POV Types and Thoughts

So, POV is another thing that usually ends up here in Writing 101, so I decided to create a post about the different types, and see what people like to use and when and for what purposes. Also, if I miss anything, feel free to add!

First, there is what grammatical person it is in:

1st Person: I, me, my, mine/ We, us, our, ours, etc.

2nd Person: you – Rare in fiction. Usually only for Choose-Your-Own-Adventure stories, but I found it was used exquisitely for certain passages in The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern.

3rd Person: She, her, He, him, They, them

Then you have tense:

Present: I am / She does, etc.

Past: I was / He did, etc.

And then there is distance, which has to do with what/whose thoughts you know:

Objective/Cinematic: No thoughts. An example is the first chapter of Harry Potter Book 6, the scene with Snape, Narcissa, and Bellatrix. You don’t see any of their thoughts, just their words and actions, only what could have been captured by a video camera. Another example is The Maltese Falcon. Only exists in third person.

Omniscient: Thoughts are provided from multiple characters within the same scene, but organized by an omniscient narrator. The narrator can be invisible (3rd person) or directly comment on the events/thoughts (1st person). I am reading Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov and some of the chapters are in first person omniscient (Follow me, dear reader!). This is hard to do well because if you dip too deep into any one character’s thoughts, it ends up becoming head-hopping which is confusing to readers. So you have to dip in quickly, superficially, and then back out again.

Limited: You only get the thoughts from one POV character per scene. Most fiction these days is in limited because it allows a closer connection between the reader and the character. It allows the reader to feel like they ARE the character. All first person that isn’t omniscient is limited, but third person limited is also common. With third person, you additionally can have direct thoughts in first person (often italicized), which makes it a closer POV than a third person where the thoughts are more indirect:

She hurried to the shop, cursing. I’ll never make it, now!

She hurried to the shop, cursing. She’d never make it now.

So, what POVs do you like to read and write, and when do you choose one over the other? Also, am I missing any? What are some other examples of unusual POV in published novels?

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The POV I use depends wholly on what works for a particular story. Mostly I write in first person limited, as that’s what feels most natural to me as a writer, but I occasionally write in third limited. In both instances I write in past tense. My July Camp project will probably end up as third limited, past tense.

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Two people in my writing group are playing with POV.

One has two parallel stories, one is in the past about a troubled girl, the other (as far as we’ve been allowed to read) seems to be about the PI in the present discovering the remains of said girl. It runs on a traditional chapter switch.

The other one present tense, with a narrator, but is jumping back and forth with flashbacks since the narrator is all knowing likes to digress.

I can’t talk about POV right now. I added more POVs as I started my revision and its… interesting. (something something another revision pass).

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I typically write in 3rd omni past. Though I did recently change a story from that to 1st past. It fit better because the MC was in new, entirely unfamiliar territory, and knowing her there (3rd) was different than being her (1st).

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Writing fiction, I write in third person limited, past - it matches with the way I think, so it works best for me. I’ve occasionally tried out first person… but I find that awkward and difficult; plus, the way I write tends to need to have scenes with different people in them to get certain things in, and I don’t like the idea of hopping between first person POVs. I generally stick to the POVs of two or three characters throughout the story, unless I find some scenes would work better from the POV of a different person. (When I’m writing fanfic, I tend to have several POV characters, but not when I’m writing original fic.)

Admittedly, there is sometimes a third person omniscient past that shows up, if I want to show a scene that has only characters whose heads I don’t want to get into, but it’s very rare.

This Camp (July), I’m adding the narrator in as a character, so I’m playing with third person narrator omniscient a bit. :grin:

I also much prefer reading third person, past, either limited or omniscient. I find getting it’s difficult for me to get into a first person POV story (another reason I prefer not writing first person), and second person POV grates.

So, that’s my roundup…

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I normally write stories from a single POV (and always in past tense), but whether it’s first or third limited depends on what feels right for the story. I’ve tried my hand at omniscient, but it always seems to devolve into multiple limited POVs or, worse, head-hopping. (It’s a shame, I had a witty narrator for the first couple scenes of my April project. Before long, the narrator’s voice faded and gave way to distant limited perspective with head-hopping.) I’d love to learn to write properly in omniscient, though.

For Camp this month, I’m writing in third limited, past tense, with a single POV character.

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I have always done limited third person past, though I want to try Limited first person present.

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I almost always write in past tense third person limited, because that’s my favorite to read and write. That said, I’m currently working on a story written in third person omniscient, past tense, because it works a lot better to tell the story this way with my larger cast.

I’ve also written past tense first person limited before, but I never enjoyed it as much. I’ve never written in present tense, but I’ve definitely thought about doing it before. Someday I’d like to write a different short story in every type of POV, just for the fun of trying them out.

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I tend to switch between limited third person in past tense, and first person in present. Just depends on how personal and feelings-based I want to get. I’ve begun experimenting with roleplaying in the latter, and it’s been pretty fun so far.

