POV – Who’s Telling Your Story?

by Gayle Bartos-Pool

Does it matter what Point of View you use in telling your story? Yes and no. What matters is how you want your readers to experience the story. There are three main POVs and a few variations.

Third Person Omniscient lets the writer act as the puppet master controlling every character’s words and actions and thoughts. Not that the writer doesn’t do that anyway, but in this POV each character says his lines and then the writer will chime in and tell the reader what the character is really thinking in case the words were lies or evasions and the character has hidden motives or desires, both good and bad. The reader gets to climb inside all the characters’ heads and see the story through everyone’s eyes. The writer can also keep a few things from the reader in order to build suspense and to keep those pages turning. The writer can also have one character let his inner thoughts say that he is the bad guy, but nobody will know that except him and the reader until the end of the book and the truth is revealed to everybody else. That works, too. All the writer has to do is keep those plates spinning as each character reveals more and more about themselves. This style keeps the tension and excitement high right up until the last page.

There is another version of Third Person POV called Third Person Close. That’s when the writer gets inside just one or two main characters and tells the story from their perspective. Other characters appear, but the details about them come from their speech and actions, not allowing the reader to climb inside their head and walk around with them like you can do with those few Third Person Close characters. This method also lets the main character(s) discover things by watching and listening to the other people in the story and figuring out their true intentions and sharing that with the reader. That would be when the main character has a private thought like: Ah. Check out his eyes. He’s looking at everything except me. There’s a liar if I ever saw one. The reader gets to share that little tidbit, but nobody else on the page knows it.

Another Point Of View is Second Person POV. The writer tells the story with “you” being the driving force. An example would be thus: You walk into the crowded joint and you spot the guy standing at the bar. You wonder where you saw him before and then it hits you. You’re looking at the guy who tried killing you a year ago. Are you going to give him a second chance or end it right here?

That POV is far more challenging than its alternatives and not often used in novel-length stories. It can work in a short story because the reader doesn’t have to follow that unusual method for too long of a time.

And then there is First Person POV where a single character takes you on the journey. The reader gets to know how that person thinks and reacts and grows throughout the story because the character is basically talking directly to the reader. As for the main character, he or she has to watch and listen to the other characters and figure out what they are up to and impart that finding to the reader in their thoughts and actions. But in this way the reader also gets to interpret the other characters’ movements and see if they can figure out what is really happening along with the main character.

First Person POV provides a very personal connection to the story for the reader since they are with the main character every minute of the journey, so make sure the main character is somebody the reader will like. More than once I have put down a book because I really didn’t like that particular character. I have a rule: If I wouldn’t invite the main character into my house, I won’t stick with the book that has that particular character telling the story.

I have even seen this particular POV done with more than one character doing the honors. Each character gets their own set of chapters in which to tell the story from their point of view. One writer I know, Bruce Cook (writing as Brant Randall in Blood Harvest), had an animal have his say in his own chapters along with the various humans. The reader goes from section to section watching seven different characters take the reader on the journey. The reader gets to see what the characters first think is happening and then when they go a second round, we get to see what to make of it all and find out what really happened. It worked.

There was another book (though I have forgotten the name) that had the main character do his chapters throughout the book in First Person POV and other chapters were in Third Person so we could see what others were thinking and doing when the main character wasn’t around. That worked, too.

So there are lots of options out there. It just matters how you want to tell your story and how your characters want to express their feelings. Be sure to consult them because they are an integral part of that story you are trying to tell. I kid you not. Good characters have a mind of their own and sometimes they take the writer into uncharted territory that turns out to be just what your story needed. Write On!

Author: gbpool

A former private detective and once a reporter for a small weekly newspaper, Gayle Bartos-Pool (writing as G.B. Pool) writes three detective series: the Gin Caulfield P.I. series (Media Justice, Hedge Bet & Damning Evidence), The Johnny Casino Casebook Series, and the Chance McCoy detective series. She also penned a series of spy novels, The SPYGAME Trilogy: The Odd Man, Dry Bones, and Star Power. She has a collection of short stories in From Light To DARK, as well as novels: Eddie Buick’s Last Case, Enchanted: The Ring, The Rose, and The Rapier, The Santa Claus Singer, and three delightful holiday storied, Bearnard’s Christmas, The Santa Claus Machine, and Every Castle Needs a Dragon. Also published: CAVERNS, Only in Hollywood, and Closer. She is the former Speakers Bureau Director for Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles and also a member of Mystery Writers of America and The Woman’s Club of Hollywood. She teaches writing classes: “Anatomy of a Short Story,” (The Anatomy of a Short Story Workbook and So You Want to be a Writer are available.) “How To Write Convincing Dialogue” and “Writing a Killer Opening Line” in sunny Southern California. Website: www.gbpool.com.

18 thoughts on “POV – Who’s Telling Your Story?”

  1. Gayle,
    another of your superb master classes for writers. I was glad to see you included using 1st and 3rd together as I used this device to write a story within a tory with my latest thriller, In Terror’s Deadly Clasp.” I introduce myself as a ghostwriter in an early chapter and it works fine according to reviewers. I think that writers should experiment once in a while with POV, even if they junk it later – keeps the brain active!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Crystal, one book I mentioned had both First Person and Third Person POV and it was terrific. Another had several First Person POVS from different characters and it was great. Try it, read it out loud to yourself and see how it sounds. It just might work in your story.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I always learn so much – and am reminded of so much I’d forgotten – from your posts, Gayle!
    I see more and more new writers using the First Person POV and often find it jarring and tough to forget the author who is writing the book and I’m unable to be swept away into a wonderful story. But it is interesting to see when it actually works. Thanks for reminding us of all the options to explore.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rosemary, it might be the storyteller whose POV isn’t pleasant, but different characters just might get away with it. I have to like a character before I will like the book.


  3. Another great tutorial/refresher course in a fundamental aspect of writing, Gayle. All valuable tips, particularly your suggestion to try different POVs. It gives the writer a way to look at the character and story in different perspectives, much like sculpture renders an image differently than a drawing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The right character telling the right story lets the writer pen a good book. And trying different POVs stretches ones creativity.


  4. Most of the books I read are 3rd person POV, but curiously I usually write in 1st person. Oh, I have to take that back. The short stories I’ve written ARE in 3rd, it’s just the Africa Letters that I wrote for kids, that were in 1st…because they were letters (stories) to the recipients. Big thrillers and sagas use the first one you mentioned – 3rd Omnicient. It works.
    Thanks for teaching us again. I’ll keep thesse in mind. I promised to write a travel story (with a dog) for a friend when I go to England. THAT will be a challenge. Shall I make it 3rd person – from the dogs’s POV? Hahha (It has to get into mischief, discover a puzzle, and help to solve it.) High Tea at the Savoy? (that may not work), the British Museau? A Grand Flower Show in the Cotswolds? HELP!


    1. Variety is the spice of life and more than one POV is a terrific idea. I might not be using it in the Chance McCoy book I’m doing now since all the others are in First Person, but I will use more than one POV in my next stand-alone novel.


  5. What a terrific post – thank you Gayle. So interesting about mixing the POV – usually I stick to just one POV but this new genre I’m tackling is close third person and switching to a different character in first person. I haven’t done it before so I am hoping I can pull it off. Your post was extremely timely! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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