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What are points of view in fiction writing?

This post covers the basics of points of view in fiction writing.

Let's start with a definition:

A point of view is the perspective from which a story or factual account is told. Points of view exist in fiction and non-fiction writing. But they have many subtle layers to them in fiction writing that editors and writers need to consider.

Why are points of view important in fiction?

Fiction takes us beyond the real world (whatever that is). We experience reality from the perspective of someone else – or even several different people.

In fiction, we can jump into several people’s heads or even assume a godlike perspective. This involves nuance, as every character or narrator experiences the world differently.

Some of the common points of view:

Point of view

Common in...

Example books


First person limited

Memoir, ethnography, some YA and romance

Bridget Jones's Diary, The Hunger Games

“When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth, but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress”. The Hunger Games

Third person limited

Many modern novels

Game of Thrones

Third person omniscient

Fairy tales, almost all older works of fiction

Snow White, Pride and Prejudice

“Occupied in observing Mr. Bingley’s attentions to her sister, Elizabeth was far from suspecting that she was herself becoming an object of some interest in the eyes of his friend. Mr. Darcy had at first scarcely allowed her to be pretty: he had looked at her without admiration at the ball; and when they next met, he looked at her only to criticise”. Pride and Prejudice

Which POV should I use and when?

Imagine you are writing a memoir about your experiences working in a car factory twenty years ago. The first-person-limited approach will describe your thoughts, feelings, and reflections on your experience.

Now imagine you writing a novel about that factory. If you take a third-person-limited approach, you can create slightly more distance between the reader and the protagonist by referring to them as they, she, he etc.

In a first-person limited memoir, YOU are the narrator. In a third-person limited novel about the factory, you can also incude a narrator presence that comments on the factory and the environment. For instance, it could use irony and deadpan commentary to create a particular impression. For example:

First person: I clocked in and walked up to the welding robot.

Third-person limited: Sarah clocked in at the start of a very long day and walked up to one of the oh-so-important machines.

How many viewpoint characters?

Beyond the choice of first person vs third person, you can decide whether to have one or several viewpoint characters – characters from whose perspective the story is told.

The Game of Thones books are well known for having a large number of viewpoint characters. Each chapter still limits itself to experiencing the world from one character's perspective, though.

If you go for more than one viewpoint character, I highly recommend shifting perspective to a new character at the start of a new chapter rather than halfway.

And take care not to include too many unnecessary viewpoint characters!

Limited versus omniscient perspectives

Third-person perspectives can be limited (to each viewpoint character's experience) or godlike and omniscient, with the narrator dipping into many different characters' perspectives.

This approach will still emphasize certain characters, and they are called focus characters.

Omniscient perspectives were extremely popular in the nineteenth century and earlier. Nowadays, they are less common and some fiction editors will not work with books written from an omniscient perspective. But omniscient can still be a great choice for stories with a strong, opinionated narrator presence, or stories where the omniscient knowlege is used to create suspense or tension.

If you’re interested in exploring this further, check out the following books and courses:

  1. The chapter on point of view in Steering the Craft, Ursula Le Guin

  2. Sandra Gerth's book on points of view

  3. CIEP Introduction to Fiction Editing course

Photo by redcharlie on Unsplash


Andrew Hodges, PhD is a line editor and developmental editor who specializes in editing fiction for science fiction and fantasy writers. His expertise is in worldbuilding and cultural considerations when crafting setting in stories.

He is an advanced professional member of the CIEP, a member of EFA, and an ALLi partner member.

You can contact him here, or feel free to leave a comment below!

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