What’s the Difference Between Perspective and Point of View?

Difference-Between-Perspective-and-Point-of-View-

Perspective versus point of view—what’s the difference? Is there a difference?

We often use the two interchangeably, but there is a distinct difference. In this post, we’re going to take a very sharp knife and separate the two to give you a clear understanding of how you can use each to strengthen your storytelling. Are you excited? I am. Let’s get to it.

Point of View

Point of view problems are among the top mistakes made by inexperienced writers, and believe me, there’s a lot of room for error. Point of view isn’t easy though, since there are so many to choose from: first person, third person limited, third person omniscient, second person.

Point of view focuses on who:

Who is telling the story?

Who is speaking?

Point of view is defined by the type of narrator you choose to tell the story. If you’d like to get into the nuts and bolts of point of view, I highly recommend checking out this post: All About Point of View: Which One Should You Choose? It’ll give you a great base for entering this discussion. However, let’s briefly discuss what you need to know about point of view here, also.

There are three different points of view: first person, second person, and third person. You can also break down the first and third persons into different classifications which we will do below.

Would you like a helpful chart for understanding the different points of view? Subscribe to receive this extra resource.

The First Person Point of View

You can easily identify the first person point of view by the use of I, me, and myself in the narrative. The first person narrator relates the story as it’s happening, or retells a story that happened in the past.

This point of view is normally used to convey a personal story where the narrator is also the protagonist (or main character) of the story. However, the first person can also be a secondary character within the story, too. Here’s a look at the four types of first person narrators:

The Protagonist. He or she is the main character in the story. The protagonist shares what happens to him first-hand, along with commentary.

A Secondary Character. This character may not be who the story is about, but can relate his or her experiences within the context of the story and usually has a relationship with the protagonist.

The Observer. This type of narrator witnesses the story but has limited or no participation in the story. The first person observer is closely related to third person limited, but chooses to add personal pronouns (I, me, myself) to inject commentary.

The Unreliable Narrator. This type of narrator cannot be trusted to accurately convey the story. He or she is skewed.

The Second Person Point of View

This point of view is the least common of all three persons, mostly because it’s the hardest to pull off (without coming across as awkward or corny). You’ll recognize this point of view by the use of you, your, yourself with the absolute exclusion of any personal pronouns (I, me, myself). The narrator is the reader. It’s tricky, but it can be done.

The Third Person Point of View

Many authors enjoy the third person point of view because it offer more flexibility than the first and second persons.

Third person can give you the author (and your readers) a more global view of what’s happening in the story. However, just like with the first person narrative, it can be limited to follow just one person. Here’s how it breaks down:

Third Person Limited. This point of view follows only one person throughout the story.

Third Person Multiple. This point of view can follow multiple people, switching back and forth between their individual stories or perspectives.

Third Person Omniscient. The omniscient narrator knows everything about everyone. It also knows everything about the world within the story. Nothing in the past, present, or future is off limits or hidden from view.

Now that you’re comfortable with the different points of view, let’s discuss how perspective is different.

Perspective in Writing

Perspective is how the characters view and process what’s happening within the story. Here’s how it compares with point of view:

  • Point of view focuses on the type of narrator used to tell the story
  • Perspective focuses on how this narrator perceives what’s happening within the story

You can use perspective in all points of view to help define your narrator’s attitude and personality. The character’s perspective affects how he feels about certain experiences or other characters.

In the landscape of your novel (as in real life), everyone’s perspective should be different. You may have four people at one event, but each person comes away with a unique set of experiences or observations. The story changes depending on who tells it. That’s perspective.

I love this quote from Robert Evans:

“There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth. And no one is lying.”

-Robert Evans

If you want to create healthy, dimensional (not flat) characters, you should understand everyone’s perspective in the story. And believe me, no one is a villain in their own story.

According to John Rogers: “You don’t really understand an antagonist until you understand why he’s a protagonist in his own version of the world.”

Bear with me for a moment as we take a detour into the children’s section of the bookstore. Here are two well-known stories where the perspective is flipped to show the other side of story:

Seriously, Cinderella Is SO Annoying!: The Story of Cinderella as Told by the Wicked Stepmother (The Other Side of the Story) by Trisha Speed Shaskan

cinderella-annoying

Image Courtesy of Amazon

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, by Jon Scieszka

3-little-pigs

Image Courtesy of Amazon

In both of these examples, a classic story’s antagonist (or villain) tells the story from their perspective. Although these books mirror the same events, it’s obviously not the same story you’re familiar with. It’s a shift in perspective that brings new life to an old hat.

How to Use Perspective to Improve Your Writing

Would you like to create a more realistic dynamic between your characters?

Write a scene from the perspective of each character. To do this, you’ll need to understand what the other characters think, feel, and believe about their experience. You can write in different points of view, such as first person protagonist or third person multiple.

While you may not use the perspectives from multiple characters in your novel, it can help you understand the motivation behind each character in each scene.

My favorite resource for this is from Stephanie at Teaching in Room 6. She provides a character point of view template that you can use to describe each character’s perspective in a specific event.

character-of-point0of-view

Final Thoughts

I hope this helped clarify the difference between point of view and perspective. Although they’re often used to explain the same idea, they’re actually very different. You can use both point of view and perspective to create a stronger story.

