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June 30, 2024 12:00
Three point of view examples including third person point of view, first person point of view, second person point of view and third person omniscient point of view
novel writing techniques
novel writing process

Point of View Examples: A Quick Reference Guide

Mahsuda Snaith. Author and The Novelry Team Member
Mahsuda Snaith
March 10, 2024
March 10, 2024

Experimenting with the point of view for your novel (often abbreviated to ‘POV’ or sometimes called ‘narrative perspective’) will have a huge effect on how your story is told.

Do you want the reader to walk in the shoes of your main character, privy to their thoughts, learning what they do at the precise moment they learn it? Or do you want to observe your protagonist from the outside (and certainly outside of their head)? Consider your narrator’s position. Are they in the story or outside of it? Is your protagonist the person writing the story we’re reading? Do you perhaps have multiple narrators? Is their perspective limited or omniscient?

The pool of options is wonderfully varied. To avoid becoming overwhelmed, it’s helpful to see what some of the latest and greatest have done before us.

In this article, The Novelry writing coach and author Mahsuda Snaith shares a quick reference guide to point of view examples in famous fiction, listing the perspective used by novels across multiple genres. This will help you explore the many possibilities and decide which viewpoint might be right for your story.

When to choose your point of view

Writing is mainly about making decisions. Of course, it’s also about writing—getting that butt on the seat, committing words to the page—but even before you do this, you need to make several decisions. What story idea do you want to pursue? Which characters are best suited to this novel? You might have decided on a story structure and, of course, you will have chosen the best stationery to use! But one of the biggest decisions you’ll have to make before typing up the words is which point of view to write from.

Point of view or narrative perspective is a key element of presenting a story to your reader. It will affect the style in which you tell your story and, because of the limitations of certain points of views, how you reveal plot points and vital information.

As our editor Francine Toon states in this article on Narrative Perspective, ‘the narrative perspective is the lens through which we view the facts of the story’. Hit the link for insights from editors at major publishing houses, including whether they hold a preference for first person over third person point of view.

Tips for choosing your point of view

Below is a list of the most commonly used points of view, as well as the subcategories within them (e.g. first-person plural, close third person) along with examples of novels that use those narrative perspectives, and some opening lines so you can see how they work on the page.

Before we get to our quick reference guide, I want you to keep in mind a few points as you decide which perspective is best for you:

number one, first person narrative or second person narration is told by your main character who might be an unreliable narrator

1.     Your point of view is not set in stone

You can always change your perspective in later drafts, as Katie Khan has described doing in the article Close Encounters. That’s not to say it isn’t hard work, but if you needed to write your novel in first person to get that initial draft done but then realise it works better in close third, then the many tweaks you have to make may still have saved you time because at least you got the idea out rather than looking at a blank screen unsure of how to move forward.

number one, first person narrative or second person narration is told by your main character who might be an unreliable narrator

2.     Allow for flexibility and experimentation

Just because you’ve always written in one point of view before doesn’t mean you should automatically write in that style for all your work. Each novel is different, as are you by the time you write it. Allow flexibility and experiment to see what’s right for this particular story.

Having said that, don’t feel you need to experiment for the sake of experimentation; there’s a reason why second person and first-person plural are not used as often in novels, as they are very hard to execute successfully. That doesn’t mean you can’t ever use them, but pay close attention to how other writers have done this (see the list of example books below) and assess if this viewpoint really is the best way for you to tell your story. 

number 3, third person narrator, third person limited point of view, or fourth person point of view

3.     Look for what flows

I often advise writers to write in the narrative perspective that feels most natural to them and be aware of when the writing flows. There are enough challenges when writing a novel; if you can limit them, the writing process will be easier and far more enjoyable. Take a look at the choices below and, if you’re still unsure of which way to go, experiment with a page of your novel in a few different viewpoints. See what the pros and cons are for each result, but also be aware of how it feels to write in that style. If the writing feels good, you’ll be far more likely to finish your draft.

