Different points of view

There are four basic kinds of points of view in fiction: first person, second person, limited third person and third person omniscient. Each of these provide different tools that, depending on the story, can strengthen or give more depth and complexity to the narrative.

The first person narrator is usually the main character, who narrates the events as they unfold as he/she/they experience them. It’s typically someone who discovers things along with the reader, and who sometimes can be unreliable, as his/her/their point of view is subjective and matters described are tainted by said subjectivity. This kind of narrator is useful to forge a relationship with the reader, as the experience lends itself to be interpreted as a conversation, with someone telling an acquaintance something that happened. It also allows a deeper, psychological understanding of the character (if it’s well done), as the reader learns how the narrator thinks, what he/she/they feel, and why he/she/they act the way they do. For example, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (2012) has an unreliable first person narrator. Other examples (that don’t necessarily play with the unreliability) are Mhairi McFarlane’s Don’t You Forget About Me (2019).

The second point of view narrator considers the reader or audience part of the experience. This creates what feels like a more immersive experience for the reader. An example is the Choose Your Own Adventure series, where the situations that unfold are consequence of the choices the reader makes.

The limited third person narrator tells a story about characters, without possessing information beyond what is unfolding or what the characters themselves know, and it usually follows certain characters, voicing their thoughts, without using internal monologues or turning to first person narrator. The reader finds out what’s going on as the story develops and as the characters learn things, too. This type of narrator allows different characters to be traced throughout the story (unlike the first person narrator, which is limited to the specific character’s path). An example is the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling.

The third person omniscient narrator is similar to the previous one, but there is a specific difference: in this case, the narrator knows the feelings and thoughts of other characters and other things that the main characters don’t know, and bits of information may be presented to the reader to foreshadow or anticipate what will happen or the solution to an initial problem or mystery. Examples are Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (2006) by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, and the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George RR Martin.

Do you have any favorite types of narrators? What books of each type do you read?

Moira Daly

  • E-books & print books
  • About reviews
  • What’s on my desk?