Would you like a helpful chart for understanding the different points of view? Subscribe to receive this extra resource.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on February 2016 and has been updated for accuracy.

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35 Comments

ELA Teacher

BARE with me for a moment as we take a detour into the children’s section of the bookstore…Are you kidding me? You can articulate the differences between point of view and perspective, but use the incorrect form of the homophone, BEAR??? Gotta dubble check yer spell check, cuz yer computer ain’t doin’ the writin’!

Reply
Natasa

Bare with us while we fix that…

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Emily

Love this 😉

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Emily

Wow, ease up, people make mistakes! This article is wicked (witch, which?!) 😉 helpful to this fifth grade teacher 🙂

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John smith

Nope your wrong

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Jimmy

You are incorrect with your answer

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Kevin Brown

chill out my guy just let them post some stuff and don´t care about the spelling errors

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jasmine

Your wrong…

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Genji Shimanda

YOUR NOT MY DAD!!!

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naoto kazuma

Symbolism is also often used in a poem. A symbol is an event or a physical object (a thing,
a person, a place) that represents something non-physical such as an idea, a value, or an
emotion. For example, a ring is symbolic of unity and marriage; a budding tree in spring
might symbolize life and fertility; a leafless tree in the winter could be a symbol for death

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Al Toman

Do you have BEAR data that readers give a poop about POV and PER so that we can get down to the BARE facts that a good story with characters with whom the reader can relate, get pulled into the story?

I’d like to see that data (scientifically presented)

You are advertising game-changing advice … that’s a big statement … I’m going to checkit out to test it out. Should be interesting.

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Stacey

Trying to figure this out…Isn’t the Cinderella is So Annoying story a shift in pov from the original, and not a change in perspective since the original was in third person? Also regarding the chart above, wouldn’t that be showing characters’ perspectives and not point of view since you are looking to describe their outlook? I am confused. Can someone please clarify for me?

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Lenora

Very quick clarification…so awesome for teachers in a pinch!

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Cindy Mahoney

Hi –

Good stuff. I have fMC horribly flawed and her POV is unreliable, her mMC in third POV – his not as flawed but frustrated. Her perspective is everyone is out to kill her or some such including the mMC… but having two different types of POV, 1st and 3rd puts folks off. I wrote in third originally. Ugh. But this is off-putting by PH, agents. I’ve also read two MCs or more in 1st POV diff chaps but wholly confusing. By putting him in 3rd POV allows him and the reader to see what happens when she does get shot… So, as frustrated author, I put aside until I know what to do with it.

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Donkey Teeth

This is wrong

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John smith

ELA teacher is wrong

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naoto kazasmhi

so what this all about

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naoto kazuma

really whats this website is about

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Carol

I am addicted to this site and all your articles. I drive the other members in my writing group crazy because I keep sending them your stuff. Thank you!

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bob

hi my name is bob

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bob

this was good point

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Genji Shimanda

I feel as if my spirit is lifted after reading this…

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Genji Shimanda

my spirit feels liffted after reading this…

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Caithness

I think you need use direct examples to illustrate difference between voice, perspective and point of view. Not book covers or book titles, actual prose. I have read 3 of your blogs on these subjects and am still confused. For example, if you’d actually filled in the example from Teaching in Room 6, you’d have shown us the exact difference between the two. Thanks

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Teresa

The verb bear can also be used of figurative carrying and supporting, commonly in relation to bearing a name (i.e. to be called by it), carrying the weight of responsibility (The tenant will bear the expert’s fee), or to ‘be able to accept or stand up to’ (His claims may not bear scrutiny).

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Teresa

First Person POV (protag) – I can’t believe the way he looks at me what is going on behind those eyes, if he would only let me know. (they no nothing but what they can see and feel themselves)
First Person, Secondary Character POV – He was running around the house with his deerstalker cap pulled down firmly around his ears (this one is great with Sherlock Holmes stories)
First Person, Observer POV – The Baudelaire children had always realized there was something special. (Lemony snicket writing the series of unfortunate events)

Second Person POV – You never knew what hit you, it was all over the news. You wanted to get away from the pain (good for song lyrics)

Third Person POV – Steven and Glenda were running through the park, not realizing there was danger around the very corner they headed towards.
(this is a little like the g-d view of the story)

Now, Perspective of the incident — The story being told by the teacher about how she loves teaching her class on French Language – Cut to Sammy one of her students who is only taking this class because he knows that the girl he has a crush on is taking it so why not learn some french while putting the moves on the next girlfriend, Tommy is taking it for an easy A because his family just moved from france and he is trying to catch up with the rest of his class. Tanya has dreams of becoming a great french artist and wants to learn the language because she is moving to france after highschool to paint. Jeff doesn’t understand anything that is going on he walk into the classroom by mistake and doesn’t want anyone to know just how clueless he really is, but hey french sounds cool at least.

This just gives you an understanding of everything that is going on in the story — stories fall flat if we don’t understand the motivation of each of the people. This is great in Murder Mysteries ( see Murder on the Orient Express) even what motivates them isn’t what really motivates them… sneaky buggers.

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