Guide to Literary Terms

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Point of View

The “point of view” or “perspective” of a story describes how the story is told. Typically, we say that a story is told in either first-person, second-person, or third-person.

First-person:

A story narrated from the first-person perspective is one where the narrator writes or speaks directly about themself. The first-person perspective is usually easy to recognize because it will be narrated using words such as “I” and “me.” Sometimes first-person stories are written in the form of diaries or letters, in which case it’s important to consider the fictional or real audience the narrator addresses. For instance, if the narrator is writing in their secret diary, they will say things and express opinions they wouldn’t if it were a letter to a friend or a speech, although all of these are in the first-person.

Autobiographies and memoirs use the first-person, as do many novels. This inherently limited perspective (unless the narrator is a mind-reader) can serve any number of purposes. Readers get to know the narrator intimately through the narrator’s thoughts, reactions, and biases.

In detective stories, the first-person perspective lets the reader unravel the mystery alongside the narrator, as in the first-person narration of Dr. Watson in Sherlock Holmes. Many authors use the first-person to create unreliable narrators, who may lie to or mislead the audience. The first-person perspective might also be used to create a frame-tale, where a story is told to the narrator, though the narrator themself is not involved with the main plot (ex: Robert Walton in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or Lockwood in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights).

Incorrect example:

  • “It [the letter] was dated from Rosings, at eight o'clock in the morning, and was as follows:— ‘Be not alarmed, madam, on receiving this letter, by the apprehension of its containing any repetition of those sentiments or renewal of those offers which were last night so disgusting to you. I write without any intention of paining you, or humbling myself, by dwelling on wishes which, for the happiness of both, cannot be too soon forgotten; and the effort which the formation and the perusal of this letter must occasion, should have been spared, had not my character required it to be written and read.’”

    • In this part of Pride and Prejudice (a novel written in third-person perspective), Mr. Darcy gives Elizabeth a letter. Though Mr. Darcy writes his letter using “I” and “me,” that does not mean that the perspective has switched. We are reading the letter over Elizabeth’s shoulder; Mr. Darcy has not started narrating the story.

Second-person:

An author employs the second-person point of view when they are directly telling the story to another character or the audience. As second-person narration is addressed to the audience/another character, the author will frequently use the pronouns “you,” “you’re,” and “your.” In literature, this narrative perspective is usually used...

(The entire section is 1,131 words.)