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Point of View: Does it Matter?

January 27, 2012

We all know about point of view (or POV as it is often abbreviated): first person, third person, and even the elusive second person; however, what is the real difference between these? I recently started a course on Creating Writing that uses the book The 3 A.M. Epiphany for most of its exercises. I was skimming through the exercise prompts today and realized that many of them dealt with point of view. I have often wondered why teachers and writing books focus so much on POV. Is it really that important?

I have heard all manner of explanations for the apparent significance of POV, but when it comes down to it, there is not that much of a difference between first person and third person. It is often said that first person delves into a single character in great detail but avoids going into depth on many of the other people, whereas third person is only capable of displaying the general relationships between characters without a very detailed look at any one. In my own writings, I have found this to be completely false. Each type of POV can be used to whatever effect the author desires. I typically write in third person like many fantasy authors, but I do not limit myself to a general overview of the characters and situations; I like to give insights into the minds of the characters as well, most of the time just the main character, but sometimes the others too. This allows for a blend of third person and first person even though the work as a whole is in third person.

Point of view should not limit a story; it should enhance it. It does not prohibit the author from delving into the characters’ minds or emotions or from taking a step back to describe places or events impartially; instead, it forces the author to be creative in order to achieve his preferred balance of intimacy with the characters and separation from them.

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