point of view

Don't Mix Your Point of View

points of view
In literature, point of view is how a story is told. First person, which is becoming more common, might have the sentence:

I was tired and there was nothing to do, so I decided to lie down in the cool grass and watch the clouds drift by.

First person plural is when more than one person tells the story. Such a story might include this:

We were tired and agreed that there was nothing much to do, so we decided to lie in the tall grass and watch the clouds pass over us.

Second person, a rather uncommon point of view, is when the narrator tells what you are doing. It’s tricky to get this right, and few authors attempt it. You might write:

You came to that fork in the road and were uncertain which way to go. If you turned left, you might run into that ditsy woman, Alice. But if you turned right, you could get caught by some young hoodlums trying to get into the local gang.

Third person, which is still the most common, is when the narrator of the story tells what is happening. For example:

Manuel was tired and had nothing to do, so he lay down in the grassy meadow and idly watched the clouds go by.

Third person comes in two varieties:
third person omniscient, in which the narrator is privy to the thoughts of every character in the story, and limited third person, where the narrator is only aware of the thoughts of the principal character.

The worst thing you can do as an author is to mix different points of view in the same story. For example, you might write:

I had moved the satchel and put it where I thought no one would find it. Paul came by and thought, I wonder if Manuel knows where that stupid satchel is.

This little snippet starts out with first person point of view—“I had moved” and “[I] put it”—but abruptly switches to third person omniscient when it tells what Paul is thinking. How could you, as the narrator of the story, know what Paul was thinking?

Switching your point of view can happen insidiously, so be careful to keep the same point of view when you develop your story. Take one point of view and stick to it—religiously. Your writing benefits if you take care in preserving the same point of view throughout.