Up Close and Personal Writing Inside Viewpoints

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Up Close and Personal: Writing Inside Viewpoints

As readers, one of the first things we look for in a story is the viewpoint. Through whose sensations, thoughts, and feelings will we view the events? Will we step inside just one character’s head or experience multiple viewpoints? Will we view characters up close or from more of a distance, as when the author uses an omniscient or objective perspective?

Up Close and Personal Writing Inside Viewpoints QuoteThe point of view (POV) affects a story’s content, style, and meaning. Which should we choose? In The Fiction Writer’s Handbook, Hallie and Whit Burnett advise writers to ask: “Which point of view gives us most freedom, and which is most likely to add interest and meaning and sympathy to our story?” In Professional Fiction Writing, Jean Z. Owen says the best choice is “the point of view that will display the dramatic episodes of your story to best advantage and give your reader the greatest emotional satisfaction.”

Whose Story Is This?

Suppose you decide that a close inside POV from one character (or just one character at a time) works best for your story. This approach lets you delve deeply into a character’s thoughts and feelings to reduce the distance between reader and character, making it easier to identify with them and share their experiences. Along with this narrative approach, you’ll choose a viewpoint character. These questions can help you decide:

  • Which character has the most compelling problem or goal, with something important at stake?
  • Who takes the most active role in resolving problems or pursuing goals?
  • Which character is present during pivotal story scenes?
  • Which character will grow and change the most as a result of their experiences (also helping to illuminate the story’s theme/point)?
  • Who is your audience? Different readers might care more about one character vs. another, depending on age group, demographics, and other factors.

Usually, the protagonist is the viewpoint character, but not always. One famous example is Nick Carraway, the narrator in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. While visiting his cousin Daisy, the female protagonist, Nick meets the mysterious Jay Gatsby. As a newcomer to their upper-class lifestyle, Nick can offer insights that are central to the story.

Once you choose your POV and main character(s), you can decide whether to use a first-person or limited third-person narration. Each approach has its benefits and drawbacks.

First-Person Narration

First-person stories use the I/me/my/mine perspective, as if a character is talking directly to readers. In a first-person novel, authors can use one character’s POV from start to finish or shift to other single viewpoints. For example, alternating chapters can show first-person narrations from a married couple or multiple siblings, friends, or enemies.

Up Close and Personal_ Writing Inside Viewpoints CANVA pov definitionBenefits:

  • First-person narration can provide a strong sense of intimacy, reducing the distance between reader and characters. As readers “live” events with the narrator, they can share the impact of that character’s experiences and understand their motivations and worldview.
  • First-person narrators can share thoughts, feelings, and revelations about themselves that other characters wouldn’t know and which might seem less credible if they came from elsewhere.
  • This approach can enhance humor in a story. Citing examples from the works ofMark Twain and James Thurber, Hallie and Whit Burnett note that in humorous stories, “the guileless, the innocent, and the bewildered character can be best presented in the first person [because] his ‘I’ transcends the self—his own self—and he is no longer the ‘I’ of the story but the intimate, personal, and universal element in us all.”

Benefit AND Drawback:

  • All narration must sound like the character’s normal, natural speech. While this can be limiting, it can also enhance character development.


  • The narrator must be present in order to describe what happens, so certain dramatic events and conversations cannot be shown if the narrator wasn’t there or lacks that information. (The narrator could, however, discover things through dialogue or by overhearing other characters’ conversations.)
  • The author must consider the narrator’s attitudes, values, and expectations in every scene.
  • Self-description is tricky. Characters already know about their appearance, attitudes, and values, so such description can only occur when a character would have a reason to notice or ponder those things.
  • First person requires a close identification with the narrating “I.” A reader might not wish to identify so closely with certain narrators.
  • Actions look different from the outside than they do to the person who is involved, so the writing must reflect that.
  • Since the reader finds out everything the narrator finds out, the author cannot hide such things.
  • The narrator must be aware of anything the author wants the reader to know.
  • Authors may find it harder to be objective in first person.

Third-person Limited Narration

Third-person limited (also called “close” or “deep” third person) narration uses the character’s name and third-person pronouns—he/she, her/his, etc. The author is not a character in the story and does not know what every character is thinking and feeling but does have an inside view of one character. Third-person limited is the most common approach used in contemporary fiction.

Up Close and Personal_ Writing Inside Viewpoints CANVA POVThis approach is less “distant” than a third-person omniscient viewpoint. There, the story’s narrator is not a character but knows what they do, say, think, and feel and can thus enter various viewpoints. Louisa Alcott’s Little Women is an example. Even more distant is third-person objective, in which readers see events unfold as if watching a play or movie, drawing their own conclusions about characters’ thoughts and feelings.


  • Third person limited offers more flexibility and angles than first person, since the narration need not all sound exactly like the character’s regular speech.
  • This approach comes close to first-person narration in terms of intimacy and reader-identification and provides more of those features than omniscient or objective narratives.
  • Third-person narration can seem more reliable/trustworthy than first person.
  • Third-person doesn’t require readers to identify as closely as they would with a first-person narrator whom they might find objectionable or too unlike themselves.


  • Third person can be less intimate and less immediate than first person.
  • As with first person, the author must avoid describing things the POV character would not see, such as their own facial expressions. For instance, instead of writing that a character blushed, you could write: Her cheeks grew hot.

Smooth Shifting

Suppose you want multiple viewpoints in a story, while sticking with one character’s POV at a time? When readers are identifying with a character and “living” events along with them, POV shifts can be jolting, even confusing. As Gary Provost writes in Beyond Style, “In effect, you have put [the reader] in place and are showing her something when suddenly you grab her by the shoulders and spin her around to look at something else.” Provost tells authors to give readers “something in return that is worth the disturbance” such as “an exciting new scene or chapter or some compelling new information.”

If you decide to shift viewpoints, they can be easier to process at either the beginning of a new chapter or scene. To make the shift clear, show the new viewpoint in the first paragraph of a scene, or even the first sentence. Some authors “cue” the reader by using the POV character’s name in each chapter header. To shift viewpoints during a chapter, authors Renni Browne and Dave King advise writers to “end the current scene, insert a linespace, and start a new scene from the new point of view you need.” In a dual viewpoint story, Gary Provost stresses the need to balance both viewpoints, since readers expect “to see into two different minds.”

Wrapping Up Point of View

As you read fiction, ask yourself why the author chose a particular viewpoint and narrative approach. How do these choices affect your involvement in the story? Which POV can engage readers in your story from start to finish?


Related Posts on Viewpoint


Victoria Sherrow has published short stories, articles, poetry, and books for diverse age groups. Her books have received starred reviews and been honored by the American Library Association, National Association for the Advancement of Science, and NYPL Best Books for the Teenage, among others. Victoria’s most recent nonfiction book for adults is Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History (ABC-CLIO, 2023). She loves helping her students tap into their experiences, interests, knowledge, and imaginations to create their own stories and books.





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