, for yourself. The first example was light penetration. The second was deep penetration.

But you can eliminate all filtering and still have light penetration. Light penetration just means you aren’t inside the brain of a character all the time. The narrator shows up and gives you a bit of a break. With deep penetration, every thought is that of the protagonist. It’s like you’ve switched to first person, but the pronouns are still third person. Save deep penetration for intense scenes—remove the narrator and replace it with the unfiltered thoughts of the protagonist. When the scene is over, then you can bring the narrator in again. (I’ll illustrate this more in Part 3. Feel free to ask questions if I’m being confusing or vague!)

Combining POVs

You can combine these POVs in a single work. You could tell a frame story, starting out in third person, and then have one of the characters tell most of the novel in first person, concluding again in third person once the story is finished (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner). Or you can switch back and forth between first and third, telling two different stories simultaneously (Tamar: A Novel of Espionage, Passion, and Betrayal).

However, if you do switch between different points of view, your section headings should alert the reader to a change, and you might consider using different tenses for each section, to further separate the two. In both examples given above, the more recent story was written in present tense (I am, he is) and the older story was written in past tense (he was, they went).

If you write the entire novel in first person but from different points of view of different characters, you might have some use past tense and some use present, like in The Poisonwood Bible.

Sound weird to write in present tense? People do it all the time when telling their own stories:

So I’m sitting in this bar, minding my own business, when this guy comes up to me and says, “Hey! You look just like Lisa Loeb!” And then he starts singing. “You say, I only hear what I want to. Youuuuu…saaaay…I only hear what I want to.” He doesn’t know the rest of the song, just that line.

Just remember, CONSISTENCY IS KEY. Tone, objectivity, and viewpoint need to remain consistent per scene. Unless you are extremely gifted and are writing spectacular omniscient narration, no head-hopping!

Read Part Two: Comparison of Different POVs.