What is POV?

Have you heard the term POV? It stands for “Point of View.” It’s used in every kind of writing—from books to songs. But what does POV mean? What’s the difference between First Person POV, Second Person POV, Third Person POV, and Omniscient POV? And what is “head hopping”? Here’s a quick lesson on how to identify POV! 🙂


What is POV?

“Point of View” is your personal perspective. For example, if I were to call you and ask what’s going on, you may reply, “I’m trying to get through tons of work emails, but my kids are yelling and fighting while playing their video game, and I’m too tired to deal with them. So I’m flipping through social media because I just can’t concentrate on anything.” This is your point of view.

If a friend were to walk into your place, they would see you typing on your laptop as well as hear kids yelling and video game sounds. But would your friend know what you are thinking or feeling? No. Their point of view is different than yours. They could think, “Those kids sound like they’re having a great time playing their game. My friend is scrolling through social media, probably relaxing from her day. This must be a happy evening for them.”

Each person’s point of view is completely unique. This is critical to remember when identifying POV. My POV is different than your POV. Even if we are in the same situation, we experience things differently. Also, no one can read another person’s thoughts or know what another person is feeling. We all have a distinct POV limited to our individual perceptions.


What is “First Person POV”?

First person = you. You are telling us what you experience, feel, and think. It’s kind of like writing a diary.

Example: I was sleeping heavily last night when a crash woke me up. I first thought the dog had knocked something over, but I heard him barking furiously outside. I jumped up and looked out. It was too dark to see anything, and my heart was pounding as I grabbed my shoes and searched for a flashlight.

Notice the word “I” many times. That’s a strong clue this is written in First Person POV. The problem with writing in this POV is that it doesn’t tell the reader significant things that the writer knows. Is there anyone else in the house? Are they IN a house? It could be a tent. What if they’re in a tent in the woods? We don’t know. First Person POV is difficult to write, although it works for autobiographies if the writer takes time to incorporate critical details for the reader to understand what is going on.


What is “Second Person POV”?

Second Person POV is similar to First Person POV because you are writing from your perspective, but you are making it seem like it’s the reader’s perspective.

Example: You woke up feeling great! You jumped out of bed shouting, “This is going to be an awesome day!” It’s your twentieth birthday, and you’ve got fun plans with your friends. You hop in the shower, humming, but the water stays icy cold. You crank it all the way to hot, but after a couple of minutes, it’s still freezing. “I don’t care!” you yell while you scramble out and grab a towel. But you stub your toe on the edge of the sink. Screeching and clutching your toe, you slide on the wet tile and hit the floor.

Second Person POV is hard to write for a full story, but it works well for other types of writing.
1. Instructional books: “To make this luscious dessert, you first get all of the ingredients together. Then you …”
2. Commercials or ads: “You want your skin to look flawless, so every morning you grab your XYZ product and smooth it over your face and body. You feel wonderful all day!”
3. Speeches: “You want to change the world? You will by joining this charity that helps victims worldwide.”


What is “Third Person POV”?

Third Person POV is used most in writing. Instead of “I” or “you,” the writer uses the pronouns “he,” “she,” or “they.” In stories, we can be in one person’s POV, then switch to another person’s POV. The author has freedom to write from different people’s perspectives. Notice two important Third Person POV elements in the following examples: the pronouns and everything is in past tense.

Example of one character in Third Person POV:
As soon as the doorbell rang, Evie whipped opened the door. Her boyfriend of a year, Roman, stood on the porch. He gave her a small smile and held out a bouquet of huge red roses. She gasped. They were gorgeous! She kissed him on the cheek before carefully taking them in her arms. Roman stood quietly beside her in the kitchen as she gushed over their beauty and put them in a crystal vase. Then she flung herself into his arms. But he held her awkwardly.
“Thank you so much for the gorgeous roses!” She reached up to kiss him, but he was stiff and the kiss was brief.
“Only the best for my girl,” he said, then shifted to pull away from her.
Evie froze. Were these apology roses? What had he done? Her mind raced anxiously.

Example of two characters in Third Person POV:
IMPORTANT—don’t switch from one person’s POV to another until after a full chapter or a very long section. I am shortening this solely as an example.

As soon as the doorbell rang, Evie whipped opened the door. Her boyfriend of a year, Roman, stood on the porch. He gave her a small smile and held out a bouquet of huge red roses. She gasped. They were gorgeous! She kissed him on the cheek before carefully taking them in her arms. Roman stood quietly beside her in the kitchen as she gushed over their beauty and put them in a crystal vase. Then she flung herself into his arms. But he held her awkwardly.
“Thank you so much for the gorgeous roses!” She reached up to kiss him, but he was stiff and the kiss was brief.
“Only the best for my girl,” he said, then shifted to pull away from her.
Evie froze. Were these apology roses? What had he done? Her mind raced anxiously.


