Narrative viewpoints

So, you’ve picked up your pen. You’ve stepped up to your keyboard. You’re ready to start writing your novel. But are you ready for the challenge?

The answer is: yes! But you’re probably still a bit… apprehensive? Nervous? Scared? After all, this is your baby, your amazing story idea that will one day be a masterpiece. You don’t want to muck this up. Unfortunately, unless you get something down on paper/ computer screen/ chalkboard/ cave wall, there will never be anything to muck up, or win all those writing prizes and awards.

That doesn’t mean you just leap in, though. Baby steps, right? So here’s Baby Step #1…

Picking a style of narration

Narrative viewpoint shapes your story. It can make it personal; it can make focus it on one person’s perspective; it can be engaging; it can give a wider overview of many people’s actions and thoughts… Basically, you want to pick the right one for your story.

First Person

I, me, we, mine, us, my, our…

Writing in first person is useful as the reader can really get to know the character whose perspective you are writing from. That’s great if your story only has a few main characters, or if it’s in diary form, but only if your character is actually interesting. If your character is one of the most boring people to walk the shelves of a library, then nobody is going to want to read the story from their perspective. Nobody.

Bear in mind too, that writing in first person means your readers aren’t going to get the whole story. It is inevitable that there will be some bias– we’re only getting one side, right? At the same time, this could be viewed as a positive thing. Your first person narrative can be completely dishonest– after all, people lie to themselves too. This can give your reader a distorted view of events that could be quite interesting- especially if they are interested in psychology!


  • Writing in first person means you will have to be more aware of your character’s emotions and feelings. Your writing will definitely not be objective.
  • Your readers are only getting one person’s perspective. So even if you know the wider context and everything that’s happening in the novel, unless your character sees it or mentions it, your readers are going to be completely oblivious.

On the bright side:

  • First person makes your story personal– even intimate. The narrator is confiding in the reader about events that happened to them. We know their views; we empathise with them.
  • Often first person is relatable, especially in the case of teen/ YA literature. Readers can appreciate how much it hurts when your best friend bitches behind your back; how embarrassing it can be to be tongue-tied in front of your crush; how much pressure school or work can be… When I was eleven or twelve, Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging was one of my favourite books because I could really relate to Georgia’s experiences; reading How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran as a sixteen year old, I laughed aloud at Caitlin’s descriptions of her confused teenage self because that was exactly how I felt, and often still do feel. You’ve probably got a book similar, or had one. Perhaps that’s the style you’re going for with your own writing.

My favourite books written in first person: Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë; Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

Second Person

You, you, your, yours…

Second person addresses the reader. This is an effective way of getting a message across in your writing, but it can become a little monotonous as it’s like the whole story is a conversation between you and the reader. Having written with it myself, I find it a bit limiting as you can’t explore with your writing the same way as with third or even first person.


  • Be aware that continually addressing your reader as ‘you’ could make them feel like a character in your story. Don’t forget, your reader still needs things explaining to them.

On the bright side:

  • Not many novels are written in second person- yours will definitely stand out!
  • Second person novels involve the reader in their story much more intimately than first or third person novels. Though they address a specific person, the reader can slip into that person’s persona for the entirety of the novel.

I’ve only read one novel written in second person and that is Stolen by Lucy Christopher. It is about a girl who is kidnapped, and the whole book is a letter to her kidnapper. It added a really interesting twist to story- well worth a read.

A lot of shorter fan-fics seem to be written in second person too, but I’d rather not recommend any since there are billions of fandoms out there and they’ve probably all got amazing second person works.

Third Person

He, she, it, they, his, hers, its, they, their…

The third person, alternatively called the ‘turd person’ (say ‘He, she, it’ as fast as possible; yes, I do appreciate we are all mature enough to not snicker at ‘heshit’, but… *snigger*), is the most detached narrative viewpoint. We don’t see the story through any one character’s point of view, nor is the story addressed to the reader, but this is often an advantage. The reader gets a thorough understanding of just what is going on in every scene, and can read of events that the main character didn’t actually experience/ know occurred. On the downside, it’s less personal and can result in readers not empathising or understanding the main character’s actions.

Third person can be ‘limited’, where you focus on one character without actually being in their head. A good example of this is the Harry Potter series, which centres on Harry and events which affect him but isn’t written from Harry’s perspective, allowing JK Rowling freedom to write scenes such as the beginning of the Half-Blood Prince, which takes place without Harry’s knowledge.

Alternatively, you can have ‘omniscient’ third person narration. Omniscient means ‘all knowing’, so this applies where you have a narrator who knows the thoughts and actions of every person in the story. My favourite example of this is in A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens. We get to see a bit of everyone’s lives, for both the English and French characters, but Dickens still manages to pull tricks like the bombshell he drops in Dr Manette’s letter towards the end of the book- we wonder how the hell we’ve learned so much about Dr Manette, Charles and Madame Defarge, and not discovered this? So- you can have an all-knowing narrator, and still pick your moments to reveal things!


  • Third person isn’t as personal as second or third. Readers may struggle to understand the reasoning behind a character’s actions.

On the bright side:

  • Your readers get a more balanced and less biased view of the story. This is as close to an objective narration as is possible.

Having read about the effects of each type of narration, I hope you’ve learned enough, or refreshed what you already knew, to kick-start that writing process!

What do you struggle with most when you’re writing? Let me know and I’ll try to tackle it in a later post!

7 thoughts on “Narrative viewpoints

  1. Pingback: Monthly Book Round-up: December | scribbley

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