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I write all in past tense. I’m not generally a fan of present tense. I’ll read it occasionally, but I’m not a fan.

I write in both first person and third person limited, depending on what the story needs. If the main character has a strong voice, I’ll use first. If I need POVs from multiple characters, I’ll us third for all of them. (I’ve read stories that use a mix of first and third, or multiple first person narrators, but I wasn’t a fan of them, so I don’t write that myself.)

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Mixing first and third sounds a good way of making a mess (unless you mean a sequence where someone tell’s a story within a story), and only way I could imagine multiple first person is where the text appears as letters or diary entries. I’ve actually tried my hand with a novel that consists of diary entries, it’s half-done

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Mixing first and third sounds a good way of making a mess (unless you mean a sequence where someone tell’s a story within a story), and only way I could imagine multiple first person is where the text appears as letters or diary entries.

The mix I read had four POVs in close third and one of them in first. It was always jarring when I got back to the first person narrative. (None of them had distinct voices either, which didn’t help.)

One of the authors I support on Patreon has a novel there with four separate first person narratives. Basically, each gets a chapter. I gave up about 20 chapters or so ago.

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This is how I wrote it once. The prologue and epilogue were in first person, and the rest of the story was in third (as a story being told to the POV character of the prologue and epilogue).

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I have a half-done story where this goes another way. The story itself is in multiple limited third (which I use most), but there is a long sequence where a person tells a story in first person. Starts as a dialogue, and then returns to the main story with another piece of the same dialogue.
As for POV I dislike a story where you have to read three pages before knowing who now is the POV or who speaks. The author tries to be very “modern”, “artistic” or “original”. Emperor’s new clothes.

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I have read one book (Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop) where the prologue was in first and the rest of the book was in third. Even once you met the character later in the novel, the prologue made no sense until after I finished the novel. It works on a re-read, not on a first read. (At least for this case.)

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Same. I can’t get through a lot of modern lit type books because of this. It’s just aggravating. I read for enjoyment, not to solve puzzles. :upside_down_face:

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I always write in third person limited (aside from having experimented with first and second person years ago) and also generally prefer reading third to first person. Even if it’s otherwise the exact same text and the third person POV is really close to the character’s mind; I guess first person just feels too close for comfort to me.

In terms of tense, when I’m writing original fiction (and also anything written in German, which is pretty much all original stuff), I always write in past tense. When writing fanfiction, it’s either past or present. I first started using present tense when writing a fanfic of a TV series, in order to capture the more immediate feeling, and found that I liked it. Funnily enough, I don’t actually like reading long stories in present tense, though. My brain always ends up “auto-correcting” things to past tense halfway through.

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I seem to mostly write in first person limited within either present or past depending on the story itself. Like my current WIP is first person limited in past tense but another story is completely done in present tense. I just go with the flow of the setting, characters and what they are doing. :woman_shrugging:

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For my stories, I tend to switch between 1st and 3rd Limited. Like, my Dream World Chronicles series is written in 1st person and switches between several different narrators (mainly Adam–he has the POV for the entire first book in the series, Lydia, and Trey). Some of my other stories are told in third person. All of my fanfiction stories are told that way, for instance. My stories are always told in past tense. That’s how I learned to write, so I’ve just always stuck to that. Also, when my characters have moments when they are thinking and their thoughts are written right into the story, those are always in first person, regardless of what POV the rest of the story is told in.

I guess when choosing a POV for my stories, I just go with what I feel is “right”. For instance, an early draft of Dream Catcher (book 1 in Dream World Chronicles) was written in 3rd person. That draft went nowhere and I could not figure out why. Once I started writing the story again, this time in 1st person, it took off, flowed more easily, and, overall, was just more fun to write. That’s when I realized that the story needed that POV to make it work!

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An interesting example of an unusual use of POV is in the French author Guillaume Musso’s recent book, La Vie secrète des écrivains.

It starts out with a first person narrator, but then starts switching to third person semi-omniscient when other characters become the POV. Later, about 2/3 through the book, the 1st person character is killed off (!).

The book stays in the third person after that, until a sort of false epilogue, where it goes back to first person, but this time in the voice of a fictionalized version of Guillaume Musso, the actual author of the book.

The false epilog is then followed by a brief true epilogue, also in first person, headed “Truth from Falsehood: Where does inspiration come from”, in which the real Musso discusses several true experiences that he fictionalized in writing the novel.

The POV is made even fuzzier because the 1st person voice and the two most important 3rd person voices are themselves writers, which causes multiple cracks to appear in the fourth wall. You aren’t quite sure whether the new chapter is narration from the novel, or an excerpt from something that one of the novelist characters has written.

My honest reaction: the book was interesting, especially in the setting that was created for it, and it was all very elegantly structured. However, I found the rather odd switches of POV back and forth a little confusing, and, frankly, not really worth the effort. It was never really clear to me why the first person character who later died even had to be in the story. If the exact same person had been there, but presented in the conventional third person, the story have been about the same, but more readable. In my opinion, of course.

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