Point of View (POV) #1: Conventions

I keep seeing primers on finessing Point of View in fiction-writing, but frankly most really miss what it is, instead talking about choosing verb tenses, who is narrating (not a limiter), or having a slant without limiting it to a particular character(s). I’m also getting feedback that readers are liking how I use examples, so let’s take a serious look at exactly what is POV and how to use it in your best possible storytelling. We’ll start basic with the conventions; then in future posts I’ll expand with tricks, techniques, options and alternatives, and lots of example of how to spot what exactly you are doing and make it bend to your story-master will! As always, the feedback helps improve the posts. Thanks for sharing and supporting StoryEmpire.com!

Does Finessing POV Limit or Expand Your Options?

Point-of-View (POV, point of view) refers to a selected character’s viewpoint portrayed in a portion of story. POV is used in both 1st-person and 3rd-person. By the mid-20th century, the phrase also came to mean a style of writing as well as the related literary conventions that dominate today’s contemporary fiction. POV techniques affect virtually all story-telling methods from basic description and dialogue to complex plotting and metaphor. Quality POV writing is arguably the most important skill to learn, one that good authors will continue to develop and refine throughout their careers.

Except in unusual forms of narrative that have good reasons to defy them intentionally, mastering contemporary conventions will set your work apart from stories by amateurs who either are not aware of their own haphazard techniques, or who still struggle with their use. Most agents and acquisition editors spot POV problems including clumsy shifts in POV—often called “POV Shifting”—within a few lines, and thus quickly judge such submissions as lower tier.

Writing students initially tend to view POV conventions as limiting their options, rigid constraints that narrow the range of choices and stifle creativity. Of course, people who cannot spell or will not bother to learn grammar and syntax often make similar arguments. In truth, POV conventions open writing to new possibilities, offering many new tools previously unfamiliar even to seasoned writers. Students tend to focus on the limits as they begin learning POV skills, then eventually realize how those limits actually provide benefits that free both the writer and the reader to experience greater levels of character intimacy and understanding. Nearly all of your writing skills have been synthesized from the best efforts of those who passed before you, enhanced by your own style and tailored to your own story-telling needs. With your openness to their potential, skills in POV likewise promise limitless possibilities for your story-telling finesse.


Point of View means narrative deliberately reflects the viewpoint of a particular character, usually someone in the story, sometimes a non-participant whom you designate simply to be aware of the story. POV proves a bit easier and a lot more obvious if the narrator speaks 1st-person. However, POV is at least as important, probably even more so, when your story is narrated 3rd-person.

In both forms, your narrator is privy to all interior elements of the POV character. The narrator experiences—and thus may describe any or all of—everything sensed by the character: what he sees, hears, smells, tastes, feels, and experiences. Your narrator possesses the POV character’s full range of knowledge, from past history to current level of education and understanding. Your narrator is privy only to that character’s thoughts, beliefs, and interpretations—the way he thinks. Your narrator is limited to knowing and understanding only what the POV character knows about events occurring in the plot, regardless of how much the author wants to reveal from outside the POV sphere of awareness. Written with finesse, your narrator also will relay information as if directly experiencing the emotional tenor of that character, from surprise to outrage to confusion to grief and more. These are only the basics, but even within these you will discover unlimited creative possibilities in your own work, and you will better recognize impressive—sometimes humbling—examples in the works of others.

POV Conventions

Probably the most significant progression in style as story-telling moved into the “Modern American Literature” or “20th Century Literature” period is the shift away from omniscient narrative to POV narrative. Omniscience describes a narrator who knows and shares with readers the kinds of awareness listed above, but from multiple characters simultaneously:

LEVI looked across the room and NOTICED that his blind date appeared to have dressed in a hurry, not even bothering to match her outfit; but SHE WAS THINKING he looked uncomfortable in that silly suit, and anyway SHE DID NOT WANT to dress up and send him the wrong message.

That scene delves into both characters’ POVs, but modern POV conventions expect narrative to adhere strictly to only one POV for the duration of at least a whole scene, though it may last for a chapter, section, or even the entire novel. Often the need to shift to another POV forms the basis of where scene breaks occur, which aids the author in deciding where arcs of plot and awareness intersect for closure, however that falls in the range between cliff-hanger and resolution.

Omniscience is still found occasionally in well-finessed modern writing, always for good reasons because the form of story benefits from that style. The author should probably acknowledge that in the query or cover letter to show intent. Otherwise, a seasoned story evaluator might not read beyond seeing the first POV shift.

In the next installment, “Point of View (POV) #2: Structuring,” we’ll look at some cool choices for structuring your POV flow, along with options for how to fix what’s not quite working. Thanks for the feedback and support.

30 thoughts on “Point of View (POV) #1: Conventions

  1. Pingback: Point of View (POV) #2: Structuring | Story Empire

  2. Excellent examples and good series Stephen. I do not enjoy reading stories with head hopping. And I’m a firm believer of ‘know the rules before you break them’. 🙂


  3. As a huge fan of Mary Higgins Clark and Sidney Sheldon, when I first started writing, I wrote from an omniscient point of view. I was told that wasn’t used in fiction anymore although some authors today still write that way. I have thought about going back and writing a novel in omniscient if I can figure out how to do it effectively without it being considered head-hopping.

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  4. I love deep POV, but I’m still a fan of omniscent. When done well, it’s actually my preferred style for reading a good story. POV definitely sets the tone of the story for me. There was a time I wouldn’t even consider reading a book in first, and now I love it.

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  5. A great dive into the basics, Stephen. I’m so glad that you mentioned that an omniscient narrator is out of vogue. I generally dislike it unless an author is incredibly skilled and has a very specific reason for using it. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series!

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  6. POV is crucial for character development as well as the reading experience. I’m not a fan of head-hopping or omniscient POV, though I’ve accepted both in favor of finishing a good story. I much prefer a single, deep POV in each scene. Looking forward to more on this, Stephen.

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  7. POV is often the building block of a story as it sets each character’s role right away. I recently read a book in which the POV switched back and forth from 3rd person to 1st person. At first, it was a little hard to accept, but in truth, this POV style fits the story perfectly, and I can see why the author went this way. Thanks for this detailed look into POV, Stephen, and I look forward to more.

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  8. Excellent intro to POV, Stephen. The conventions remind me that certain genres lean toward one POV style versus others, but there are always exceptions. I’m looking forward to more of your examples.

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  9. I think I’m getting to grips with POV, at last, but I still find critiques that say I’ve slipped into omniscient!
    But I’m getting there.
    Thank you for this post. I’m looking forward to the next one.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: Point of View (POV) #1: Conventions — Story Empire – Typography

  11. Pingback: Point of View (POV) #1: Conventions | Legends of Windemere

  12. Great post as always Stephen. I do tend to linger in first person POV. Depending on the type of story, I’d step into God mode (omniscience) as you refer to it lol. Surprisingly most of my readers prefer the latter.
    I can’t wait to hear your perspective on 3rd person. Thanks for sharing. 🙏

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