Points of View

First and Third Person

Point of view simply means – ‘who is telling the story’. In other words, through whose eyes the events are seen to occur.
Although there are several points of view from which to tell a story, in this module we shall look only at the two most commonly used. These are:

  1. First person subjective narration
  2. Third person limited or subjective.

First person subjective narration
In a first person subjective narration, ‘I’ tells the story. The advantages and disadvantages of using this viewpoint are outlined below.

The use of the ‘I’ narrator makes a story very intimate and brings the reader close to the character.The reader is drawn into the story immediately.Opportunities exist for irony and self-deprecatory humour.The exploration of inner thoughts, doubts and fears is possible.The reader quickly identifies with the central character and empathy or sympathy is established.This point of view is most suitable for a quirky, individual style of writing. The story can only show what the ‘I’ sees and hears. You, as the writer, are trapped in the mind of one character and have access only to the eyes or ears of that one character.The story can only be set around the central character. Other characters can only relate in conversation, letters or phone calls to the main character, events happening elsewhere. This is often difficult to do convincingly.There is always a danger of a first person subjective narration turning into a long complaint. A self-pitying tone may creep in under the writer’s guard; or worse, a self-consciousness that will prevent the story being told to its best effect.


When properly used, first person can create a powerful voice. Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger is a classic example of a unique ‘I’ in fiction. The novel could not possibly have been written in anything but first person because the character of Holden Caulfied was so original in his thoughts, musings and soul searching. Many of Salinger’s short stories employ the first person point of view just as effectively.
New writers must use the first person point of view even, if initially, they tend to shy away from the idea. A fear of self-revelation is often the reason for this reluctance. You will learn to overcome this as you complete the activities and assessments in this module.

First person point of view

The following paragraph is the opening of the novel Wilde & Busker (Dabbs, 1996: 1). It employs first person point of view throughout.

My mother has been a constant worry to me all my life. A burden, some might say. Apart from her unreliability in providing food and shelter, she is an incurable romantic. I’m starting to find her behavior pretty damned irritating. It isn’t just the endless stream of tawdry love affairs, but her annoying habit of moving house every other year; her restlessness which has forced me to be responsible for both of us in ways beyond my tender years. Consequently, I’ve had jobs since I was old enough to be legally employed. As a paper girl for a start; got up in the freezing cold weather and rode my bike, a battered second hand model needless to say, through sleet and rain to deliver the daily news to the idle rich.

From this example, the reader can see that a conflict has already been set up in the opening paragraph. This is what all short stories aim for. As a reader, you have gained certain information about the ‘I’ narrator:

  1. that she is female
  2. that she is young, even though the exact age is not yet established
  3. that she is in conflict with her mother.