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First-person point of view examples

First-person singular—using ‘I’

  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • Really Good Actually by Monica Heisey
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • Happy Place by Emily Henry
  • My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress.
—Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games
My marriage ended because I was cruel. Or because I ate in bed. Or because he liked electronic music and difficult films about men in nature. Or because I did not.
—Monica Heisey, Really Good Actually

First-person plural—using ‘we’

  • The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
  • Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris
  • The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
  • We the Animals by Justin Torres
We were fractious and overpaid. Our mornings lacked promise. At least those of us who smoked had something to look forward to at ten-fifteen.
—Joshua Ferris, Then We Came to the End
On the boat we were mostly virgins. We had long black hair and flat wide feet and we were not very tall.
—Julie Otsuka, The Buddha in the Attic

First-person epistolary—using letters or diary entries

  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  • The Appeal by Janice Hallett
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  • The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend
  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
  • The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
Dear friend, I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn’t try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have.
—Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Jonathan Harker’s Journal (kept in shorthand.)
3 May. Bistritz. Left Munich at 8:35 P.M., on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrived at 6:46, but train was an hour late. Buda-Pesth seems a wonderful place, from the glimpse which I got of it from the train and the little I could walk through the streets.
—Bram Stoker, Dracula

Dual or multiple first person—alternating between first-person viewpoints

  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
  • Small Island by Andrea Levy
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  • The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak
ROY: There are two types of people in the world, those who leave home, and those that don’t. I’m a proud member of the first category.
CELESTIAL: Memory is a queer creature, an eccentric curator. I still look back at that night, but not as often as I once did.
—Tayari Jones, An American Marriage
CLARE: It’s hard being left behind. I wait for Henry, not knowing where he is, wondering if he’s okay. It’s hard to be the one who stays.
HENRY: How does it feel? How does it feel?
—Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife

Third person point of view examples

Close/limited third person—using ‘he/she/they’ with a window into the character’s thoughts and feelings

  • Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner
  • One Day by David Nicholls
  • Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust
  • The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride
  • A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
  • The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
She can feel hope ebbing, like the Christmas lights on fade in Pound Saver. Manon tells herself to focus on the man opposite, whose name might be Brian but could equally be Keith…
—Susie Steiner, Missing, Presumed
The monster turned up just after midnight. As they do. Conor was awake when it came. He’d had a nightmare. Well, not a nightmare. The nightmare. The one he’d been having a lot lately.
Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls

Distant/objective third person—using ‘he/she/they’, keeping a distance from the character’s thoughts and feelings

  • Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
  • The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo
  • The Explorer by Katherine Rundell
  • Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Like a man-made magic wish, the aeroplane began to rise.
The boy sitting in the cockpit gripped his seat and held his breath as the plane climbed into the arms of the sky.
Katherine Rundell, The Explorer
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions…
George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

Third-person omniscient—the all-knowing ‘God’ point of view with the ability to see everything and dip in and out of a variety of characters’ thoughts and feelings

  • Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
  • Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
  • Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast.
—Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You
Well, the sun was shining. They felt that boded wellpeople turn any old thing into an omen. It was all just to say no clouds were to be seen. The sun where the sun always was. The sun persistent and indifferent.
Rumaan Alam, Leave the World Behind

Second-person point of view examples

Second person—the ‘you’ is narrating the story

  • Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney
  • Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson
  • Montpelier Parade by Karl Geary
  • The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo
The first night you met, a night you both negate as too brief an encounter, you pull your friend Samuel to the side.
Caleb Azumah Nelson, Open Water

Second person—the ‘you’ is another character, and this style usually includes a first-person narrator too

  • The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
  • You by Caroline Kepnes
Excuse me sir, but may I be of assistance? Ah, I see I have alarmed you. Do not be frightened by my beard: I am a lover of America. I noticed that you were looking for something…
—Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Second person—the ‘you’ is the reader, and this style usually includes a first-person narrator too

  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
—J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

When it comes to selecting your point of view, the choice is all yours

I hope this quick reference guide is something you can come back to whenever you are deciding which point of view to use. Though you may feel swayed by what is currently selling well in the market, or want to try something experimental because you believe it’s innovative, make sure you also have some solid reasons for why this viewpoint is the right one for this book.

When you have these reasons to back up your choice, you’ll feel far more secure about your writing as you work through the drafts of your novel. And remember, just like choosing pick-and-mix at the cinema, the choice is ultimately yours.

For more tips on writing and editing your novel, join us on a creative writing course at The Novelry today. Sign up for courses, coaching and a community from the world’s top-rated writing school.

Someone writing in a notebook
Mahsuda Snaith. Author and The Novelry Team Member
Mahsuda Snaith

Mahsuda Snaith’s debut novel The Things We Thought We Knew saw her named an Observer ‘New Face of Fiction.’

Members of The Novelry team