Roman had rehearsed his speech so many times. He knew Evie loved him unconditionally, so why was this so hard? His tried to speak, but his mouth was dry. He rubbed the back of his neck. It felt sweaty.
“Roman, is something wrong?” Concern shadowed Evie’s eyes.
He cleared his throat. “No, nothing’s wrong.” His voice cracked, and he felt like running out the door. But he took a deep breath, pulled a little velvet box from his pocket, and dropped to one knee.
Evie gaped and tears sprung to her eyes. “For real? For real?”
He exhaled and held the box out to her. “Open it.” He felt stronger seeing her reaction.
She opened the lid, stared the diamond solitaire, then threw herself into his arms—laughing and crying at the same time.
He murmured in her ear. “Evie, I love you with all my heart, and I want you in my life forever. Will you marry me?”
She nearly knocked him over in her enthusiasm. “Yes! Yes! Oh, yes!”

When someone writes in Third Person POV accurately, it feels natural, but many people botch it up. Remember that POV is one person’s perspective. Sometimes writers will have a character see, feel, or know something in another character’s head—but that’s impossible. Examples:

“Roman, is something wrong?” Evie looked up at him, concerned that he was so nervous.
[How does she know he’s feeling nervous? She can pick up that he’s stiff and not responding warmly to her, but she can’t know why. Maybe he feels guilty or upset about something.]
He cleared his throat. “No, nothing’s wrong.” His voice cracked, and he knew Evie would think he was lying.
[No, Roman can’t know that’s what Evie would think.]

When writing in Third Person POV, it’s critical to stay inside of one person’s head and not write something beyond their believable perspective.


What is “head hopping”?

That’s when you hop from one person’s head to another. It’s very difficult to keep up with. It’s best if writers stick with one person’s perspective throughout an entire story. That will allow the reader to feel like they are that character … experiencing and feeling the exact same things. Using one POV is the most powerful way to write. But it’s also acceptable to let the reader see things from two perspectives (sometimes three). But make sure to start a new chapter when switching to a new POV so it’s clear we are now inside another person’s head.

Head hopping is when you jump inside two or more people’s heads in the same scene. Don’t ever do it!

Example: “Roman, is something wrong?” Evie looked up at him, concerned at why he was so nervous.
He cleared his throat. “No, nothing’s wrong.” His voice cracked, and he knew Evie would think he was lying.
Just then Layna came down the stairs and stepped in the kitchen, eyeballing Evie and Roman. It looked like they were having a disagreement.
“Hey, Layna.” Evie looked over at her roommate, wishing she would just leave. She had to find out what was going on with Roman!
Roman fidgeted even more. Great—how was he supposed to talk to Evie with Layna here?
Layna frowned. She thought the two lovebirds had a great relationship, but if Roman ever did anything to hurt Evie, she was going to rip his head off!

Whew! We are hopping around viewing the scene from all of the characters’ heads. I’ll write it from one POV. I’ll choose Layna. Remember, Layna can’t know anything except what her five senses tell her and what conclusions she draws. She can’t know Evie’s or Roman’s thoughts and feelings. This entire scene has to be from her perspective.

Layna heard voices before she came down the stairs.
“Roman, is something wrong?” Evie sounded upset.
Roman cleared his throat. “No, nothing’s wrong.” But his voice cracked, so Layna wondered if he was telling the truth.
She burst through the kitchen doorway and eyeballed them. It looked like they were having a disagreement.
“Hey, Layna.” Evie turned to look at her.
Roman fidgeted and scratched his jaw.
Layna frowned. She thought the two lovebirds had a great relationship, but if Roman ever did anything to hurt Evie, she was going to rip his head off!

I kept the scene strictly in Layna’s perspective, even though (as the writer) I knew what each character was thinking and feeling. That’s how you correctly write POV.


What is “Omniscient POV”?

Omniscient means “having infinite awareness, understanding, and insight” (Merriam-Webster). It means that the writer reveals something only they know—none of the characters could possibly know it.

Example continued from the last one:
Layna frowned. She thought the two lovebirds had a great relationship, but if Roman ever did anything to hurt Evie, she was going to rip his head off!
Little did Layna know, she was about to witness something wonderful!

At this point, nothing wonderful has happened in the scene. Only the writer knows what will actually occur. The reader is watching this scene unfold in “real time.” Maybe Roman won’t propose since Layna is there. Maybe Evie will push Roman away out of hurt after misreading him. Anything could happen. When the writer—with all of the knowledge—forewarns everyone of what is about to take place, that’s called Omniscient POV. It’s cheesy and unnatural. In real life, we never hear an omniscient voice saying, “Little do you know, but something wonderful/terrible is about to happen.” Don’t ever use Omniscient POV. Let the action unfold and the characters discover things naturally and sequentially.


Don’t Mix POV!
This is done most frequently in songwriting. Listen to songs and see if they are written from multiple POVs.

Example:
Oh, I love my girl
She is the only one for me
You’re so amazing, girl
She’s everything I need

Either sing directly to the girl or tell listeners about your girl. Pick one POV!


Savvy Writer Tip:

POV is very important when writing. First you need to know which POV will fit your writing best. Next, you must be consistent. Stay in one person’s POV at a time. Don’t head hop. Don’t use Omniscient POV. Using accurate, consistent POV is the most effective way to communicate in writing! 🙂

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