Point of view (POV) is the perspective from which a work, usually a work of prose, is narrated. It can have an enormous impact on a story: how close the reader is to the characters’ experiences, how much the reader can believe the narrator, whether the internal world of a given character is more important than the external world, and ultimately how much information the reader receives. Today I’m going to be examining the various types of narrative POV, and the advantages and disadvantages of each. We’ll cover first, second and third person, past and present tense in each, and then we’ll explore some of the different versions of those that are possible.
The only thing we’re going to leave out is future tense. I assumed future tense only appeared when characters outline a plan or make a promise, but then one day when Hunters and Collectors came on the radio, I heard this classic:
I will come for you at night time
I will raise you from your sleep
I’ll kiss you in four places
I’ll go running along your street.
‘Throw Your Arms Around Me’ is nearly all in future tense, except for parts of the bridge (present: shed your skin and let’s get started) and the second verse (past: I met you in high places). Also, I think I just found the world’s fastest way to make a bittersweet romantic song sound like the nerdiest thing ever.
Other than that song, though, future tense is extremely rare, because it is an awkward and difficult tense to write in. So these lines will be our examples for today, because their structure neatly illustrates how the POV and tense change in each example. I hope that anyone who’s already familiar with the topic might be compelled to give a new POV a try; on the other hand, if you’ve ever been too afraid to ask what ‘second person’ is, consider this your handy guide.
Again, a disclaimer: I’m saying all this as a reader, and as an artist with preferences for my own work. Let’s start with a straightforward shift in the tense…