There are many points of view that we, as writers, can use to craft our stories: third person (close or omniscient), first person, and second person. I think it may have to do with how we view ourselves, and the world around us.
We have our internal viewpoint, where we are inside ourselves looking out at the world. This is our subjective point of view, where emotions and thoughts are internal – sometimes expressed and sometimes kept hidden. This is the first person or “I” point of view. This point of view can be useful when there is only one main character, or the story revolves around one character. If the reader has to be emotionally attached to the main character for the story to work then first person point of view is an excellent choice. First person point of view could also work well if the protagonist does things that may seem repugnant to the reader unless they were privy to the characters innermost thoughts and motivation. An example would be if the protagonist were a thief – but that they steal and lie because of their concern for the continued well-being of their family. First person can also be detached – depending on the depth of thought and emotion revealed to the reader.
We have our view of ourselves in the world, our place in the world. This point of view is sometimes detached, impartial, and independent. This is the objective third person omniscient point of view. When this viewpoint gets closer and enters the thoughts and reveals the emotions it becomes the subjective third person limited point of view. This is the most nuanced point of view and, I believe, the one that provides the most leeway to the writer.
By using third person point of view the writer can provide both the internal and the external landscape and workings of any character. Presenting the internal and external of a character to a reader helps to make the character round. This approach could be used for a protagonist that is outwardly mild-mannered but in his thoughts he is a scheming murderer.
Another reason to use third person point of view is when the story has multiple characters, and each character has their [his or her] own story line. It allows the writer to move from one character’s story arc to another with ease.
Both first and third person point of view are from the viewpoint of the character, from the inside out so to speak, and can be close or detached. In first person, the narrator is the character and in third person the narrator is telling the story of the character from their viewpoint.
Finally, we have our view of others in the world, and are view of how others view us. This point of view is detached, outside in point of view. This is the second person point of view, and it is a non-judgmental point of view – we can only see what others do; we do not know or understand their internal landscape, their emotions, or their motivation. This is a tricky point of view, but one that has the potential for great impact because it speak directly to you, to the reader. It also draws the reader directly into the story by placing them as a character in the story.
When we talk about ourselves to others, we use first person point of view – “I”. We can also use first person point of view when to talk to ourselves. When we talk directly to others we use second person point of view – “you”. However, we can also talk to ourselves in second person point of view. I find this duality of point of view when someone refers to themselves very interesting, and very useful.
I have been experimenting more with second person point of view for this reason. I wrote a short memoir piece in first, third, then second person point of view. I found that looking back through the lens of memory using second person point of view made me feel like I was talking to my younger self, reaching back through time and giving myself a hug, saying ‘you’ll be okay’. I think it allowed me to inject empathy into the story that could translate to the reader.
Determining a point of view can be tricky, and sometimes when we find one we like we tend to just keep doing what we do.
I’ll challenge you to write a short story in a point of view you have not used before, or one you are not fully comfortable with. You never know, you may find that you like it!