Narrative Perspective: The POVs And Tenses Of Writing

When writing a story, there’s one important aspect you must consider: Narrative perspective. In this post, I will unpack all the different point-of-views and tenses in writing your story.

Point Of View

The point of view of a story tells who is narrating as well as how much they know. The main points of view are 1st-person (I), 2nd-person (you), and 3rd-person (they).

1st-Person

In the 1st-person perspective, the narrator experiences the events of the story first hand. They are telling you the story based on what they experienced themselves. Such words as ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘myself’ are used.

I turned around slowly. A man was leaning against the lamppost. He was an unusual fellow in appearance, with a black top hat, and an umbrella and trench coat of the same color. He had a full, dark brown beard covering his face. In short, he was just as unusual looking as I myself am. His trench coat even happened to be identical to mine, which I found to be oddly offensive.

Tobias Hrothgar, The Ingenious Inception

2nd-Person

The 2nd-person perspective is one you very rarely see. In this perspective, the narrator is speaking directly to the main character. It is often used for such things as the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books. ‘You’ is the main character’s pronoun in this narration.

I wish you remember that day when we finally opened it. But some things are forgotten, no matter how tightly we try to cling to it. Though you have forgotten, I still remember. Thus I will tell you about the day.

Ethan, The Perplexing Package

The example above is more of a 1st-person/2nd-person combination, but it is still a good example of 2nd-person narration.

3rd-Person

3rd-person narration is probably the most commonly used. The narrator speaks of something they were not a part of. They may be another character linked with the story, or they may merely be an unknown person who does nothing more than tell the story. The protagonist is referred to as ‘he’ or ‘she’.

As he lay in the dark soil he thought about what everyone had been saying to him. He was a peanut. Nothing more than a peanut. But he began to realize, that the other peanuts were wrong. He was not meant to be eaten; he was meant to become what his mother had become: A mighty peanut tree. So he grew, and he grew.

Tobias Hrothgar, The Life Of A Peanut

The 3rd-person narrative also has some more aspects to it that the other perspectives usually don’t. These are 3rd-person omniscient, limited omniscient, and objective.

3rd-Person Omniscient: The omniscient narrator has complete knowledge of the entire story and its characters. They can switch freely between the minds of different characters and they can travel through time at will to look at past or future events. A good example of the omniscient narrator is in the Chronicles of Narnia.

3rd-Person Limited Omniscient: This narrator is limited to one character at a time. They may stick with this character for the entire story or they may switch to a different character between chapters. The Heroes of Olympus is excellent in showing the change between characters within these limits.

3rd-Person Objective: The objective narrator cannot see into the minds of any of the characters. They just tell you what is visible from the outside, as if you’re eavesdropping on events. The Giver falls under this category.

The Tenses

The different tenses in writing are very important in how you write your story. There’s past-tense and there’s present-tense. I’m not sure if anyone’s written in future-tense, but I certainly think it should be included here.

Past-Tense

In this case, the narrator speaks of an event that has already happened. He is retelling history. This is the most common tense to be used in writing.

So there we were, floating out in the middle of a peaceful country lake. It was one of those August days where the fish don’t bite, the sun is hot, and the gods of outdoor activities have decreed that you forget the sunscreen. There was no one else in sight, and for good reason. Dad had always been of the opinion that the deep open water held the bigger fish. He never seemed to realize that the fish like to have a little shade too. That and every time we tried to fish along the shore, we lost at least four lures.

Tony, An Obfuscated Inheritance

Present-Tense

Present-tense narration is becoming more and more popular as time goes on. In such a story, the narrator speaks of something that is happening right now.

All the general fear I’ve been feeling condenses into an immediate fear of this girl, this predator who might kill me in seconds. Adrenaline shoots through me and I sling the pack over one shoulder and run full-speed for the woods. I can hear the blade whistling toward me and reflexively hike the pack up to protect my head. The blade lodges in the pack. Both straps on my shoulders now, I make for the trees. Somehow I know the girl will not pursue me. That she’ll be drawn back into the Cornucopia before all the good stuff is gone. A grin crosses my face. Thanks for the knife, I think.

Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games

Future-Tense

I have never actually seen anyone write in the future-tense before, but I like the idea. In a future-tense story, the narrator speaks of something that will happen. I can think of very few cases in real life where a person would actually do such a thing, but it’s an interesting concept.

A man will stand up, tall and menacing, and all the people will listen as he speaks. His story will be one unlike any tale uttered to this day, but they’ll listen and they will follow him without question. After all, he will be a very authoritative man who shows great power that no one else will yield. He’ll turn to Ben and say “You there. Follow me.” But Ben will not be like everyone else. He will wonder if he can truly trust this man. After all, this man will come from an unknown origin. There will be nothing about him that can fully be trusted.

Jacob Unger, No Particular Story At The Moment

That’s everything I have you this fine Friday morning. I’ll just leave it be as that. Please like this post and follow us. If you don’t then I guess I’ll just have to add you to a story and write about your lame death by choking on mash potatoes.

Ever onward,

Jacob Unger.


3 thoughts on “Narrative Perspective: The POVs And Tenses Of Writing

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